NFL: Championship Sunday 2011

By: Shawn Davis

Could you ask for two better Conference Championship games? Maybe so if you’re a Baltimore or San Francisco fan – or you actually play for the team; on to the games:

Baltimore 20 @ New England 23

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

The Ravens definitely slowed the pace of the game so it wouldn’t become out of hand early like it was when the Patriots were obliterating the Broncos last weekend. They outplayed New England…and lost! On defense they brought the pressure on Tom Brady while playing tremendous coverage on all the receivers he has at his disposal. You couldn’t ask the Ravens for more, but (I know you were waiting for it) when the Ravens put the ball in the hands of  Joe Flacco on that crucial 4th-and-6 to keep the drive alive with under three minutes to play, he couldn’t make one but it wasn’t his fault at all. He did, however, make up for it later although his teammates didn’t carry their weight.

In his defense, watching the receiver patterns on that play, where were they trying to go with the ball? Torrey Smith went deep and the underneath receiver, Dennis Pitta, went towards the sideline when it would have been smarter to have the short route be a curl for the first-down; they only needed six yards to convert. Also, Vince Wilforkwas in Flacco’s jersey so what can you say there? It was smart that he threw it away than to take the sack so they could save more time for their last possession of the contest. We know what happened there.

"Oh no."

About their last possession…ugh! The play-calling was baffling to me. Why wasn’t Boldin featured since he drew Julian Edelman in coverage? He should’ve gotten the ball until THEY DOUBLED HIM. I won’t blame Billy Cundiff too much for the miss because that drive should have ended in a Lee Evans touchdown reception. Sterling Moore made a great play on the ball to knock it out of Evans’ hands before he could get both feet down for what (probably) could have been the game winner. It was so shocking that the booth didn’t review that play because – although it was the correct call on the field – it was worthy of a detailed look. As soon as Evans caught the ball he should have dropped to the ground as if he was shot and had that happened the Ravens win. It’s going to be a long off-season for the Baltimore Ravens.

Joe Flacco haters still out there? Shut up and calm down, he played like a champion and despite his one mistake (the interception he threw that the Ravens got back for him a few plays later) he should have quieted most of his doubters. He was 22-of-36 for 2 TD (should’ve been 3) and played much better than Tom Brady but his team is going home. He did all he could to win the game. I’ve been mad at Flacco at various times this season – for killing me in my pick-league – but he went after the Patriots D and it’s a shame he doesn’t play for the Lombardi Trophy in two weeks.

The Patriots won their two home games this postseason to get themselves back into the BIG game (someone tell the Packers about that) and that should scare everyone that hates the team. Brady didn’t play his best game but he stands out as one of the best ever because he didn’t let his turnovers sour his mood – he buckled his chin strap and did enough to win. Make no mistake though, they are fortunate to be the club that’s moving on.

Next week: Pro Bowl

NY Giants 20 @ San Francisco 17

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.

You think the 49ers missed Ted Ginn, Jr. on Sunday? Backup return man Kyle Williams probably didn’t sleep much overnight and we all know why. His two fumbles led to 10 points that the Giants shouldn’t have scored. Let’s just say that the phenomenal 49er defense held them to a field-goal – instead of the Mario Manningham td grab – then I think the home team punches their ticket to the Super Bowl. But remember they just forced the Giants into punting it back, so once the ball bounced wildly off Williams’ knee and New York regained possession, the 49ers had to deal with losing momentum and trotting a defense back on the field with their backs to the goal. You cannot bend your defense that way and then expect them to hold…you can’t; the burden is too great.

I watched the game, studied some of the highlights and I came away more impressed with Eli Manning than I already have been during this whole year. He got beat up yesterday but kept getting up and leading his team down the field – and making the plays they needed. He’s really morphed into a great quarterback this year and it has been amazing to watch.

Alex Smith didn’t match the output of last week and that’s because the Giants defense doesn’t try to get cute like New Orleans does (and that’s why they’re home). New York stares you in the face, gets in it, and punches you in the eye without the need for extra rushers or elaborate blitzes that allow backyard-type touchdown throws. Their front-four brings all the pressure they need and that helps to take away other weapons the opposition may have at its disposal. Smith went 12/26 for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns with his only weapons being named Vernon Davis and Frank Gore.Davishad a monster game with 3 receptions for 112 yards and 2 scores while Gore had 74 rushing yards – which is like a 100-yard rushing day against a human defense, which the Giants are not.

Another note: You do know they went 1-for-13 on 3rd down conversions? The 49ers need wide-receivers! Seriously! Look at Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham on the Giants and see the difference in terms of scheme and dirt on their jerseys.San Francisco’s receivers were so clean in a game that was contested in a monsoon. Meaning, there isn’t a receiver – outside of Vernon Davis – that needs to be schemed against when you have to prepare for the 49ers. I’m not going to beat the door down about Kyle Williams’ fumbles because everyone has and I’m sure the pressure became too much for him to handle. Football is a game cut into offense, defense and special teams and the addition of another receiving threat changes how the 49ers can attack opponents. But they cannot attack anyone as currently constituted and expect a different result than the one they were handed yesterday. They cannot overcome turnovers because they don’t have enough playmakers to move the chains.

Was Michael Crabtree on the field? Maybe I missed him. I understand that Braylon Edwards was cut by the team a few weeks ago but don’t you think he could have made a few plays? Of course he could because he’s a player that defenses have to be aware of since he has the ability to make huge plays. Maybe they should have taken a chance on Terrell Owens, you know? What could he have really done to fracture the teams’ psyche? When your best three offensive players show up, you have back-breaking turnovers yet still have a chance to win it all you need more help. In this case, the help needs to be a true receiving corps. This is a team with few holes so their first three picks in April should be spent building a stable of pass-catchers.

Next week: Pro Bowl

 

Late next week I’ll give my Super Bowl picks because I need some time to sulk in the pity I will find myself engulfed in now that the season will be over very soon, ha. I’m thinking about all the storylines that are already writing themselves over the next two weeks: The Patriots looking for revenge, Will Eli be remembered as a better player than Peyton if he wins another title? (Calm down on that, people.), Will Brady be held in higher regard than Montana and Bradshaw by getting his fourth ring? (Relax on that one, too.), etc. I might write something about Peyton Manning and how it seems that since he’s been out for this year, he’s trash all of a sudden. I’m not certain if it will be next week but I’m going to do that piece sometime in the near future. See you soon.

 

Photo: Lee Evans and Sterling Moore; AP

 

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