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23 Jan 2012

Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

compiled by Rivers McCown

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Sunday, January 22nd

Baltimore Ravens 20 at New England Patriots 23

Tim Gerheim: I've just hit "mute" for the first time today: Steven Tyler doing the national anthem totally rubs me the wrong way somehow.

Rivers McCown: I'm tempering my Steven Tyler jokes on the basis that he has a good 40 years of drugs altering his appearance.

Aaron Schatz: Love that the Ravens started the game with the exact same handoff off-tackle left that Ray Rice took 80 yards on the first play from scrimmage two years ago. No yards this time.

Tom Brady seems to be off early. He threw a bad pass which Julian Edelman stretched out for to get a first-down conversion on a third-and-6. Then he threw slightly too high for Wes Welker, and that became a tip-drill interception, or it would have had he not been bailed out by illegal contact on Lardarius Webb. Finally, he overthrew Rob Gronkowski on a wide-open seam route which would have been touchdown.

Tom Gower: It looked like the Ravens were starting out zone blitzing almost every pass play and trying to flood the underneath stuff, then this second drive the Pats started to just throw the quick short stuff. The Ravens seemed to back off
a little, and I'm not sure they zone blitzed the rest of the drive.

If Joe Flacco doesn't start playing a lot better, Brady's poor play isn't going to matter very much. On the first two drives, the game seemed to be moving about as fast for him as it was for T.J. Yates last week.

Tim Gerheim: The third-down pass to Welker in the end zone that forced the field goal was puzzling. It looked like Brady underestimated Ray Lewis's speed and/or cover skills, which is a curious thing for him to do after they've played each other most years for the last decade. Still, that was impressive coverage by Lewis, keeping stride-for-stride with Welker even though he is, at best, deceptively fast.

Mike Tanier: The Ravens offense has achieved self-parody!

Aaron Schatz: You mean sacking Flacco with a three-man rush on third-and-15?

Vince Verhei: The Ravens have three drives, all three-and-outs. In those nine plays, Vince Wilfork has one sack, one tackle for a loss, and one hurry. He also drew a triple-team (!) on the first drive that gave an outside rusher a chance to beat Marshal Yanda one-on-one and chase Flacco from the pocket. They're moving Wilfork around from tackle to end, and he's dominating everywhere. A one-man show so far.

Ben Muth: Flacco has as bad a sense of pocket awareness as you'll see in the NFL. He just sits back there. Doesn't slide left or right at all. It's painful to watch.

Tim Gerheim: I don't understand what Brady is looking at today. Welker wasn't open in the end zone on that play I mentioned earlier -- so much so that he was in the process of giving up on the route when the ball arrived. Edelman wasn't remotely open on that fantastic interception by Webb. So far, this seems like two weeks in a row that the Ravens defense is benefiting with interceptions from quarterbacks who have predetermined where to throw the ball. I can understand that with Yates ... not so much with Brady.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots march all the way down the field with three different runs of double-digit yards by Law Firm. I wonder if it is demoralizing for the Ravens to say "we're going to force the Pats to beat us with the run" and the Pats to say "okay, sure"?

Rivers McCown: I can only imagine that the Ravens are very weak mentally if they'd get demoralized by that and needed to take the three points on their first scoring drive to achieve "positive reinforcement," in Phil Simms' words.

Tom Gower: The Ravens were middle of the pack (14th) on ALY up the middle this year. This isn't the 2000 team with Sam Adams and the other guys up front keeping Lewis clean. It's a lot harder to play middle linebacker when you're getting blocked regularly.

Flacco's hit a couple nice intermediate dig routes this drive, first to Lee Evans and then to Anquan Boldin, and looks like a different guy when he's throwing in rhythm like that. The Ravens have to get points here, because I don't think they can come back if they get down double-digits.

Mike Tanier: Game is now close and sloppy. Make that tied and sloppy. Not what the Patriots want.

Ben Muth: Well, I'm glad my comments here could motivate Flacco to explore the pocket. He did a nice job of moving to his right to buy time and find Dennis Pitta in the end zone on Baltimore's first touchdown.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, I don't think it is particularly sloppy. It's not like we've had a ton of turnovers, or a lot of first downs built with only four-yard gains. The Ravens are trying to stop the pass, inviting the Pats to run, and the Pats have. The Pats are trying to stop the run, inviting the Ravens to pass, and on the last couple drives they finally have too.

I thought the Ravens were going to score again on the final drive of the first half, once Pitta caught the pass on third-and-long. You can't rush three and leave James Ihedigbo in man coverage on anyone. He's just not good. Then again, the Pats did it again on third-and-2 and Ihedigbo's man, Ed Dickson, was nice enough to not catch the ball.

Tom Gower: That was a ... very curious strategic decision by the Patriots, opting to take a knee rather than try for points with almost a minute and two timeouts remaining in the first half. It was also a very curious decision by John Harbaugh not to use either of his two timeouts and force the Patriots to punt the ball.

Aaron Schatz: New England really get kicked in the ass by the fumble luck fairy when the Ravens strip Danny Woodhead and the ball bounced through the hands or legs of three different Patriots. So we're now at 20-16. The Pats need a touchdown on this next drive. When their offense is getting touchdowns, they can overcome their awful defense. When they are just getting field goals, they can't.

Tom Gower: Well, there was that fumble luck when the punt at the end of the first half bounced right out of bounds instead of the Ravens potentially getting the ball in the red zone. Flacco struck again in the red zone ... missed the bootleg pass, then missed the blitz and his hot route on third down and took the sack.

I do believe the Ravens blitzed again on that big play to Gronkowski where he hurt what may have been his left ankle. They've tried blitzing a decent amount, but haven't gotten pressure when they've brought five or more and it's generally resulted in a completion. Mr. Easterbrook can have a field day with this game.

Aaron Schatz: There are a number of comments on Twitter to the effect that "Flacco is outplaying Brady." Um, anyone ever think maybe the Ravens defense, which is good, is outplaying the Patriots defense, which is terrible?

Vince Verhei: You're not wrong, but Brady has missed a few open throws and made some terrible decisions. You noted this yourself earlier in the game. Aside from the overthrow when Torrey Smith was all alone downfield, I can't think of too many open receivers Flacco has missed today.

Aaron Schatz: Yes, but Brady's been better in the second half, and Flacco has missed a couple of open guys. He could have had an open Vonta Leach waltzing into the end zone on that last drive, but threw to someone else instead.

Tom Gower: Flacco's problems have actually not come on the throws he's made, but on the throws he's not made. He missed Smith, which was still a good gain, and threw too far on the bootleg pass. He's done a good job of avoiding the near turnover (the only pass I recall that could've been picked off was one on the first drive) and hasn't made dangerous throws. His problems have come with pocket presence, not finding the right receiver, and eating the ball.

He's played reasonably well for Flacco, and better than he was early in the game, but the performance is less impressive than it seems due to the defense he's facing. Personally, this game is still clearly behind Week 1 against the Steelers as the best I've seen him play; then, it seemed like the Ravens did an excellent job of gameplanning and Flacco was very confident throughout in his reads and throws.

Ben Muth: For not being mobile, Brady is really good at quarterback sneaks. He knows when to take it wide, when to mole-man, and when to go up and over. It seems simple, but he seems to be the only guy who is multiple in the sneak game.

Tom Gower: Just for the record, that email about how Flacco was doing a good job of not making dangerous throws came roughly seven minutes before he threw that interception to Brandon Spikes when driving while down 23-20.

Mike Tanier: Flacco tries to work short middle and gets picked off. Brady tries to throw deep to a wide receiver and gets picked off. We now resume our regular offenses.

Aaron Schatz: Spikes picks off a pass, and on the first pass after that, Brady goes deep and the ball gets picked off on a great play by Bernard Pollard (tip) and Jimmy Smith (catch). Great play, but I am *not* a fan of the decision to try to plunge the dagger with one play.

Mike Tanier: I predict that the Ravens will lose 23-20 after missing a 52-yard field goal.

Aaron Schatz: Honestly, the Pats should have been able to march it down and take three-to-four minutes off the clock while taking a six or ten point lead. I have no idea why they felt the need to go for it all with one play.

Vince Verhei: And the Ravens pass up a 51-yarder to go for it on fourth down. So close Mike!

Tim Gerheim: Yeah I laughed out loud when the third-down play ended at the 34.

Vince Verhei: Wilfork, by the way, stuffed the runner for a loss on third down, then pressured Flacco for the incompletion on fourth down. Hard to see how he's not the MVP of this game.

Aaron Schatz: I have to admit, as a Pats fan, I had no confidence in the Pats actually stopping that fourth-and-6. But Wilfork, one of the few good players on this defense, has been killing Ben Grubbs all day.

Mike Tanier: I would have tried my luck with the 50-yarder. Or maybe just heave it for the end zone and hope for a jump ball or pass interference penalty. Fourth-and-medium is not a good down for Baltimore.

Ben Muth: I'm a big advocate of always going for it, but it's hard to pass up a chance to tie the game with 2:45 left.

Tom Gower: I believe Billy Cundiff is 1-of-6 on the year from 50 yards or longer. With those kinds of odds, when all a field goal gets you is a tie game, it's tough to kick the field goal. Wilfork absolutely showed up on third and fourth down, and those may have been his first two real splash plays since the first quarter.

Ben Muth: I didnt realize Cundiff was that bad deep. That does make a difference, but I'd still kick it. If you can't trust him to make a 51-yard field goal in relatively clear weather, you need a new kicker.

Aaron Schatz: Two-minute warning. Third-down play after this would seal the game. What are the odds the pass is going to Welker? 90 percent? 95?

Tim Gerheim: I don't know why the Pats didn't throw the ball on the last play before the two-minute warning. This series so far screams "playing too conservative against a team with two timeouts."

Mike Tanier: Another chance for the Ravens. It just feels like they will lose 23-20 because they always lose 23-20 to the Steelers.

Tim Gerheim: I can't believe Brady didn't learn what Yates surely did from last week's game: don't throw at Ed Reed in a critical situation.

Aaron Schatz: I can't believe the Patriots are trying to make the Super Bowl with less than two minutes left and they have Julian Edelman in man coverage on Anquan Boldin.


Man, I feel so bad for Cundiff though. I wonder if they made a mistake bringing him back. Maybe the calf isn't fully healthy yet.

Danny Tuccitto: As a Cundiff owner in fantasy for most of my leagues, the fourth-down go-for-it decision and the miss at the end are entirely unsurprising.

Tim Gerheim: That shot of Wilfork with his arms up, holding his helmet, huge bald head steaming, might be one of my favorite images of all time from a sheer human mountain hilarity standpoint.

Mike Tanier: Well, that settles that. 23-20.

A thin line between a game-winning touchdown pass, a game-tying field goal drive, and six months of "not good enough to get it done."

Aaron Schatz: Can we please, please, please, please not have to hear about how Flacco isn't very good anymore? Yes, part of the reason he looked so good is that the Pats defense is terrible, and yes, he missed some open receivers. But not every quarterback has to be either elite or sucky. Joe Flacco is an above-average quarterback. He's a guy you can win with, especially if your running back is Rice and your defense is one of the best in the league. And that's what he looked like today.

My friend Sean, who I was watching with, turned to me at the end and said "I feel like the Pats just got totally outplayed today." Now, I haven't run the numbers yet, but I'm guessing that's not the case. I'm guessing this game comes out even. That's what happens when you are used to blowing out bad teams and you have to play another very good team. The Pats looked like they were struggling because they weren't playing great, and while Brady missed a couple of big plays (Gronkowksi in the seam), for the most part they didn't look great because the Ravens defense played very well. The Ravens defense didn't look as good as it usually does, either, because the Pats offense is very good.

That's the Pats offense, of course. The Pats defense looked like it was struggling because, except for Wilfork, a pick by Spikes, and a pass defensed by Sterling Moore, it pretty much was.

Ben Muth: That is a tough loss.

Tom Gower: Well, contrary to my early expectations, that proved to be an interesting game throughout. A number of sloppy mistakes from both teams, with both quarterbacks throwing bad fourth-quarter interceptions, and of course Evans' dropped pass and Cundiff's miss.

Aaron Schatz: Well, let's not call that a drop. That's a pretty great play by Moore to slap that baby out.

Tom Gower: It's a pass defensed for game charting purposes, but I think that's absolutely a drop. Evans had two hands on it, almost had it long enough to have possession, and absolutely should have caught it. No, Evans wasn't the only reason the ball wasn't caught, Moore did make a play on it, but that's clearly a drop in my mind. Guys like Evans get paid millions of dollars to make catches just like that one.

Vince Verhei: I disagree. After all, guys like Moore get paid millions of dollars to break up passes like that one.

Ben Muth: If it hits you in the chest and it doesn't end in a catch or a concussion, it's a drop.

Mike Tanier: If I am charting the game, it is not a drop. If I am evaluating the player and deciding whether to pay him or not, and how much, it is a drop. That is the game-winning touchdown in the AFC title game. You clutch it to your body and nothing short of a meteor shower rips it loose.

New York Giants 20 at San Francisco 49ers 17 (OT)

Vince Verhei: Oh great. The E-Trade baby is now doing dumb spots on BOTH networks' pregame shows.

Rivers McCown: This is probably just me being cynical, but I think at this point companies are just trying to create advertising that leads to that exact reaction. It worked, they're in Audibles!

Mike Tanier: The Giants offense is in full swing. First-and-10. Second-and-10. Third-and-10. First down!

Vince Verhei: I'm just copying this from Tanier's Twitter feed: "So, standing on the camera platform is worse than leaping into the stands because..."

Tom Gower: Leaping into the stands is a time-honored tradition that promotes attachment with the people who fork over three digits every week and get a little bit of fun.

Vernon Davis just ran past Antrel Rolle. Big plays are a great way to score when you don't have a great offense.

Mike Tanier: I mean, you look like the Lord of All Egomaniacs when you do that, but if that were a foul, most of the coaches in the league would be screwed.

That's the first time Vernon Davis posed for a statue since Mannerism went out of style.

Vince Verhei: Buck explains that the Lambeau Leap is "grandfathered in." Does this make sense to anyone?

Danny Tuccitto: As predicted in the game preview, the Giants pass offense is attacking Chris Culliver continuously.

And, on fourth-and-1, there's your No. 1-ranked power defensive line versus your No. 27-ranked power offensive line.

Tim Gerheim: Burn this play nomination: that pitch play reverse with Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams that resulted in the seemingly inevitable fumble.

Danny Tuccitto: Fumble recoveries are luck, but it should be noted that Isaac Sopoaga tomahawk-chopped at Osi Umenyiora's arm when the ball bounced right into his hands. To be sure, Williams' recovery on that play wasn't skill, but Sopoaga's hack was.

Seems like every third down, the Giants are spreading it out. I don't think it's a coincidence that they've been so successful given how much trouble the 49ers have had against the spread this season. Also not a coincidence: the Giants touchdown coming from that formation as well.

Vince Verhei: OK, Davis' unnecessary roughness call in the middle of the second quarter? Now that was stupid, and deserved to be penalized.

Tim Gerheim: Have I really seen Alex Smith run two zone reads? I've seen about five minutes of 49ers football this season; has that been part of their mad scientist offense all season?

Mike Tanier: Smith has had a few designed runs this year, but I don't remember how many zone reads. More like draws, and sweeps like the one he ran last week. It is all part of his SmiTebow routine.

Aaron Schatz: You know, Smith's basically done nothing in the first half other than the huge 73-yard touchdown to Davis. Despite that, he's not really facing as much pressure as I expected. He hasn't been sacked yet, but the 49ers have only converted one first down.

Danny Tuccitto: Observation: At least four times in the first half, Carlos Rogers has (surprisingly) looked like he's been totally lost in zone, conferring with his teammates during and after plays where he gives up completions.

Vince Verhei: Giants up 10-7 at halftime (assuming nothing silly happens in the last two seconds). I'm trying to figure out how New York doesn't have 20 or more points. They can't run, at all, but it looks like Eli Manning has time to do whatever he wants in the pocket. I wish I had been paying more attention to Aldon Smith and what New York was doing to shut him down. I did see one play where the tight end's primary job was to help David Diehl with Smith, and only release into the flat when that job was finished. I'd imagine there have been a lot of plays like that today.

Aaron Schatz: I've been surprised by the lack of 49ers pressure for most of the night tonight, but they finally got to Eli with a blitz on the third down with 3:45 left in the third quarter.

Vince Verhei: Yes. I don't know what adjustments the 49ers made at halftime, but suddenly they got pressure rushing four over and over again in the third quarter.

Danny Tuccitto: On the Davis touchdown in the third quarter, he cut his route into a go as opposed to the usual post or out. Obviously we don't have the benefit of the all-22, but I have to believe Harbaugh and Roman have been setting that up for two quarters now.

Tom Gower: I've been watching this game with interest, but haven't had much to say about it. I'm almost surprised the Giants aren't treating Davis like he's Steve Smith and this is the 2005 (2006) NFC championship game. Davis is a matchup threat and the focus of so much of the explosiveness of the 49ers passing attack -- their wideouts have done nothing so far. As has been noted, the Giants are doing a better job of containing the Smiths (Aldon and Justin) than the Saints did last week, and the 49ers seem like they've had to blitz to get pressure. As Vince said, it feels like the Giants should have more than 10 points, but they don't.

Danny Tuccitto: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Tremaine Brock to "This Is Your 49ers Playoff Life."

The benefit of having Delanie Walker back in the lineup (finally) reveals itself at the end of the third quarter, when he lines up at fullback on first-and-10, and springs Frank Gore for an 11-yard run. The next play is a successful completion to Walker for seven yards. We're headed into the fourth quarter with the 49ers up four.

Mike Tanier: Devin Thomas, playoff hero?

Aaron Schatz: More like Kyle Williams, playoff goat. Thomas can't advance the ball.

Vince Verhei: The Backup punt returner gives New York the ball in good field position, then the backup cornerback gives up a go-ahead touchdown pass.

Aaron Schatz: I know that I can't really talk about luck today, but really, that's some serious luck there.

Of course, the Giants offense has to actually execute to get the touchdown instead of a field goal there, and Manning's touchdown pass was pretty sweet. The thing about this Giants playoff run is that the offense isn't a surprise. Manning has been good this entire year. It's the defense that's playing differently.

Danny Tuccitto: Aaaand, with eight minutes left, there's your Alex Smith running.

Aaron Schatz: OK, the pass that takes Michael Crabtree out of bounds three yards short of the sticks on third-and-5 is not a good play. I think I said something earlier about the 49ers getting one first-down conversion all day but I guess I was wrong, apparently they have ZERO first-down conversions today.

Vince Verhei: I don't like the Giants' use of screen passes in the fourth quarter. Don't let Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis chase guys down -- attack that depleted secondary!

Tim Gerheim: That was also very poor execution on the screen. When Ahmad Bradshaw caught the ball, he had a wall of blockers in front of him. As walls typically do, they prevented him from advancing, leaving his only outlet in the direction of 49ers defenders.

Aaron Schatz: What do the rest of you think of the decision that Bowman doesn't get a fumble there with 2:00 left because of forward progress being stopped?

Tom Gower: I thought Bradshaw's forward progress had been stopped well before the ball started coming out, and it was the right call.

Vince Verhei: Yeah. Not close to a fumble.

I want to get a 49ers jersey without a number, that just reads "punt coverage unit" on the back.

Rivers McCown: Prediction: whichever defense successfully murders the opposing quarterback first wins the game.

Tim Gerheim: Zak DeOssie made the call on the overtime coin toss? Now that's coaching: bring out the Ivy Leaguer to run the probabilities.

Aaron Schatz: Deep pass incomplete to Victor Cruz. That's the second time this game the 49ers have missed a pick because two of them went for it together and banged into each other.

Tim Gerheim: Eli Manning is lucky that Dashon Goldson is so rangy.

Vince Verhei: The 49ers have called passing plays on five straight first downs, and seven of their last eight. That's partly because they were in hurry-up at the end of regulation, but it stretches back to the start of the fourth quarter. Quite predictable.

Aaron Schatz: With the 49ers pass rush playing better, the Giants are leaving extra guys in to block. The third-down sack at 9:40 of overtime was a green dog where extra guys came because the guys they were covering in man stayed into block.

Tim Gerheim: Now you can officially say it: Kyle Williams, playoff goat.

Mike Tanier: Devin Thomas, playoff hero?

Rivers McCown: Jacoby Jones and Kyle Williams are collaborating on a lumber yard project this offseason.

FO assistant editor curse? (Sorry Danny.)

Aaron Schatz: Sorry, Danny. That is not a happy way to lose.

Vince Verhei: It would be easy (and not totally unfair) to dump this in the lap of Williams, but remember that Alex Smith dropped back to pass 29 times today, and produced five first downs.

Well, let me backtrack. The 49ers passing game, not Alex Smith by himself, produced five first downs in 29 dropbacks. Crabtree had one catch for three yards. Williams (yes, he was starting at wideout too) had no catches in four targets. I know Braylon Edwards and Ted Ginn were injured, but on the other hand they are Braylon Edwards and Ted Ginn -- would they have made that big a difference?

This is really a lousy group of wideouts. It's kind of amazing they got this far. Which is another reason to question San Francisco's pass-wacky strategy.

Tom Gower: You know who the 49ers wideouts remind me of? The 2000 Ravens wideouts, who were similarly unimpressive. That Ravens team also had a serious vertical threat tight end (Shannon Sharpe), and a run game behind Jamal Lewis, who I think really emerged late in the year. Good special teams as well.

That helped them beat the Titans (who outgained them by almost 200 yards) and the Giants. The 49ers didn't get any points out of special teams or defense this week, and now they're done.

(They cut Edwards late in the regular season, didn't they?)

Aaron Schatz: Yep, they did.

Vince Verhei: They cut him, but it was after he was hurt, wasn't it?

Tom Gower: I thought he was hurt, then got healthy, then they realized they liked Williams better and cut Braylon.

Robert Weintraub: Important point for Super Bowl media meme -- AFC is officially the home team, so Brady will dress at Peyton's locker (in theory, at least), and not Eli.

Look for that to played to death over the next fortnight. Can't they just play the game on Wednesday?

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 23 Jan 2012

275 comments, Last at 26 Jan 2012, 7:54pm by MJK


by Dean :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:23am

Dear Northeast Corridor. Please enjoy your hype fest. We'll be watching hockey. We'll come back to football in the fall. Sincerely, America.

by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:27am

Trust me, this part of the northeast corridor is not excited either. I'll be rooting for the Pats, but only so that I don't have to listen to the crowing Giants fans at my local bar.

by Cro-mags (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:02am

You mean you'll be watching the Rangers and Bruins trade 1st place in their conference back and forth?

by Dean :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:35am

If you pulled your head out of the northeast corridor, you'd know that A) they're both going to choke to the Flyers and B) the better race is Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and Vancouver and to a lesser extent Nashville. Of course that's all flyover country, so it can't possibly be worth noticing.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:57am

Predicting that the current Stanley Cup Champion is going to choke? Um, OK.

If you don't like football, go to a hockey blog. I suspect Giants-Pats is going to do very well ratings-wise.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:05pm

Wait...did Philly somehow get moved from the Northeast corridor? Good thing I found out before I had to drive there next.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:44pm

Technically, Philadelphia is the north end of the Mid-Atlantic region, as it's the northern limit of the continental sub-tropical climate shared by Baltimore and DC.

(Trenton, 20 miles to the north, is the southern end of the Northeast)

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:50pm

Irrational geography debate thread to follow!

by dbostedo :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:11am

I'll keep it going here.... I'd say the NE corridor is DC up to Boston. That's DC, Baltimore, Philly, NYC, Boston (and you could include Hartford, Providence, and Wilmington). Basically, it's where the Amtrak Acela runs.

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 11:52am

DC and Baltimore in the Northeast? I wouldn't put any town south of the Mason-Dixon line into the Northeast...by definition, south of that line is South.

by dryheat :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:02pm

Well, the Mason-Dixon line is artificial, and not any more geographically significant that the boundary between Vermont/New Hampshire (Northern New England) and Massachusetts (Southern New England). By definition, anything south of that line is South.

If you look at a map of the US, it wouldn't be unreasonable to call DC a "northeast" city. Especially if you're from, say, Houston or Denver or Savannah. DC and Baltimore were certainly considered Northern cities as far back as the colonies, but again, that was a cultural distinction more than geographical.

Like most things, North and South are relative.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 1:31pm

Denver is north of DC.

Culturally, the dividing line was traditionally the Appalachian mountains, with some oddness along the shore. Still, I struggle to identify any slave state as being part of the Northeast. I can accept Philly in the northeast, even though the city itself does not, but not Baltimore or DC. There's a difference between the megalopolis and the Northeast.

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 3:07pm

Huh what? Everything under discussion in this here sub-thread is artificial. Geographical significance is irrelevant -- cultural significance is what separates North from South. The Mason-Dixon line separated slave from free states, and as such was and still is a big cultural divide. I've never in my live heard a Southerner call DC a northern anything.

by kps43 :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:23pm

The Flyers will not win a playoff eries with Bryzgalov in goal

by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:10am

"We'll be watching hockey."

Right, I'm sure Texas, Florida and California are going to be glued to Versus to watch the Flames and the Ducks on SB Sunday.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:47pm

Did something suddenly happen to the NBA?

by Rikki (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:11am

I so wanted to see the WASP-Hippie Bowl.

by Jericho (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:22am

Although I get the feeling Pats fans are happy about this match-up (possible revenge angle?) and TV networks are happy about this match-up, I'm not sure anyone else wanted to see this, even Giants fans. While the Giants fans are happy their team won, this specific match-up appears very underwhelming to the regular football fan. Or at least the ones I've spoken too.

by White Rose Duelist :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:33am

I'll be doing both. Go Terriers, Bruins and Patriots!

by Dean :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:47am

You know, if you're going to include the Terriers, I suppose I'll have to cut you some slack. You'll never hear a bad word from me about any team that plays in the Beanpot.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:45am

Really? Do you really consider yourself a football fan if you decide not to watch the Super Bowl because the two teams are from the same geographic region? When the game is a rematch of one of the best games in history?

Or do you just hate the northeast so much that you're willing to ignore what seems likely to be a great game just so you can stew in your resentment?

by RickD :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:58am

It's the second.

by Junior :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:09pm

Or do you just hate the northeast so much that you're willing to ignore what seems likely to be a great game just so you can stew in your resentment?

I don't know about the original poster, but this sentence describes me to a T.

by Purds :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:36pm

I like the honesty from you two!

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:56pm

Personally, I hate the northwest quadrant of the northeast quadrant of Wyoming.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:59pm

Aren't there only about two people living there to hate?

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:03pm

Yeah, but one of them is a real jerk. A complete kneebiter.

by Led :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:34pm

Arthur Dent lives in Wyoming?

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:06pm

Yeah, but those insufferably arrogant elk! It's always "look at my gorgeous rack" this, and "hear my haunting mating call" that!

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:15pm

Elk? Pfah! It's the beavers who bug me. Don't get me started on the beavers, and their smug "Look how clever I am!" grins and their holier than thou "Aren't I so hard working?" strut. Always walking around with their snouts in the air, they are.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:19pm

Seriously, why can't they both lose?

by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:15pm

And always so contemptful about the grizzly bears in the northwest quadrant of the northwest quadrant of the state, living off government assistance.

by the K :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 3:02am

I didn't know Brendon Ayanbadejo posted on FO under the nickname "Dean" until today.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:33pm

Given that 3 out of the 4 teams in the conference championship games were from the northeast (Baltimore being north of the Mason Dixon line qualifies), there was a 50% chance the SB would be all northeastern teams.

And really, do most fans really care about geography beyond the one team they root for? Will fans of Denver or San Diego or Chicago be less likely to watch the SB because the Niners aren't in it?

In the SB, you'll always have two teams with very interested fanbases, a few interested fans who for some reason hate one of the involved teams, a bunch of general football fans, and a host of people that watch it for the commercials.

by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:45pm

I would agree that Baltimore is culturally a northeast city but it is south of the Mason-Dixon line not north of it.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:51pm

D'oh! You're right... I'm an idiot. I even pride myself as being good at geography. But for some reason, I mix up Philly and Baltimore in my head at times...

by RichC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:08pm

Baltimore is a funny place. They get offended if you tell them they're from the south, but if you've lived in the North, its pretty clear Baltimore isn't a part of the north either.

by Anonymous454545 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:56pm

Here's my weak RaiderJoe homage on paradoxical paradise of MD:

Marland South of Maxon-dixon. Would have foaught for South in Civil war, but Taglibue trew state legislature in jail and ignore Writ of Habeous Corpus for years. Al davis was there. Fought for both sides before settling on AFL. Next year Raiders will be unstoppable with two top-tier QB's in Campbell and Palmer. Chefs horrible.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:09pm

Strong finish.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:52pm

Most of the border states are like that. It gets especially dicey in Appalachia, which was populated by many white people even poorer than the slaves, and was too hilly to support plantations, so even the rich didn't have them.

Kentucky? Union.
West Virginia -- separated from Virginia to fight for the north.
Maryland and Delaware -- greatly depended on where in the state you were.

Hell, southern Indiana and Ohio are functionally the south in places.

by John (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 7:05pm

Hell, southern Indiana and Ohio are functionally the south in places.

We have the northernmost stand of wild bald cypress trees in the country, at Twin Swamps. Indiana (like most states) does have some weird dichotomies; northern half of the state is flatter than a pancake, southern half was spared by most of the glaciers and is quite hilly.

I was quite lost in southwest Indiana, looking for the world's second longest viaduct, when I drove down several gravel roads that made me wonder if I'd ever find my way home. Along one, I drove over some barbed wire strung across the road (didn't stop to figure out why); along another, I passed a family living out of a huge tent, with half-naked kids running around.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 1:33pm

I see you met the governor's family.

by JimZipCode :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:55pm

And interestingly, DC is clearly a Northern city, though about 30 mins Southwest of Baltimore.

by jonsilver :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:20am

You wouldn't find many people agreeing with you if you go back 40-50 years or more...

by Athelas :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 8:10pm

When I lived in DC in 67-68, there were political ads advocating segregation.
It was Southern then,but I think it's morphed into part of the Northeast corridor.

by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:34pm

This Super Bowl is a matchup made in ESPN heaven.

For the rest of the country, not so much.

by Dean :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 10:31am

Exactly. But somehow, it's a zero-sum game. That means I somehow have to hate the northeast - despite (or maybe because of) having grown up there. Then again, it's the internet, extremes rule, centrists are trampled by both sides. I mean, how DARE I find the prospect of NY/NE be nauseating?!?!

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 11:39am

The person I responded to explicitly stated that he hated the Northeast. Also,
what is "centrist" about proclaiming a football game "nauseating"?

I mean, I've been in slums around the country and world that were nauseating. I've eaten food that was nauseating. I listen to politicians that are nauseating. I don't know how an atletic entertainment event, between two reasonably good teams, can be nauseating. Either the game will be well played or it won't be, and there is nothing specific about these teams that would suggest it will be so poorly played that it will nauseate, and a lot to suggest that it will be an interesting competition. If you are referring to the obnoxious elements of fanbases and media, hell, allowing meatheads to ruin your chance of enjoyment makes no sense at all, if you enjoy football for the intrinsic elements of the game. The ability to ignore meatheads is an important skill to acquire.

by Tofino :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 4:54pm

Yeah, there's no interest at all outside of the Northeast.

Oh wait: http://i.imgur.com/6OGDF.png

Extra lol in that image: Wisconsin.

by nat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:23am

Ben: If it hits you in the chest and it doesn't end in a catch or a concussion, it's a drop.
Spoken like an offensive lineman. But that's why we like you.

by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:24am

The lady that sang the anthem in the second game apparently had all the plastic surgery that the guy who sang it in the first game needs.

by White Rose Duelist :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:38am

And apparently didn't know the actual tune to the song.

by TomC :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:02pm

Huh? She sang every pitch exactly correctly. She was playing around with the rhythm a lot, maybe that's what threw you.

by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 9:01pm

Chenowith is a terrific singer.

by John (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:23pm

I'm sorry I missed her. She's always a hoot when she's a guest on Prairie Home Companion.

by akn :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 2:30pm

But she was a disaster in on West Wing.

by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:32am

1) Explain to me how the replay on Brady's reversed TD shows the ball almost at the goal line when his knee touches down, but the refs spot the ball almost all the way back to the 1?

2) Still trying to understand how Brady still has a working spine after that up-and-over play for the TD.

3) Bomb to Matthew Slater? MATTHEW SLATER?? When taking a couple of minutes off the clock and a FG will put you in a pretty good situation? Put that in "Burn that play".

4) Convenient of Pollard to make sure to trap Gronkowski's ankle under him. Most other players, I'd give the benefit of the doubt. But after hearing that POS go on about how "proud" he is to cause season-ending injuries, I want to see someone beat him into a concussion with his own leg.

5) Amazed that for one shining moment the refs gave Revis/Reed treatment to Sterling Moore of all people. Because that was holding before he knocked the 3rd down pass away.

6) Brady -- glad you showed some self-awareness during the trophy presentation because that was not a good game. Plus, excellent punking of Nantz. Nantz starts going rhapsodically on and on about tying Montana and Elway and your first words to Nantz were "I sucked pretty bad today."

7) The dropped/stripped TD was definitely incomplete (by about the two inches Evans's second foot was above the ground when he lost control of the ball) but I agree with Harbaugh that the booth should have buzzed down.

8) Edelman on Boldin was really the best matchup you could come up with at that point in the game, Bill? That's pretty scary.

9) Wilfork played 97% of the defensive snaps. That's pretty impressive for someone of his weight class. And it's not like he was taking it easy out there.

by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:56am

3) That one play was Slater's only snap on offense. Slater going deep is not going to be a surprise to the Ravens at that point. The only way that play's useful is if the Pats are using Slater as a decoy. Couldn't tell what route was happening on the left side of the field, but there were 3 Ravens in the end zone and no other Pats. Bad play call and really bad decision by Brady to top it off.

8) Arrington was out of the game still, wasn't he? I'm not an X's and O's guy, so I'm curious what else they could have done. Who'd they have left at corner? It's not like Boldin was the only receiver playing well. Setting aside the personnel evaluation discussion that arises from Arrington being the best cover guy...

Pats were lucky to escape, with Brady playing badly, Gronkowski out, and Arrington out. I'll be interested in the DVOAs from this game.

by Anon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:13am

1) They spotted it at the 1/2 yard line. It's unusual for referees to spot a ball anywhere else than in a yard line or right in the middle of two. There aren't many referees that go "The ball will be spot at the 2 and 5/8ths line", though it has happened.

4) I think he did what he had to do and the injury was casual. He grabbed Gronkowski by the waist and pulled him down (only way to take him down if he's running foward) and then his left leg got trapped under Pollard's body when he fell. It was an unlucky play. So was Pollard's Brady Hit, by the way, regardless of what Pollard wants to believe.

7) With the new completion-in-the-end-zone rules, I think there was no doubt it was an incompletion with the whole "you have to finish the play" thing. Evans either lost control before having two feet down or inmediately lost it afterwards.

8) CBS listed McCourty as a RCB, but he really played most of the game as a de facto free safety, with a lot of zone coverage. I couldn't see him during most of the game, but he seemed to have been patrolling the middle of the downfield oftenly. Without him, and having Arrington injured during almost 1 quarter and a half, who else was there to cover Boldin? They really have nobody in their secondary.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:11pm

8) Yeah, we're questioning the idea of having McCourty as a free safety and putting Edelman on Boldin.

I don't know what's wrong with McCourty, but he's still better than Edelman.

by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:23am

7) On the Evans incomplete, one of the shows (can't remember which one) said that the booth reviewer looked at it and confirmed it was incomplete, so they didn't stop to have a thorough review.

What's the procedure on who decides to look at it? The booth guy? The head ref? Either one?

by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:35am

The booth guy looks at it and if he thinks it's close enough, he buzzes down to the referee and tells him to go under the hood to look at it.

by allmystuffisthere (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:54am

I didn't think much of it at the time, and I especially hate when the play goes through the freeze-frame formula. But didn't the Packers get a touchdown like this, vs the Giants I think, earlier this season?

by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:07pm


Then I interpret what I heard on ESPN or NFL Network as "the booth guy thought it wasn't close, so he didn't buzz down." Has there been any explanation from the league on this?

by Lyford :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:59pm

I was surprised, this morning, at how many people seem to think that the Evans non-catch [I don't call it a drop - the ball got knocked out] should have been reviewed. I didn't think it was close to a completed catch live. On slow motion replay, it looks closer, but that's because it's, you know, slow. He clearly never completed the catch.

by allmystuffisthere (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 9:28pm

I don't know how you can use the word 'clearly' with the way the NFL runs replay anymore. I'm 100 percent certain it gets called both ways. I'd go along with the idea that they didn't want to decide the outcome of the game on that, but isn't that the point? They gave the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh a few years ago on a judgment call of where Santonio Holmes' toes were.

by bengt (not verified) :: Wed, 01/25/2012 - 4:30am

They gave the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh a few years ago on a judgment call of where Santonio Holmes' toes were.
There was a booth review, but it was not announced on the field. Apparently the same situation as in the NFCC.

by bengt (not verified) :: Wed, 01/25/2012 - 9:39am

Ooops, screwed that one up.
The play I was referring to was the strip sack/fumble recovery on Kurt Warner's very last pass attempt ever. I'm pretty sure the Holmes TD was reviewed and that it was announced, but I'll check my recording of the game in any case.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:09pm

1) terrible spot, but it ended up not mattering

3) I don't disagree with the play call per se, but Brady should not have thrown that pass. Slater can get open (he's pretty fast), but on that play he wasn't open. And Brady really doesn't throw a great long pass.

4) Pollard is an ass, but he didn't intentionally go after Gronk's ankle.

5) I'm going to believe it was holding, because so many people have made this comment. I didn't see it, but I was in near shock at that point. I will say that Flacco got the benefit of a lot of O-line holding in this game. I still don't think I've seen O-line holding flagged at all during this year's playoffs. Looking forward to another full-Nelson hold in the Super Bowl.

7) Why should the booth have buzzed down if they thought it was obviously an incomplete pass? The replay makes it clear within 5 seconds, right? They should make a show of having another pair of eyes verify what you say is "obvious" just to make Harbaugh happy?

8) I thought Edelman on Boldin was bad coverage. But then they tried "Boldin uncovered." I think the Pats' coaches wanted to prove "Hey, he's better than nothing!" I have no idea what Matt Patricia is thinking these days, but I sincerely hope he gets handed his walking papers once the Super Bowl is over. Somehow he's taken an elite CB (McCourty) and destroyed him. He's had a chance to coach a number of physically gifted players in the secondary (McCourty, Butler, Meriweather, etc.) and somehow we're handed this crap? When it's just one player, you can blame the player. When it's every single player whose drafted over a five year period, you have to blame the coaching.

9) Wilfork definitely was the MVP of the game.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:30pm

5) There have been just 8 offensive holding flags (including 2 declined) in the 10 playoff games. Weirdly, 7 of those came in the three Giants games (6 on the Giants) and just 1 (Gosder Cherilus) in the other seven combined.

by ibanez_ax :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:35pm

Better hope that Ron Winter's crew doesn't do the Super Bowl. That is one flag-happy bunch!

by Dean :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:37am

Someone (Danny?) mentioned it briefly, but it seemed like Eli's entire passing philosophy - and it's hard to argue with it given the success he had - was "find Carlos Rogers and throw to whoever he's covering." Rogers had about a years worth of lunch money stolen from him yesterday.

by Dales :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:37am

Looking forward to two weeks of the occasional poster lamenting how the Giants are making the NFL playoffs into a meaningless travesty.

by IB (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:42pm

Why would anyone think that? It's the regular season they are turning into a meaningless travesty.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:11pm

That's on the Cowboys and Eagles.

by MFurtek (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:40am

90% of the time, I see that Bradshaw fumble at the 2-minute warning ruled a fumble because the officials never call it forward progress. In other words, the defense is allowed to stand him up and strip the ball while he's going to the ground.

Did anyone not remember the play that led to "they are who they thought they were!"

I'm surprised Gower and Verhei think otherwise... watching football in recent years it was a clear mistake by the official to blow the whistle. Just way too many times I've seen a player get stood up by the defense, pushed back and if he loses the ball while going down, tough luck buddy... you should hang onto it.

by Jimmy :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:36am

The fumble you are referring to in the Bears/Cards game of a while back was slightly different. When Edgerrin James was initially tackled the Bears defender only had him around his ankles, James was stood upright and not moving backward when the ball got stripped by another defender. The difference here was that Bradshaw got hurled backwards before he fumbled. (the call still seems somewhat nonsensical to me however)

by GlennW :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:18pm

Completely agree. You'll see runners get stood up or even pushed back and then get stripped much later after forward progress has been stopped than in this case. Hard to complain too much because the call is technically correct, but it's just not typically ruled this way.

by Ryan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:31pm

I'm curious for some clarification...

If the ball starts coming out before the whistle is blown to consider forward progress stopped, is that reviewable, and would the officials allow whoever recovered to keep the ball, but not advance it? I feel like there has been some inconsistency on the whole "whistle blew when the ball came out so recovering team keeps/does not keep possession" issue.

I'd have to double-check my recording, but it seemed like the ball started coming loose just slightly before the whistle blew. There has to be some sort of line where they decide a play is reviewable, right?

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:35pm

I don't think the timing of the whistle can be part of a review. I believe the rules state that only visual evidence, not audible evidence, is part of a review.

So, no, I don't think the refs can use replay to look at where the ball was at the moment the whistle blew... even if you can hear it on the replay (which you can't always).

I could be wrong, though.

by RichC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:08pm

You can't challenge forward progress. Period.

Once they call forward progress, it doesn't matter if the ball had already come loose, and someone had run it into the endzone. Its a dead ball.

by andrew :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:42am

Worst Field Goal Misses in NFL history:

1. Scott Norwood - 47 yards, to win Superbowl, wide right.

2. Gary Andersen - 38 yards, with Superbowl berth on line, who hadn't missed a kick all year. Would have been two score lead with two minutes to go, lose in overtime.

3. Billy Cundiff - 31 yards to send AFC Championship to overtime. Easier kick than two above it but would not have guaranteed victory.

4. Doug Brien - 43 yarder at the end of regulation to win game vs Steelers in 2004 season. He also missed a 47 yarder with about two minutes to go. Steelers won in overtime. Arguably worse, but not at same stage. (Steelers would go on to get blown out by Patriots, so you can't say Jets would likely have been in Superbowl).

Not a miss but worth mentioning:

Tony Romo's botched snap on the extra point vs Seattle to tie game.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:11am

Romo's botched hold was on a 19-yard field goal, not an extra point.

A few others:

Mike Vanderjagt - 46 yards at the end of regulation to tie 2005 AFC Divisional game against the Steelers, wide way right. Colts were the #1 seed.

Lin Elliot - 42 yards at the end of regulation to tie 1995 AFC Divisional game against the Colts, wide left. Elliot also missed from 35 and 39 in the game. Chiefs were the #1 seed.

Three not remembered because their teams won:

Neil Rackers - 34 yards at end of regulation to win 2008 NFC Wild Card against the Packers, wide left.

Lawrence Tynes - 36 yards at the end of regulation to win 2007 NFC Championship, wide way left. Tynes also missed from 43 seven minutes earlier.

Mark Moseley - 23 yards in overtime to win 1986 AFC Divisional game against the Jets, wide right.

by Anon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:20am

Tynes' try was kicked under horrendous weather and over natural grass. I don't know how terrible that miss was. I think it was more surprising that he made the next kick, which was longer than the previous one.

by Jericho (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:31am

Should there be some San Diego/Kaeding kicks in there? Seems like that always happens, at least when Marty was coaching.

Also, shouldn't there be some karma for New England to lose on a field goal one day? Or at least some bizarre tuck rule like scenario? For all the times Vinatieri bailed them out or a tuck rule bailed them out or a Billy Cundiff bailed them out, I'd just like to see them lose on some bizarre play or missed field goal liek most teams seem to suffer through. I guess I can hold on to David Tyree's helmet catch. But that was the other team making a spectacular, if not downright lucky, play.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:41am

Kaeding missed short from 54 to tie the 2006 game against the Patriots and wide right from 40 in the rain to win the 2004 game against the Jets. Not great, but more difficult than any of the ones listed.

by Anon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:21pm

No, remember the divisional game at home against the Jets a couple of years ago. I remember he missing a good number of "automatic" FGs in a game that went to the wire.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:30pm

Kaeding missed from 36 (0-0, 6:31 1Q), 57 (7-0, 0:06 2Q), and 40 (7-17, 4:42 4Q). A terrible game, but those aren't that uncommon (David Treadwell in the 1991 AFCCG comes to mind) and none of the individual misses were game-tying/winning in the final seconds.

by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:11pm

Well, in the Mo Lewis-knocks-Bledsoe-out-of-NE game in 2001, the tuck rule cancelled a Jets fumble.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:31pm

You just don't follow the Patriots enough. They've had their share of weird things happen that killed their chances in a game:

* 2005 Playoffs -- Champ Bailey's pick... enough said

* 2006 AFCCG -- Ellis Hobbs gets called for DPI in the endzone versus Reggie Wayne, helping the Colts dramatic comeback, because he was "faceguarding" (he didn't actually make contact with Wayne). Except that faceguarding wasn't (and still isn't) illegal at the time.

* The infamous 4th and 2 spot

* As you mentioned...the Helmet Catch. About as bizarre and fluky a play as you could ever want, and in the highest of high stakes settings.

* 2008 -- being the first team in decades to miss the playoffs after going 11-5.

You say "for all the times Vinatieri bailed them out or a tuck rule bailed them out or a Billy Cundiff bailed them out". Let's see... In most cases, Vinatieri simply made kicks that a kicker is expected to make. Just because you won a game by a FG doesn't mean your kicker "bailed you out"...it means you have a good, reliable kicker and put yourself in a position to use that kicker to win. Similarly, the Ravens lost this game not because Cundiff bailed out the Patiots...but because the Ravens DON'T have a good, reliable kicker (same goes for Kaeding). If you invest in a good kicker, that's a team decision, like investing in a good QB.

And the "tuck rule" gets called at least several times a season for various teams. That's like saying "they were bailed out because the forward pass is legal", or "you can't take possession of an incomplete pass". These are rules of the game.

by michael (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:56pm

the 4th and 2 spot? clearly down short, awful play call.

the bailey int? tough call to overrule, but it was close, still could have won the game. playing against jake plummer for crying out loud.

if harrison did what he always did, hit the receiver, instead of going for the ball, tyree never would have caught that ball. high pressure makes people change their routine and think instead of act. harrison choked.

by RichC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:11pm

Not to mention, Vinateri missed his fair share of kicks in the playoffs.

Everybody seems to forget missing the 30 yarder earlier in the game when you hit a 45 yarder at the buzzer.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:20pm

The Hobbs DPI was on 2nd and 5 from the Pats 20 (about there). If they don't call it, it is 3rd and 5 in FG range, in a game where the Patriots had about no ideas how to stop Manning at that point. It didn't even end a drive. It helped the Colts, sure, but it might not have mattered.

It is hard to say the Pats deserved a playoff spot in 2008 when the only team they beat that was any good (excluding the Cards who probably should have just come out and said that they weren't trying) was one win against the Jets and Dolphins. They lost to their closest wild card contender (Indy), and got hammered by the 8-8 Chargers who everyone was complaining about that they were even in the playoffs.

This isn't to say that the Patriots haven't had bad, tough losses. They have. The 2005 one was awful, with the iffy DPI call on Samuel, and all the turnovers. The 2006 one was heartbreaking (you left out the fact that right before the Patriots got the ball with 3:40 left needing one first down to basically win - oddly, just the situation they failed in this game as well - they got called for too many men in the huddle). 2007 as well. But they've also one a lot of games with odd plays. They beat the Steelers largely because of a punt return and a blocked field goal return. They scored 1 offensive TD each game in the 2003 playoffs. The Titans were driving for a game tying FG (or game winning TD) when McNair was called for intentional grounding. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, if the Panthers never go for two (or just get one of the two) the game is completely different. The Pats are probably still ahead in terms of close wins decided by a few key plays. Unlike the Colts, who have had one exceptional, close win countered with tons of losses where they didn't turn the ball over.

by NYMike :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:27pm

All you youngsters don't remember 1976 when the Patriots got totally hosed in the playoff game against the Raiders. Sugar Bear Robinson hit Stabler while he still had the ball and was called for Roughing the Passer, reversing a 3-and-15 late and leading to the winning score. I remember screaming myself hoarse at the call at the time. Twenty years later, I saw the play on tape and it was worse than I remembered it!

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 5:19pm

I see you that, and raise you Doug Sutherland of the Vikings, in 1975, being tackled as he completely bullrushed a Cowboys lineman, allowing Staubach time to heave the infamous pass to Drew Pearson, who pushed off to make the catch in the playoff game that coined the phrase "Hail Mary". I was there, and screamed my youthful lungs out that the Cowboys cheated TWICE on the play that ruined my winter!

by GlennW :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:45pm

Then the head referee was clonked in the head by a whiskey bottle thrown from the stands, knocking him cold. Crazy.

I have to say though, Will, while I was outraged at the time as a dedicated Cowboys-hater, when I see a replay of this play now I'm no longer so sure that it was even a bad non-call. Certainly it wasn't an outrageous push-off by Pearson but rather very subtle, with Nate Wright slipping and falling from precious little contact. I'd imagine that an offensive pass interference call there would have likewise been very controversial (just not inside the Met). Today I see receivers get away with much worse on a regular basis. Begrudgingly I can also give Pearson credit for making a great play just on the catch itself, picking the football off from below his knees like that after it somehow eluded Wright.

by andrew :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 7:01pm

And that tennis ball will always taunt me.

The play before the hail mary Pearson caught a ball on the sideline, out of bounds. He likely would have been out of bounds without help, but he got hit as well, and the referee ruled it a force out, which meant it counted.

and of course none of these things were the worst thing to happen to Tarkenton that day.

by Marko :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 8:14pm

The official who got hit on the head by the bottle thrown from the stands was Armen Terzian. That incident is what he is remembered for. I don't remember if he was the referee or just one of the other officals, though.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 9:20pm

I can't remember. I was about 200 feet from the drunk who threw the bottle; it was a pretty accurate toss given the blood alcohol level of the thrower.

I was always more mad about the tackle of Sutherland than I was the Pearson shove. It was a takedown worthy of an Olympic wrestler.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:07pm

Well, Sugar Ray was the greatest of his generation, but probably wouldn't be that effective vs. a guy wearing a helmet and face mask.

You are probably recalling Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton. Yes, I remember. That, to me, was why the Tuck Rule was so sweet.

by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 7:34pm

Heh. That's my standard response to Raider fans (and there are plenty in Nevada) when they bring up the Tuck Rule stuff. Of course, most are too young and I just get a blank look. Givin' him the business indeed.

by duh :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 7:16pm

Ray 'Sugar Bear' Hamilton ... I remember it still to this day watching the game with my dad, it was the first time I ever heard him curse after that call.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:38pm

Phantom PI call vs. Ellis Hobbs in the 2006 AFCC which went a long way towards their choke job vs. Indy?

Might be a reach, but that's all I got. Or maybe the INT return by Champ Bailey in 2005 that seemed to be pretty clearly a blown call (Denver TD vs. NE ball 1st and 10 on their 20)....although they were still losing at the time, so it's hard to say that cost them the game.

by Cro-mags (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:03am

Norwood's had the worst consequence, but 47 yards on a natural surface outdoors isn't a given either.

by andrew :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:13am

I just think that one lingered in the public consciousness much longer than the others.

And it is worse that the Bills never did win one (3 times back, but never close). The Vikings haven't been to one since Andersen (they did have one more NFC championship game, a 41-0 loss that was over less than two minutes into it). That the Ravens won a superbowl a decade earlier alleviates things a small amount but not much. Pretty much everyone believes this was probably the last best chance for Lewis and Reed to get another ring. Well, maybe we'll see next year but somehow don't expect it.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:22am

The Vikings played in a conference championship game two years ago, outgained the opponent by more than two hundred yards, in their opponent's stadium, with their qb significantly outplaying the opponent's, their linemen dominating the line of scrimmage, and they lost in ot, when they kept fumbling, and their dbs kept droping easy ints.

Blocked it from your memory already, have you?

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:23pm

They didn't get outgained nearly as badly, but the Saints loss to the 49ers was similar. Saints turned the ball over like mad. Outgained the 49ers, in SF. And lost a close game because they turned the ball over one too many times.

That said, the "dominate the game in terms of total yards but turn it over too many times" loss happens it seems like once a year in the playoffs. NE in 2005. SD in 2006 (although they didn't win the turnover battle). Tennessee in 2008.

by andrew :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:58pm

Well maybe. But really I meant for those Vikings. '09 was like a completely different team.

I'm trying to think of who might've been on both teams and I don't think there as anyone on the 98 roster around in '09.

There probably aren't that many '00 Ravens that are still on the Ravens, I'm guessing just Lewis... I think even Reed came along a year or so later.

by 0tarin :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 9:53pm

Ray is the sole holdover at this point. Reed came in 2002, I believe.

by Anon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:17am

Due to cultural and circumstancial meaning, maybe Norwood Wide Right is N°1. But it's not the worst miss. I think Anderson's and Cundiff's are worse. Norwood hadn't been good at all during the regular season kicking on grass, and even worse in kicks over 40 yards.

On the other hand, Anderson had set a kicking accuracy record, and both his and Cundiff's kicks were very close to miss. They weren't contested by the defensive special teams, they weren't long for their legs, they weren't kicked in terrible weather, there wasn't much fault on the holder in Cundiff's case...

by andrew :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 5:02pm

Not that it excuses the miss, but it still irks me that the Falcons got away with calling consecutive timeouts right before the Anderson miss. On 3rd down near the 30 (iirc) the Falcons saw something they didn't like and called timeout. After the timeout they lined up with 12 men. Someone realized this and tried to call timeout. The refs, knowing you can't, ignored them. Dan Reeves then tried to call timeout, again the ref ignored him. Reeve then walked out onto the field in front of the ref and the ref blew the whistle stopping the action. They talked about it for a moment then announced there was no timeout since the Falcons couldn't call one (which would have been their last). But the falcons were able to reset their defense and avoid the penalty. And they got to keep their timeout which proved very valuable in their last minute drive to tie.

by Joshua Pakstis (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:46am

I was at the Pats/Ravens game and I really think that Cundiff wasn't ready to kick. During other moments in the game, either when he was called on to kick a FG or during a couple of 4th down decisions, he would be at the opposite 20 yd line and about 5-6 yards onto the field (just about where the "20" is painted). For whatever reason, on that last FG attempt, he at about the 20 but about 7 yards on the sideline. I actually saw Harbaugh jumping up and down yelling at Cundiff to get on the field, and he sprinted all the way there, and started lining up with about 10 seconds left on the play clock. When you look at the replay, he kicks it with about 3 seconds left on the play clock.

Now that doesn't look so bad on TV, but he barely had time to line up and get mentally ready. I really think that Harbaugh should have called a TO just to settle it all down. And I have no idea why Cundiff wasn't paying attention.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:02pm

And this doesn't count John Carney's missed XP in 2003 after a completed fire-drill Hail Mary, which cost the Saints a playoff berth.

by andrew :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 7:05pm

I forgot to mention Ray Finkle in the 1984 Superbowl for the Dolphins that would have won the game. But of course that was Dan Marino's fault for not putting the laces out, and who should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell.

by Bjorn Nittmo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:53am

Completely crazy and unfair to rank Norwood's miss #1. Right before the kick ABC flashed that the breakeven make-miss distance for kickers that year was 46 (or maybe 47) yards. Missing a 50-50 shot, even with the championship on the line, doesn't make a goat.

As for Doug Brien, Herm Edwards was to blame. Like many many other coaches (but thankfully not Tom Coughlin yesterday), his offense got to about the 25-yard line and he completely threw all rational probability out the window, concentrating only on the <10% chance of a turnover (for which he'd take heat) and not on the 25-30% (or more) chance of the kicker missing a 40-yard kick. This a week after Marty Schottenheimer made EXACTLY the same mistake, assuming a 40-yarder was a gimme for Nate Kaeding in losing to the Jets.

by Baby M (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:51am

On what planet in this universe is it considered a good idea to have a drug-addled 70s rock performer sing the National Anthem?

by Dean :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:26am

As bad as it was, I'd be willing to wager large sums of money that it will be less horrible than McDonna "performing" at halftime.

by Martial (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:58am

I actually thought Tyler nailed it.

The pre-game National Anthem needs to be seen in its context of time and place. In front of a boozy, playoff-hungry Boston crowd, an audience largely of the right age and group to have grown up with Aerosmith, Tyler sang in a key everybody could hit, he sang slowly enough that people could keep up, he sang the song the way most us sing it, proudly if a little bumbling, and he threw in one rock star wail (right at the place every diva feels the need to show off her range; Tyler didn't bother with that pop shit - he just yelled).

Tyler knows that particular audience as well as he knows anything. He spoke to them in their language. It was in fact as close to perfect as possible for its context. That crowd, offered up a Kristin Chenoweth for example, would have been restless and chatty. Given Tyler, they sang along and got fired up.

by ibanez_ax :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:39pm

The NFL would have never allowed it, but Dropkick Murphys doing the anthem at Foxboro would have been awesome!

by Dean :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:07pm

I suspect it would probably be mutual. The NFL won't allow anyone to actually perform live. Everything - including the National Anthem - is lip synched. I have a hard time thinking the Murphy's would go for that, even with all the exposure that would come with the performance.

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:11pm

The National Anthem is not usually lip-synched.

by Nathan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:18pm

If that Steven Tyler version was prerecorded the producer and audio engineer need to be fired.

by Martial (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:52pm

If it's lip-synced, then singers couldn't flub the lines. Unless the NFL is so crafty as to make sure they record flubbed lines so that we'll all think the Anthem is live. Goodell is brilliant!

by John Courage :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 5:03pm

I'm not really in that camp, but the AV Club certainly agrees with you .

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:58am

When I turned the set on, during the national anthem for the first game, my first thought was, "Why has the NFL hired a rodeo clown to sing that song?"

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:38am

Actually, I a rodeo clown would be kind of interesting.

by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:25pm

Especially if they released bulls instead of firing off rockets.

by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:07am

Good to know that after all those years in the wilderness up in Buffalo, it's possible to come back, play for a contender, and drop a pass that would have sent your team to the Superbowl.

Stevie Johnson was taking notes on that one.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:07am

"This is really a lousy group of wideouts. It's kind of amazing they got this far. Which is another reason to question San Francisco's pass-wacky strategy. "

Pass-wacky? The 49ers averaged 26 rushes and 28 passes per game in the regular season. Against the Giants, they had 26 rushes and 29 passes.

"Worst Field Goal Misses in NFL history:"

Don't forget the Giants' botched field goal in 2002 vs. the 49ers.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:14pm

This is really a lousy group of wideouts.

The 49ers had good injury luck throughout the season, but not with their wideouts. Joshua Morgan has been out, Braylon Edwards was injured and not himself and cut, Ted Ginn has been in and out all season, Delanie Walker was playing this particular game without enough jaw integrity to eat a hamburger.

In other words, 3 of their top 4 wide receivers were in one way or another out due to injury for this game, and their extra-special 2nd tight end was playing without the ability to eat solid food.

So yeah...I imagine most groups of wideouts would seem pretty lousy with that kind of injury history.

Now the bigger question: should the 49ers have brought in a bigger free agent? T.O. would have been pickled tink to be playing for us again. He's worse than Brett Swain?

P. S. Grrrrrr, Kyle Williams. He's a smart guy. You couldn't tell it from what happened yesterday.

by raorao (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 7:28pm

The larger point, though, is that no team should be starting a season with such an unproven group of receivers. Outside of Vernon, The day 1 roster consisted of Joshua Morgan, Braylon Edwards, Delanie Walker, Teddy Ginn, Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree. All of those guys have shown potential, but none have had anything close to a great season before this year, let alone good. Barring a miracle, everyone knew this receiving corps was going to suck this season. And all miracles in the 2011-2012 nfl season were reserved for Tim Tebow.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 01/25/2012 - 12:06pm

Except for Kyle Williams, all of those guys are vets with a good to average track record. "Anything close to great" is a long way from "going to suck."

Pop in Brett Swain, Joe Hastings, and D. Walker on a liquid diet, and you're getting into sucking territory.

by nat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:09am

The Patriots-Ravens game played out pretty much as advertised by DVOA. The defenses make both offenses look pretty average. Fumble-luck comes close to being the deciding factor. Baltimore has a slight edge on plays from scrimmage. Special teams turn out to be the difference.

Well done, FO stats.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:16am

As to the games, they just proved that the great quarterbacks just win, baby, causing opposing kickers to look like a 36 handicap golfer on the tee, for a 90 yard par three at your local muni course, and opposing punt returners to look like a blind man trying to catch a chicken. Seriously, if you don't understand the role that luck plays in which team wins or loses, or which qb is "clutch" or not, or which coach is a genius or can't win the big one, after watching yesterday's game, you just are beyond hope. Think of the Niners losing ints when their dbs both converge on the ball, and Welker's muffed punt going out of bounds. These were tie games, period.

Alex Smith wasn't good, and I think the Niner wideouts were worse, but you just can't be sure watching the game on television. As much as the wet ball affected the ability to pass, I think the wet field aided the offensive linemen more, and even so, if the zebras had been willing to call holding, that game is 7-7 going into overtime, I think. Justin Smith in particular was blatantly held with frequency, without flags being thrown.

I'll make this speculative criticism of coaching. I have no idea of how well or how poorly Williams has looked at fielding punts in practice, so my point may be moot, but the number one factor in you back up punt returner is whether he is super reliable in his judgement and with the ball. With the back up guy, you should not even factor his ability to break a return. You just want to get the guy on your roster who is the best at making a fair catch.

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:27am

On the first punt in overtime, I thought to myself, "In the rain, in a sudden-death situation, why would you even attempt a punt return?" That one turned out OK for Williams and the 49ers, but obviously, the second time around didn't.

He should have been instructed to fair catch everything, and avoid any difficult catches. Especially after his muff earlier.

by Kurt :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:29am

I'm happy to acknowledge the role luck/chance/whatever plays, as long as the overluckers are willing to concede that team performance plays some role too, and don't move from "the teams played very evenly yesterday" to "the Patriots/Giants should have lost and don't deserve to be playing next week." Deal?

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:33am

I said they were tie games.

by Kurt :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:27pm

Yes, I wasn't talking about you.

by Jimmy :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:31am

Yeah Justin Smith got tackled from behind as he was charging straight through the middle of the pocket towards Eli at least twice. Blatant holding but I guess Hochuli has somewhere else to be looking.

by drobviousso :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:46pm

Probably the mirror when he was rehearsing his overtime rules manifesto.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:50pm

He also got hooked around the neck few times, and that type of hold almost always gets called. Wasn't yesterday.

by bengt (not verified) :: Wed, 01/25/2012 - 9:05am

James Harrison would like to play in that fantasy world you are writing about.

by Joshua Northey (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:58pm

I honestly think the margin of error on an NFL game, in the statistical 95% confidence threshold sense is like 17 points, or maybe 20.

I am inclined to consider even a 7 point win a tie. But then again I am a little more interested in math/science/strategy element than most fans and don't care as much about the tribalistic war re-enactment portion of it.

by radar (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:57pm

"Justin Smith in particular was blatantly held with frequency, without flags being thrown."

....so long as you acknowledge the fact the Giants DL was being held just as frequently. Tuck got held and then spun around blatantly on a play in the second half when he would have had Smith dead to rights. Everyone holds in the modern NFL.

by Anon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:28am

If there's some media storm incoming because it's a rematch of SBXLII or because it's Boston-NY, I can understand. What I can't understand is why so many Pats fans wanted the Giants after their game was over.

I mean, aren't the Giants the worst possible match-up from the NFC for the Patriots right now? Three above-average receivers, two really good, a QB who has had his best season yet and is coming super hot to the game, a very good pass rush and a secondary that was able to shut down the league's best passing offense?

Against a secondary that starts three special-teamers from other teams last season and a QB/WR/RB as nickelback? Almost no pass-rush (let's make this clear, Baas and company got OWNED by the middle of the 49ers defensive line; but take away Wilfork and the Patriots don't have anybody else). If I see the Patriots as anything short of -7 underdogs in Vegas, I'm taking the points.

This will be a blowout.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:32am

I dunno about a blowout, but I sure think the Pats defense has a better chance of not giving up 35 points to a team with the Niners' wideouts. I do think the short passing game would have had some real difficulty with the Niner's defense, however.

by Jericho (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:34am

I'm pretty sure there's a league bylaw somewhere that says you can't win the Super Bowl if you lose to the Redskins twice in one season. So there's that working against the Giants.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:13pm

1995 Dallas Cowboys lost two to the Redskins.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:43am

This Patriots fan wanted nothing to do with the Giants. I agree that this is a very tough matchup for NE.

by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:48am

Ditto. I wanted the 49ers on the other side of the ball.

by Nathan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:04pm

I think SF was an easier matchup for the Pats, but I want revenge/redemption.

by Boston Dan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:47pm

a victory over the giants accomplishes three things.

(1) Generally, winning the SB is great of course.
(2) Revenge factor against GMen
(3a) Post-Spygate shut the fuck up UberTrolls Redux
(3b) and undeniable H.C. B.B. Dynasty

by RickD :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:23pm

Why should it be a blowout? The Pats just played the Giants a couple of months ago and it was a very close game.

The people who think it'll be a blowout are looking only at one aspect of the game: the matchup of Cruz & Nicks against the awful secondary. But there are more things that need to be looked at.

A lot of fans wanted the Giants for the revenge factor. Personally, I think it's weak to root for the 49ers out of the feeling that they would be easier to beat. If you want to enjoy sports, you want your team to beat the best other available teams. That's what it means to be a champion.

Also, I'm far from convinced that the 49ers would have been an easier foe. Certainly DVOA thinks their a stronger team. And the Giants only beat them because they got 10 points off muffed punts. That's half of their points! The 49ers have a much, much stronger defense than the Giants. They are only weaker than the Giants at wideout, which is, again, apparently the only thing that matters.

Now if the Saints or Packers had made the Super Bowl, I would concede that would likely be a blowout. But the Giants' offense isn't quite as good as either of those (or as good as the Pats', let's not forget that).

by Travis :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:37pm

They are only weaker than the Giants at wideout, which is, again, apparently the only thing that matters.

Also quarterback, but that's not a position that matters.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:29pm

That game two months ago was played in NE, and the Giants didn't have Nicks, Bradshaw or David Baas (although he's not great).

I don't know about blowout, but I think the Giants are a worse matchup for NE than the 49ers. The Patriots have to face a top-10 (let alone a top-5, which most people think Eli is right now) for the first time since they faced Eli earlier. Their run of Sanchez-Palko-VY-Orlovsky-Grossman-Tebow-Moore-Fitzpatrick-Tebow-Flacco is over.

by Eggwasp (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 6:45am

Wow, when you actually state the names of the parade of suckitude that they've playe recently, that really puts things in perspective.

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:30pm

I wanted the Niners too, but I'm not as convinced about the difficulty of the matchup as you are. I've rewatched the Pats-Giants game tape from earlier in the year, and I think there's a good chance the Pats outperform that showing by a lot. The Giants' secondary isn't that good, and, while the Patriots matched up poorly with Baltimore, I think they should be able to move the ball effectively against New York and score points. The Giants pass rush has not been as dominating as expected through the playoffs; I don't think it really compares to the 2007 version. Meh; I think the Pats do fine in the passing game. Maybe not 40 points fine, but a good showing. On special teams, the Pats had some lousy fumble experience yesterday, but their coverage is outstanding. That should play a significant role against the Giants. Pats defense will struggle. But they've looked much better even for large stretches in the final games of the regular season than they did back when they played the Giants in the regular season. That was a 24-20 game with the Giants moving the ball up and down the field and not scoring effectively. I think the Pats get pressure from Deaderick occasionally, and certainly from Mark Anderson, and I've generally been impressed with Ninkovich in the playoffs. The secondary is weak, but so is the Giants' secondary. I'm also not impressed with the Giants run game, whereas I think that the Pats will be able to move the ball on the ground. The game feels like a coin flip to me.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:43pm

Fair enough. I was rooting for the Patriots to win because I thought they'd be easier for the 49ers to beat than the Ravens. These great offense/bad defense teams stopped scaring me too much...they haven't done that well in the playoffs so far.

by PaddyPat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:37pm

Looking even more at the Giants-Pats film from early this year, this comment really stumps me. The Giants had the luxury of four turnovers in their favor, mostly on flukey plays, and they managed only 24 points. The Pats defense was arguably weaker then by a lot than it is now. The Pats were going through their mid-season offensive slump at the time--that period when they seemed to be trying to run the ball more to keep the defense from getting tired out--the time when they scored 20 against the Cowboys, 17 against the Steelers, and then 20 against the Giants. They're generally way more effective than that. The vaunted Giants' defensive line got only 2 sacks, and Osi was playing then. Granted, the Pats had Vollmer active in the game, but they'll probably have him back for the Super Bowl. I don't see where the matchup favors the Giants. Seemed like a really off game for the Pats, and they still almost won. The Giants had most of their roster healthy at that point, and they appeared to be a really good team at that point in the year, 5-2, etc. DVOA also felt pretty rosy about the Giants at that point in the year--they were at least a top 7 team. So... you think the Giants are light years better than they were then? I think Gronkowski and Hernandez are playing better than they were then, and the Pats' defense is a lot better, especially the pass rush. I don't know how you get off claiming that Wilfork is the only effective piece of the line. I've been steadily impressed by Deaderick and Anderson, and even Warren makes his share of plays. Ellis is not as hot, but the linebacking corps has been reasonable in blitzes. Where's the horrible weak spot? The pats just have miserable safety play and weak corners.

by Nathan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:47pm

Where's the horrible weak spot? The pats just have miserable safety play and weak corners.

Think you just answered your own question.

by Dice :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:28am

As a Ravens fan, I can't gripe about the game or the result too much. I was happy to see Flacco get past the first quarter and start playing decently, happy that the Ravens weren't being killed by YAC, and the wideouts were productive enough for what the team is. I can't even gripe about how long they stuck with the run, with Flacco's bad first quarter. Ricky Williams should probably have played a larger role, as Rice has tapered down as the season progressed, but Rice wasn't getting a lot of help from the O-line either. I certainly won't blame Cundiff, who has had a down year. They could have brought in somebody else. Misses happen, including for XPs, and Baltimore had plenty of other chances they didn't seize on aside from a kick to tie.

What I find unforgivable is the timeout not being called so the FG unit could get on the field and be ready. It was rushed and looked as though they weren't ready to go at all.

by rich316 :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:50pm

An interesting subplot was the Harbaugh boys arguably both coming up small in their games. It's hard for me to really get mad at John, I don't really care how rushed Cundiff was, if the snap is good you have to make a 32 yard field goal every time. But there it is, and there were some pretty poor decisions made by the Niners. The reverse that almost ended in disaster (in the rain?), Gore getting only 17 carries when he was consistently getting good yardage, and the inability to stop Cruz in the first half were all glaring coaching problems IMO.

by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:51pm

I feel much the same. I only hope I'm not haunted by my own empty hollow screams of "Call a timeout" as they echo down lonely streets and deserted canyons.

by TreeRol (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:29am

How does Baltimore not go to Rice on 2nd-and-1 or 3rd-and-1 at the end of the game?

by allmystuffisthere (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:52am

I think they botched that, too. Even the previous drive when suddenly they decided to let Flacco rip it over the middle into traffic. It seemed like they had it figured out, caving down on Wilfork and letting Leach clear the hole on the edge. Then they threw that play away. They had the timeout. They were close enough to throw into the end zone. They had probably two chances - assuming no sack - to try for the score. I envisioned a game similar to the second Bal-Pit game where the Ravens would be down 23-17 and drive for a game-winning touchdown. That stupid fumble by Woodhead gave them an extra 3 points and allowed them to settle for a field goal at the end.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:16pm

They had 1 TO. This isn't college. A running play takes either a lot of time or your last TO.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:28pm

Yes, but why not get the yardage and use that TO? Moreover, Flacco had Rice wide open for a first down on the play just before the field goal. He should have taken the extra yardage, the first down, and the ensuing opportunity for a shot at the end zone. Instead, he risked a pick throwing it to a guy two or three yards short of the goalline.

by DGL :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:56pm

Because then he wouldn't have had a timeout left to take before a field goal.

Oh. Wait. Never mind...

by Marko :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 8:20pm

Speaking of the field goal, did anyone else notice when they showed Cundiff practicing on the sidelines as the Ravens were driving at the end of the game? He was practicing with his warmup pants still on. I remember thinking, "Dude, take off the warmup pants in case you have to run on the field with time running out." It was very surprising to see him running onto the field so late, especially since they still had a timeout left. I wonder if that was partly because he was busy taking off his warmup pants.

by Purds :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:13pm

I did see that too! And, that shot of him was with about 1:15 to go -- I was thinking, didn't he warm up already? Doesn't he know he's going to be out there really, really soon? I was just guessing, though, that those were tear-away pants that you just pull apart at the seams. Weird, though, as I've never seen any other kicker that close to the time of the attempt still in his warmup bottoms. And, he wasn't taking full swings, but just little one-step ones. Maybe he had done a full warm up when they were expecting the previous drive to be a long attempt?

by omaholic :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 1:54pm

This may have had something to do with it:



by Nathan :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 2:01pm
by TreeRol (not verified) :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 3:04pm


In short: because of an error on the scoreboard, Cundiff was doing his 1st down warmups on 2nd down, his 2nd down warmups on 3rd down, and was preparing to do his 3rd down warmups when he was told to get his ass on the field.

No, I don't think it was a conspiracy. Yes, I absolutely think it contributed to the miss.

by Athelas :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 8:16pm

So why didn't Harbaugh use his timeout?

by MJK :: Thu, 01/26/2012 - 7:54pm

The Ravens had thought they got the first down when they fumbled out of bounds. For that matter, the announcers did as well, and so did I, watching from home. What probably happened was that the scoreboard operator ALSO thought so.

Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity or human error.

by allmystuffisthere (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 9:23pm

exactly. everything looks worse because they missed the field goal, but the individual decisions didn't mesh together as a plan. and the norm is the qb calls a timeout (because the clock is running down, and you stop it with 3 seconds left or whatever), and the kicking team comes on. why can't you do that even if you don't need to stop the clock? it didn't look like anybody had a decisive alternative when plays did or didn't go their way.

by Purds :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:07pm

Agree with many posts here:

1) Both very close games, and luck plays a role, but not one that should be blamed for either win or loss yesterday.
2) Bad fumbles by 49 returner, but did you notice that the NYG returner was diving to the ground just before contact on every return? Seems like smart coaching there by NYG, and not for the 49 side.
3) Definitely the right call on the Evans no-TD catch, but odd that refs didn't spend a few more seconds checking. The play was dead, so the time was stopped, so it would not have helped Baltimore if they looked longer. We're talking about the team that goes to the SB on that play. Just didn't seem so easy to make that choice in a split second.
4) I noticed Cundiff running onto the field at the last second as well. Said to my wife, "Why don't they use their timeout. He looks panicked."
5) Why would NE fans want the NYG? Because of Red Sox over NYY in 7 after down 3-0, because of Indy over NE in 2006 AFCC when down by more than two TDs, because to really enjoy a championship, it helps to go through the team that has made your life miserable. If NE goes through Baltimore and NYG, well, that would be a sweet day for NE fans!
6) Agreed about Brady's spine. How is he not hurt? He's no longer Tom "Terrific" Brady, but Tom "I'm Gumby, Damn It!" Brady.

Loved both games yesterday, as one who unfortunately doesn't have a dog in the fight. Only wish two guys didn't feel like goats today. Would have preferred to see Wilfork block the FG attempt and really get his due, and to see Cruz go 65 yards for a TD to seal it for NYG. I much prefer to see heros versus goats; too many guys treated like Buckner when a game has many, many more moving parts than fans remember.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:45pm

Yeah, Williams' play on punt returns was just so suspect throughout the game that it causes one to wonder sbout how he was coached. It really isn't unusual, however, for a guy to just disregard everythng he is being told. Then again, if that is the case, maybe you oughta' get him off the field by the time it gets to ot.

by sycasey (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:31pm

Williams needed to come off the field after he DIVED to catch a punt in the 1st quarter. He was a mess back there.

by Jimmy :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:11pm

To be fair it was a great take, if you are playing rugby and you can't just let that ball bounce because the opposition can pick it up and score. In the NFL that is taking liberties with the ball, it doesn't suprise me that the Giants kicked a few ground balls to him (which worked brilliantly).

by Stats are for losers (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 9:40pm

It's fun to watch kicking teams try to advance a muff, especially with Hochuli's long-winded explanation.

by JasonK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:57pm

Good point. It's not as if Ginn being out was a big gametime surprise. Williams must have gotten all the PR reps in practice over the past couple weeks.

Giants acutally switched returners late in the game. Although I'm not sure if that was due to an injury to Will Blackmon, or to the coaching staff being more confident in Aaron Ross's ball security.

by RichC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:25pm

"6) Agreed about Brady's spine. How is he not hurt? He's no longer Tom "Terrific" Brady, but Tom "I'm Gumby, Damn It!" Brady."

The funny thing about that play, is that it was totally unneccessary. The ball was in the endzone before he even jumped. As soon as he stuck his hands forward, it was in.

by John Doe (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 7:38pm

Oh, it was necessary.

by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:14pm

Love this post.

by Kanguru (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:28pm

When was the last time Brady actually hit a open receiver on a deep pass?

I have been watching any Patriots' game the past few years, and can hardly remember Brady being accurate on throws deeper than 25-30 yards after 2007. Sure he does have long completions, but that is usually intermediate throw plus long run after catch.

I can't believe these duds still ask him to throw bombs ... he's usually off by at least four yards (the interception on Sunday was exceptional ball skill by the two defenders).

by FooBarFooFoo (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:31pm

... especially since one of the four INTs Brady threw in 2010 came off a hail mary at the end of the first half ... against the Ravens.

by rich316 :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:52pm

That was probably the most impressive defensive play I've seen all season.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:00pm

Regardless of his skill, it was just a colossally stupid decision on so many levels. The defense is starting to suck wind with Flacco on a roll, and you decide to take the chance and throw deep to a guy who's got two Ravens near him when a touchdown there doesn't matter? The time to abandon the systematic running and short passing that's been successful thus far is when a couple of minutes taken off the clock followed by a field goal will probably be enough to win? Jeebus, three kneels and a punt would have been a better decision.

I honestly didn't care if the Pats won or not after that. Or more accurately, I wouldn't have been the least bit upset if they lost. They certainly didn't deserve the W. Of course, deservin's got nothing to do with it, and the fact they won while putting up a -2 in turnover margin against that team isn't an easy task. Green-Ellis was huge yesterday.

by Nathan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:25pm

I don't mind the play call looking to take a shot but it wasn't there and Brady should have checked it down.

by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:37pm

Brady admitted (I believe this morning on his WEEI appearance) that his mind was "made up" on the throw to Slater.

Sometimes I wonder if Brady is pressing too hard because he doesn't trust the defense.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:49pm

Agree with Purds. Two fantastic games. Very similar, actually...

Both losing teams had fantastic defenses and mediocre offenses led by average QB's. Both were the #2 seed. Both defenses played their hearts out and kept the game close and winnable. One game went to overtime; the other game should have. Both losing teams suffered due to a call that, while technically correct, was extremely close and could have been called the other way with no greater controversy (the Evans non-TD and the Bradshaw non-fumble). Both teams' offenses had games bad enough that it came down to special teams, despite their defenses' play. And both teams lost due to a bad special teams play (or, in the Niner's case, two bad special teams plays).

Oh, and both teams were coached by Harbaughs. Bad day for the brothers.

The teams I root for went 0.500 this weekend, but it was some very enjoyable football. I don't think either game was sloppy...so many fans are offense minded that anytime they don't see 300 yard passing games and scores in the 30's, they call the game "sloppy". I saw four very good defensive performances (including the surprising day from the Patriots defense).

Hope the Superbowl is as good as the playoffs have been so far!

by Ryan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:52pm

Can we talk about Ed Hochuli's incredible soliloquy to preface his non-reversal of the Vernon Davis wheel route touchdown? He just prattled on and on about, like, rule theory and rationale, or whatever, only to say "the ruling stands." Was he trying to build tension? Felt like it was all out of some sort of terrible how-to-write-compelling-fiction workshop.

Has any official in any sport ever talked so much when he was NOT going to do something?

Kyle Williams...bad hands...big play mentality...I detect a Raiders contract offer. At least he won't have to sell his house.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:59pm

Wouldn't it be great if he came out with a pedestal, and placed a human skull on it, before launching one of his addresses?

by Dean :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:16pm

I was pretty sure he was just trying to remember the word "inconclusive" and had a brain fart.

by Ryan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:22pm

Or was that "incontrovertible"?

If there were an officiating American Idol, Hochuli would be the cocky guy in the green room who flubs it in front of the judges, only to beg for another shot. "No, really, I got this."

by Danny Tuccitto :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:30pm

Agreed. That explanation was positively Hantakian.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:54pm

Multiple people have commented, and I want to agree, that the refs seem to be under orders to call neither holding nor DPI during the playoffs. Not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, I think refs are too flag-happy in general on DPI, and not enough on holding (Can you tell that I like defensive football?) So the lack of DPI is an improvement, but the lack of holding...

Maybe the cancel out. Still, it is weird to have one set of rules for the regular season, and one set for the postseason...

by rich316 :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:09pm

Not to mention one set of concussion rules for the regular season and another for the postseason. Aside from Pierre Thomas, who probably couldn't have gotten on the field for the rest of that game even if they had let him, has there been a single other player held out of a game because of concussion in the playoffs?

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:58pm

Well, the 49ers lost Tarrell Brown to what looked like a head injury. He didn't return.

And what player suffered a concussion so far, and has then played in the next playoff game?

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:04pm

Aaron Ross got dinged against the Falcons yet has continued to play.

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:09pm

I thought that, as long as doctors cleared you, you could play the next week. Was he not cleared?

(I'm not saying he was or wasn't, but it's quite an accusation for the above poster to make.)

by rich316 :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 7:37pm

Yes, Ross was cleared. He wasn't really what I meant, since everybody on the field seemed to think he had never actually been concussed. More egregious to me was DJ Ware, the Giants 3rd string RB who was definitely concussed trying to cut block a Falcons pass-rusher (did the whole getting up, falling down thing), yet was cleared to play v. the Pack. Ware also has a history of concussions, which you would think would make them extra careful. I also was also really surprised that Graham was allowed back in the Saints/Niners game, my absolutely non-expert TV diagnosis was that he was fairly dazed after that PI play on the first Saints drive. Then again, Terrell Brown was concussed and didn't come back, so my point may be not so accurate now. I haven't researched it, it just seemed like guys being held out of the next weeks game due to concussion has been much less frequent. Could be wrong.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 12:58pm

I'm not sure, but I *think* it was Sterling Moore that had coverage on Torrey Smith on the Ravens' TD (the one where they had 3rd and 3ish at the NE 30 and the Patriots big-blitzed, and the Patriots DB had to make an open field tackle on Smith to stop the conversion. He failed, and Smith took it all the way for a TD).

In which case, his strip of the ball at the end is a nice redemption story. By taking a bad angle and blowing that tackle, he allowed the Ravens back into the game (if he makes that tackle, the Ravens have to try a 48 yard FG instead of getting a TD, and even if they make it, they have a lot more work to do in that close a game).

by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:08pm

You are correct. It was Moore who whiffed on the Smith TD.

by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:18pm

Moore was going to have a tough time making that tackle while Torrey Smith had a firm grasp on his facemask.

by Andrew Potter :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:49am

Moore's the player who missed the tackle at the line.

McCourty's the one who was dragged down by the facemask.

by dryheat :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 9:17am

Yeah...I know that the offense gets rarely called for face masking (although they do get called for illegal hands to the face often enough), but there's no way that can be legal. He had a full grip around the mask and pulled him along behind him for ~four strides. Dangerous, dangerous play.

by MJK :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:37pm

It is kind of weird that what is panned as a "dangerous personal foul" if a defender does it is lauded as "a good stiff arm" if a running back or WR does it.

by dryheat :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:43pm

Yet it wasn't at all a stiff arm. It was like running down an airline terminal holding the hand of a child, if you were to replace "airline terminal" with "football field", "hand" with "face mask", and "child" with "defensive back". Smith just grabbed his mask and refused to let it go.

by Nathan :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 1:59pm

This has pissed me off ever since they started throwing flags for even remotely brushing a QB's helmet incidentally (there was an Eagles "hit" on Peyton Manning a few years ago that was just ludicrous). Yet RBs are allowed to literally punch defensive players in the face. It's not a "stiff arm" if your elbow starts out bent then explosively straightens.

by bubqr :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:03pm

"Tim Gerheim: The third-down pass to Welker in the end zone that forced the field goal was puzzling"

I thought that Welker slowing down after his cut was puzzling, this was a post pattern, he clearly could have had that ball as Lewis was running down the seam. Yet, Welker slowed down for 2 steps, then realized the ball was coming. Not an easy catch, but a makeable one if he was cutting at full speed (like, huh, running a post).

"Aaron Schatz: Spikes picks off a pass"
I've heard a lot about that Jimmy Smith pick, but didn't B.Spikes make a wonderful one handed INT on the play before, that yet goes unnoticed ? His INT, which wasn't replayed enough, was a beauty, especially for a LB.

by Canadian (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:19pm

Looked to me like Welker was screened by Lewis on that play, i.e., he turned to look for the ball, didn't see it, slowed down looking back, then saw the ball when it was too late. Lewis is close and in a perfect line between Welker and Brady.

by RichC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:05pm

"Tom Gower: I believe Billy Cundiff is 1-of-6 on the year from 50 yards or longer. With those kinds of odds, when all a field goal gets you is a tie game, it's tough to kick the field goal. Wilfork absolutely showed up on third and fourth down, and those may have been his first two real splash plays since the first quarter. "

The announcers also mentioned that he was missing kicks from the mid 40s before the game because of the wind.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:08pm

The SB should be a pretty good game. I actually think the Giants and the Niners would have been equally tough for the Patriots.

The Giants offense is scarier, especially given their three good WR's versus the Pats secondary, but their defense doesn't scare me as much as the Niners'. Thde Giants have a terrific pass rush, but their coverage guys, especially their LB's and safeties, don't seem that great. There were throws open for Smith to make yesterday...he just wasn't good enough to make them under pressure. Brady is. I see Giants-Patriots and a moderately high-scoring affair (not a shootout, but probably in the 31-24 range).

The Niners have the MLB's to clog up the interior lanes and shut down the Pats inside passing game to Welker and the Boston TE party, and to shut down any semblence of running game. But their offense would struggle against even the Pats secondary. I seem them holding the Pats in the 20's just as the Ravens did, or even in the teens, but probably would only put up, at most, about 15-20 points themselves. A Niners-Pats SB would have been a low scoring affair that would come down to luck.

I was actually rooting for a Niners-Patriots SB for three reasons:
1). Those are my two favorite teams
2). The matchups are the most intriguing of any of the four possible pairings going into this weekend.
3). There's no cute media angle to make our lives miserable in the two weeks leading up to the SB, so sports media would have been forced to, you know, discuss actual football.

The "Harbaugh Bowl" would have been miserable. Not only would the final score have been something like 9-3, but it would have been prefaced with two weeks of family photos of the Harbaugh family.

NE-NYG isn't bad, because it still has pretty intriguing matchups, but we will have to suffer through two weeks of recapping Tyree making the Helmet Catch vs Rodney Harrison (despite the fact that both players are now retired) and hearing how Eli is so clutch.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:20pm

3) There's no cute media angle to make our lives miserable in the two weeks leading up to the SB, so sports media would have been forced to, you know, discuss actual football.

There will always be cute media angles during Super Bowl week, forced or not. Media angles for NE-SF would have included exciting things like "Tom Brady playing against his childhood favorite team" and "Jim Harbaugh returns to Indianapolis."

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:18pm

I just want credit for pointing out the lack of penalties first.

It just continues to be more and more obvious. Interestingly, defensive backs are not exploiting the situation but offense linemen certainly ARE taking advantage of the refs looking the other way.

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:20pm

The New England line is a pretty good pass blocking unit. If the refs let them hold in the Super Bowl the Giants defensive advantage will be completely nullified

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:24pm

I swear, in Giants/Niners yesterday, the poor d-linemen were getting body cavity searches. I felt bad for their dignity.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:40pm

Justin Smith was utterly dominant in that game. When did he get this good? I remember him being the best defender on a bad Bengals defense back when it looked like Carson Palmer/Chad Johnson was going to be a HoF duo, but I don't remember him being this kind of unstoppable force of destruction. Did he gradually get better each year, or was it sudden? Did he get better technically? Improve his conditioning? Or was he always this good, and I just never noticed him?

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:42pm

Smith is a brawler whose specialty is the bull rush. In a league where offensive linemen increasingly have poor technique both with their hands and feet it's not too surprising that a guy with a high motor and the strength of a wooly mammoth would make some damage

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:47pm

He really got my attention two years ago against the Vikings, when the Vikings still had a good o-line. The guy just keeps playing, which is really unusual for defensive linemen, given how taxing the position is.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:20pm

Would you vote for him as defensive player of the year? I haven't seen much of the Niners this season, so until the last two games, I would have gone with Revis; now I don't know. I think Revis separates himself from other CBs more than Smith does, and is still the rarer commodity of the two, but by the nature of his position, Smith is by far more the more disruptive presence.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:34pm

Like nearly anyone else who is not getting paid to scout NFL players, I don't see enough football to have a really useful opinion on that. I do know that in every game I saw him in he was the best defensive player on the field, and maybe the best player, period. Other than a qb, there is no more valuable player than a defensive linemen who can rush effectively from the tackle or end, and who also stuffs the run.

by Sara (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:29pm

There was some delicious dramatic irony in the discussion of the Ravens not going for the long field goal with two and a half minutes left. I've really enjoyed reading Audibles. Thanks.

by CoachDave :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:35pm



by Michael Dortheimer (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:37pm

Probably the most competitive dramatic conference championship day in the history of the NFL. Both games were Heavyweight title bouts that went the distance.
Football season ended yesterday. Circus & media insanity begin which will be incidentaly be climaxed by a football game. Shouldn't the line be pick'em?

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:38pm

Wow...just look at the crazy win probability graphs for the two games...



Talk about your back-and-forth, evenly matched games!

by Biebs :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:37pm

The AFC Fangraphs doesn't make sense to me. Why would the Ravens have an 83% chance to win after the 2nd and 1 play? Does the graph not take time left in game into account, or did it somehow thing that the Field Goal would win the game for the Ravens?

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:07pm

The win percentage graphs are based off historical situations, with some smoothing.

And I think that figure makes sense.

Assuming that the Patriots wouldn't score in regulation, following the Ravens' possession...

If the Ravens kick a field goal, the game goes to overtime, where they have a 50% chance of winning.

If the Ravens fail to score, they lose.

If the Ravens score a touchdown, they win.

So, overall win probability is:
(% of TD * 100%) + (% of time not scoring a touchdown) * [(% of made FG * 50%) + (% of missed FG * 0%)].

Going off some other Advanced NFL Stats research that I found via Google, it looks like a 32-yard field goal has an approximate 85% chance of being made.

So, you get:

1.00 * x + (1 - x) * [(0.85 * 0.50) + (0.15 * 0)] = 0.83
x + (1 - x) * (0.425) = 0.83
x + 0.425 - (0.425 * x) = 0.83
0.575 * x = 0.405
x = 0.704

So, Advanced NFL Stats is estimating that the Ravens have a 70% chance of scoring a touchdown. This seems somewhat reasonable, in that teams that have third-and-one from their opponents' fourteen will frequently score touchdowns. The 70%, I admit, seems a bit high, but it's probably above 50%.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:42pm

Uggh. So depressed after yesterdays 49ers loss. Shouldn't I be happy they had an incredible season? I would have been to go 9-7 before the season started. But no, I'm all bummed out about how turnovers for once flipped the other way for this team and we went down in the 8th minute of overtime and I'm sitting with my chin on my chest making feeble little groaning sounds every now and then.

Bravehoptadpole was just too young to understand.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:09pm

I have to admit, my feeling after my team's best ever season by a huge margin is largely frustration: with a healthy quarterback, I think they were better than any of the four teams that played yesterday.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:18pm

I think I agree with you about the texans, but I would have liked to see whether Josh Morgan could have made a difference yesterday.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:21pm

I regret that I didn't take the time to watch the Texans when they still were getting competent qb play.

by AnonymousBoob (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:31pm

I would agree although Schaub does make some interesting decisions from time-to-time (reminds me of a younger Hasselbeck).

When healthy, I thought the Texans were the best team I'd seen all season.

As for yesterday, I think Flacco was simply unable to take advantage of the plays in front of him and the defense and special teams wasn't good enough to overcome it.

The SB will be interesting. Two very evenly matched teams (presuming Gronkowski can play). I suspect we'll see scoring more like the second half of the first matchup (44 points combined), but SB's have a way of being low scoring affairs, at least when competitive. Might be related to the lack of DPI's discussed previously?

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 9:30am

Oh, Schaub's far from perfect - he consistently underthrows on deep balls (which is a large part of the reason Johnson doesn't put up the TD totals you might expect) and is certainly guilty of the odd true headscratcher of an interception. But he largely makes good decisions, gets rid of the ball on time, has a great play-fake and mostly hits receivers in stride on the short and intermediate routes, and that probably makes him something like the 8th best quarterback in football. He doesn't take a load of sacks. He doesn't turn the ball over excessively. When teams sell out to stop Foster, he can make them pay for it, and when Johnson draws all the coverage he can find the open man. We actually never got to see Foster, Johnson and Schaub healthy at the same time this year - I think it would have been a pretty frightening prospect.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:06pm

Certainly almost every advanced stats site was saying the Texans were the best team before Schaub went down. It's rare for FO and advancednflstats to agree, but they did about that.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 9:32am

I would have favoured Green Bay over the Texans head-to-head (especially in a dome), but not by much, and more because it's a bad match-up for the Texans (mobile QB, deep WR group) than because I think the Packers were a better team overall.

by lk6 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 1:53pm

"Grandfathered in" means that the Lambeau Leap existed before that rule was implemented, and therefore, won't be flagged.

One of the most common examples of a "grandafather rule" in sports is number #42 on the MLB.
All players who wore it before its retirement are still able to use it (think the only one who's still active is Mariano Rivera).

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:04pm

My favorite grandfather has got to be the spitball, which allowed existing spitballers to continue spitting after the pitch was made illegal. Can you imagine if there were a set of pitchers today who had a guaranteed career-long different set of rules than other pitchers? They'd break the mint.

by dryheat :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:23pm

I had no idea they grandfathered the spitball...that's absurd if true (and I'm not sure it is). They should just let player who are already on steroids, HGH, and other performance enhancers to keep on using them until they retire.

by Travis :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:56pm

It is. Other grandfathered things in baseball have included the Green Monster and single-flap batting helmets.

The NFL eliminated the single-bar facemask in 2004, but allowed Scott Player to wear one until his 2007 retirement.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 1:43pm

Non helmet-wearing hockey players in hockey were grandfathered. Hell, so were non mask-wearing goalies! I'm old enough to remember Gump Worsley in the nets for the Minnesota North Stars, no mask, slapshots, raised skates, and slashing sticks be damned! Talk about crazy brave!

by Nathan :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 2:42pm

Craig MacTavish!

by DGL :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 2:26pm

Actually, it was the no-flap batting helmet (and batting without a helmet at all) that were grandfathered.

by dryheat :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 2:58pm

And people who had lived in Springfield as long as Apu, provided they could pass a citizenship test.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:19pm

Gutted, what an awful way to lose a game. I like Kyle Williams but he was involved in three fumbles yesterday.

by Ryan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:30pm

I was cringing every time he prepared to touch the ball. How in the world does Jim Harbaugh not tell him "stay the eff away from the ball" after that insane (and unnecessary) diving fair catch he made?

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:33pm

I had a tremendous amount of respect for how Coughlin conducted himself in the post game presser, which I heard some of. He clearly had a keen empathy for the feeling that was in the opponent's locker room, and you could really hear it in his choice of words and tone of voice. I know he has been, at times, ripped by players and people outside his teams for being an unreasonable, even by NFL coach standards, jerk, but yesterday he showed a really admirable humanity.

by Joel (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 2:36pm

The Patriots defense was bad in the AFCC? I thought they played pretty well, lots of pressure up the middle, neutralized Ray Rice, made several critical stops. Yes, Flacco had good success with the outs but that's because he made some great throws. Sometimes you have to give credit where it's due, right?

by Boston Dan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:36pm

"This is probably just me being cynical, but I think at this point companies are just trying to create advertising that leads to that exact reaction. It worked, they're in Audibles!"

You might be giving the Ad Wizards to much credit, but I for one would love an insider's account.

by opticallog :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:47pm

Extremely difficult loss to take as a niners fan. Giants defense in particular played great, so hats off to them, although with the success the niners had running the ball, I wish they had taken advantage of that more often on 1st down.

What makes it super difficult to take is that the game unfolded exactly how you were expecting it to unfold as a niners fan if you thought they were going to win. The Giants did not have success running the ball, and they Giants were forced into a high number of pass attempts for a low yards / attempt number. Given those high attempt numbers, you would expect Eli to throw a pick or two, and he did have a few throws that were poorly executed. The DBs were just not able to capitalize on the errant throws that he was bound to make over the 50+ attempts he was forced into making.

All in all I feel bad for Kyle Williams, as I like him as a slot WR, but he made me nervous all season every time he filled in for Ted Ginn on punt returns. Just seemed to be the inevitable that he'd screw up multiple punts and give the Giants the ball 30 yards away from the end zone twice. Hopefully he can rebound mentally next year and have a successful season, as there is some talent there for him to succeed with in the slot.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:12pm

Well, I guess that's the problem with playing low-scoring defensive football. Flukey plays have greater effect than in a shoot-out.

The 49ers had bad turnover luck, and it killed them. In a 55-45 shootout, a couple turnovers and missed interceptions aren't a big deal.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 5:20pm

The Niners' defense was a thing to behold. The Giants had 15...FIFTEEN!!!...drives that didn't start inside the Niner's 30 yard line because of a muffed punt. The result of those fifteen drives...one TD (blown coverage) and 1 FG.

That's crazy good defensive drive efficiency. Most defenses are considered decent if they stop 2/3 of the opponent's drives. The Niners stopped better than 85%.

by Dales :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:15pm

As a fan of defensive football, it was a lot of fun to watch, especially with my team eventually prevailing.

That said, I bet both offenses would have had more success if the weather and field were better.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:51pm

Maybe, maybe not. Both DLs were beating the crap out of the respective OLs; on a faster field, one or both QBs might have gotten killed.

by Dales :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 4:25pm

Eh. I have seen the argument made by MJK before that the rain and slop possibly favored the passing game.

I'd say that both teams' lack of success passing is an indicator that this was probably not the case, especially since the same teams played earlier in the year with better success. Yes, it is possible that the slop favored the passing game and the defenses played so much better than before that it led to the passing games grinding to a near-stop. However, it is much more likely that the conditions actually were hindering the passing game, quite a bit.

by Ryan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 3:48pm

Oh dear. Looks like the folks at Grantland have their own self-styled Audibles at the Line for yesterday's games. If you like your pop culture musings with a smattering of football discussion, check it out.

by White Rose Duelist :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 10:43am

I wonder where Barnwell got the idea...

by dryheat :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 10:57am

Wait until next year, when Grantland debuts their proprietary Value Above Average (VAA), Defensive Value Above Average (DVAA), and Defensive Adjusted Levelled for Early weeks (DALE) formulas.

by NYMike :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:23pm

Yesterday, Alex Smith could not throw on the run to save his life. Is this a trait or something that happened yesterday?

by Nathan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:30pm

Maybe cause Smith has a pretty mediocre - weak arm? Not enough juice to really move it on the run? I don't watch a lot of Niners games, never have, but I always heard he had questionable arm strength and the "Hail Mary" they tried at the end of regulation was, shall we say, less than impressive.

by opticallog :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 7:03pm

It's not about a lack of arm strength, it's about a complete lack of accuracy when throwing on the move. Alex has never been able to throw accurately when flushed out of the pocket. That's why you would see him zip a pass straight to his outlet receivers ankles.

by greybeard :: Thu, 01/26/2012 - 6:10pm

Alex Smith throws pretty well on designated rollouts. In 2006 with Norv that was their bread and butter. Or you can look a the Seattle game this year where he had two thirty yard throws back to back that we're dropped by Vernon the Crabtree.

Also in the past his best receiver on the throw-on-the-run was Josh Morgan.

My god, people like to blame Alex Smith for everything. He must have caused the mortgage bubble too.

The best receiver the guy had in his career is Vernon Davis and he does great things with him. Th second best receiver he had in his career was Antonio Bryant, for one year, who is now out of NFL.. He had Nolan and Singletary as head coaches for six years, Jimmy Raye and Hostler as his coordinators for three years and Kwame Harris as his tackle for two years. Yet it has always been Alex Smith that is the problem. One of the main reasons that Harbaugh was successful ths year is unlike his predecessors he understood that Alex Smith is a good QB and took advantage of his skills. The fans have yet to catch up.

by Nathan :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:48pm


by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:46pm

Yes, it was bad Alex yesterday...flashbacks to 2005, and 2006, and 2008, and 2009....

Roll out to the right, throw it away. Roll out to the right, throw it away.


Why in the heck the 9ers weren't running more often is a mystery. The Giants weren't having a lot of success stopping either Gore or Hunter.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:26pm

It reminded me more of 2005 but mainly because nobody was open, just like that entire season.

by sycasey (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 8:57pm

And yet, on a critical 3rd-and-1, we saw Anthony Dixon vainly trying to pick up a 1st down.

The late-game playcalling for the Niners became truly bizarre.

by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 10:28pm

There was a certain amount of amusement in watching Justin Smith trying to block on a run and getting tossed aside by Matt Kiwanuka.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 9:39am

I tend to get amused or irritated, depending on if there is a rooting interest, when I see defensive players placed in that role, as if blocking was a simple technique to learn.

by nikshaw :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 6:09pm

Pardon me if this was mentioned soon after it happened; I'm new here.

Some of the comments—of the sort, was an offense bad or or a defense good—reminded me of an especially inane answer that Troy Aikman gave some weeks ago after Joe Buck asked him whether the scoreless first half resulted from the offenses being inept or the defenses great.

Aikman said, "I'd say it was a little bit of each."

by SterlingMoore (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 8:16pm

Hey, Aaron, lighten up on the Pats' D. They may be wanting. They may have issues. They may be the weak link. But they are NOT "terrible" no matter what your sacred numbers may tell you. Your fan hysteria is betraying your professional rationality. The ordinary observer can see that they've clearly gotten better through the playoffs than they were during the season, and the D won the game yesterday. Yes, they beat the Ravens in a defensive struggle. Stop squealing. It's unbecoming.

by Viliphied (not verified) :: Mon, 01/23/2012 - 9:19pm

"defensive struggle"? Bull. Holding the Ravens (hardly consistent on O) to 3 pts below their season average is hardly an earmark of a "defensive struggle"

by Andrew Potter :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:54am

Not even when the Ravens are spotted six of those points by your offense (Brady interception) and special teams (Keep Choppin' Woodhead)?

by Dr. Mooch :: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 12:40am

Hey Rivers, I know they don't teach grammar and proper usage much anymore, but when the phrase "weak mentally," and the name "Phil Simms" are used together, then Simms must be the subject of the sentence.