NFL: Divisional Round 2011

By: Shawn Davis

New Orleans 32 San Francisco 36

My pick: Saints. If they get up early, I’m very interested to see how the 49ers respond. San Francisco needs to keep this game in the teens to win this one – and I doubt they can.

I was wrong on a few different fronts: I honestly felt that if the game was outside of the teens, the 49ers would be the team on the wrong side of the scoreboard. I also thought that the Saints would get up quick but that proved to be wrong as the 49ers forced three early turnovers and had 17 points on the scoreboard in a heartbeat. Some are too proud to admit a wrong but I am not.

Wasn’t the bootleg touchdown run by Alex Smith the most unexpected, scary, exhilarating, out-of-this world play of this whole season, thus far? To make that call on 3rd-and-8 against an aggressive blitzing unit like the Saints can be rationalized but to run it with the chance of it being blown up – and forcing David Akers to attempt a fifty-yard field goal? Whoa!

Over the course of Smith’s career, I have defended him because he’s had to deal with seven offensive coordinators which stunted any growth he worked to achieve. He’s been labeled a “game manager” for the majority of this season as it related to his role in his teams’ success – and it was great to see him account for 4 total touchdowns (3 passing and another rushing, along with a 299-yard passing day). There are times when I root for teams and others where I root for the best stories and the 49ers are a perfect mix of the two.

Both clubs played good defense and this is one of those games where the final score can skew what really happened on the field. Don’t let it! It was a good defensive struggle with opportunistic offense at vital times. Throughout the final five minutes, my friend Justin and I were exchanging text messages (beginning with 2:11 remaining in the 4th quarter after the Smith run to take a 29-24 lead until the final score by Vernon Davis). Content edited for the children:

J: Oh sh#t! (rhymes with grit)

Me: WHAT!? (The A. Smith bootleg td run) J, did you see that!? Good call on the run but the Saints have a lot of time.

J: Yes.

Me: Happy for my boy Alex Smith though.

J: Yeah, if they hold on (SF) I think the Giants can beat the Packers and the 49ers.

Me: Possibly.

J: Then the Giants can get to the Super Bowl

Me:  Really? Let’s go…  (When the Saints began their drive to take the lead)

J: Yeah

Me: I thought Sproles was going to break that m…. (rhymes with brother tucker)

J: Almost

Me: Yoooooooo. (Graham catches the touchdown)

J: Brees is gonna need ice for his arm after all these passes. Wow!

Me: F…(think “plucking”) Graham! Sproles wide open (converts the 2-point conversion). I smell overtime.

J: Maybe; Yup.

Me: Oh sh#t! (Vernon Davis reception for 47 yards)

J: Wow!

Me: Oh sh#t…again. (Davis td catch)

J: Oh sh#t!

Me: I’m surprised the Niners scored so much.

J: Joey (other friend) said “Alex Montana.”

Me: Ha. Cool win but too bad the Broncos are gonna win the Super Bowl.

J: Ha! Your scenario?

Me: Ha.

At the end of the day, you just cannot give the ball away five times and expect to win, no matter how potent of an offense you have – and the Saints will kick themselves now that they have more free time than they planned for. I honestly thought the Saints would be in the NFC Championship, at the least. The 49ers deserve all the credit and I want to personally give Smith some here. I try to be objective – not really – but I’m happy for him. He’s not the throwaway the media would have you believe. He led touchdown drives, not just ones that lead to field-goals. Wasn’t the Smith-to-Davis catch reminiscent of the Young-to-Owens game winner in the 1999 playoff game with the Packers? That was my first thought!

Next week: San Francisco hosts New York

Denver 10 New England 45

My pick: As much as it pains me I have to take the Patriots.

About my scenario…well Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had other ideas. The score was 35-7 at the half; that’s not a typo!

As the 49er game was wrapping up, I missed Wes Welker’s touchdown reception because I was looking at post-game interviews. The Patriots didn’t waste much time at all putting this one out of reach.

Next week: New England hosts Baltimore

Houston 13 @ Baltimore 20

My pick: Baltimore, but they scare the hell out of their fans. If Matt Schaub was healthy I would pick the Texans without a doubt.  

I didn’t get a chance to get into this game until the second quarter because I was out dancing until early Sunday morning and I needed to sleep. (I have a life.) The Ravens kept the fear factor alive for their fans didn’t they? Maybe I wasn’t paying much attention to them last year as I don’t recall Joe Flacco looking as shaky as he’s been all year it seems. Once I ate some cereal and wiped the cobwebs out of my head, I was amazed at how frazzled Flacco looked most of the time.

I’m pretty sure the five sacks by the Texans had a hand in his discomfort. Why did T.J. Yates throw a bomb on 4th-and-2 with 20 seconds to go? It would have been better to get the short completion, spike the ball and then get two shots at the touchdown; I could be wrong though – although I like my idea better than the one Houston settled for. In the face of all that Yates STILL had a chance to tie this game at the end. If Matt Schaub had been healthy for this game and it played out the same exact way or even something remotely close to it, I would have went with the Texans.

The Ravens forced Yates into three interceptions that were throws akin to a rookie quarterback in his second postseason game. Even though the Ravens allowed a rusher to cross the century mark – Arian Foster gained 132 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown – against them in what seems like forever, they made the crucial stop whenever one was needed. You have to respect that and I definitely do.

Next week: Baltimore @ New England

NY Giants 37 @ Green Bay 20

My pick: Can I pick them both? No that’s sort of dumb. Giants; this is the first time all year where I picked the Packers to lose. I think Aaron Rodgers is going to be under siege all day long and Manning will make one more play than his counterpart. I’ll even go as far to say the G-Men will win by a field-goal.

What is the most surprising thing about this outcome besides the 8 dropped passes and 3 lost fumbles by Green Bay? The final score could have been much worse. Greg Jennings was clearly stripped of the ball – but the refs say he was down by contact; he wasn’t! That possession led to a touchdown – and the deplorable roughing the passer penalty on Osi Umenyiora later in the contest led to another touchdown score. So that’s possibly 14 points that were gift-wrapped to the defending champions.

I hope you didn’t forget the play before halftime where Ahmad Bradshaw took the handoff, ran left, and then cut back across the field to get out-of-bounds; he ran 23 yards but probably scampered for 70 in total. What happened next? A heave by Eli Manning with 6 seconds remaining right into the hands of Hakeem Nicks for a touchdown that made the score 20-10 in favor of the visitors. Nicks was open from the 7-yard line into the end zone and Manning put the ball high so all he needed to do was leap for it. The Packers defense on that play was…I’m pretty sure you saw the highlight.

There was no particular reason why I picked the G-Men to win. I’m not going to go with those saying they “felt” the Giants would do it. Why? Would any of us have been surprised if the Packers came out fast and made this game a pitch-and-catch drill? I doubt it. Also, I won’t say the Packers were rusty (that’s a cop-out) because that discredits how good the Giants were on Sunday. The main thing that pushed me in the direction of the Giants was the collective health of their defensive linemen. I didn’t have an epiphany; I just went with what my eyes were telling me. New York has been playing survival football for the last month and I’m sure it helped their confidence when getting on the flight to Wisconsin.

The drops were alarming; when receivers don’t make plays on the ball – ones they’ve made all season – it shows a lack of focus. The Packers didn’t come into this game rusty, they got beat.

Next week: NY @ San Francisco


The Championship Games:

Baltimore @ New England

In the 2009 Wild Card matchup between these teams, the Ravens marched into Foxborough and left the Patriots looking sullenly at the final score which read: 33-14 (Ravens). Now there’s a rematch for a ticket to the Super Bowl on the line; you think the Patriots are ready for revenge? After watching the Ravens beat the Texans, I’m not sure how they’ll deal with Gronkowski, Hernandez, Welker and that Tom Brady guy. Heard of him?

Looking at the Ravens, they are suited to slow the pace of the game down (they better) and challenge them if they can get Ray Rice going – which was the key in the 2009 showdown. Aside from that, Joe Flacco will HAVE to make a lot of plays if the Patriots are sharp on offense – and I expect them to be. The drives that the Ravens stalled on against the Texans, which lead to punt after punt, will turn into an insurmountable lead if the Patriots find themselves with ample time with the football.

My pick: The Patriots don’t score into the 40’s but they get themselves into the Super Bowl.

NY Giants @ San Francisco

It’s hard for me to find ways to pick against of these two teams. I like the Giants defense and I feel the same way about the 49ers’ unit; Eli Manning is out there flinging it and his counterpart, Alex Smith is gaining more confidence by the week and I also like the playmakers that will take the field. Coaching is solid on both sidelines and the special teams units are also some of the best in the league.

The Giants are more explosive offensively, but the 49ers proved to be capable of engaging in a shootout as they just vanquished New Orleans in a high-scoring affair. Where will the advantage sway? I think the Giants can limit Vernon Davis and focus on Frank Gore to constrict the 49ers play-calling. The 49ers don’t seem to scare anyone with their receiving core and the Giants clearly get the advantage there.

My pick: G-Men. The defensive line pressures Alex Smith and takes away Davis, forcing someone else besides Frank Gore to beat them. They don’t. 


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