It was 22 years ago today, January 20, 1991, that Nose Tackle Erik Howard put a helmet on RB Roger Craig in Candlestick Park, jarring the ball loose. LT recovered the fumble, the Giants drove down enough yards for a 5th FG, and the Gmen beat the 49ers 15-13. Giants fans everywhere who are old enough can remember that day and it puts an instant smile on their faces.
Last year was not all too different. The 2011 season has to be the single luckiest series of events for Giants fans in any season that I can remember. So many incredibly fortunate things happened to part the Red Sea for the Gmen. A lesser known detail is how Ted Ginn Jr. got hurt the previous week vs the New Orleans Saints. This forced the 49ers to go with backup Kyle Williams at not only WR but more importantly (who woulda thunk?!) kickoff and punt returner. The rest is history. The Giants simply do not win the game without Williams' two turnovers, which were the only turnovers of the game.
Turnovers are a big part of the game. The Giants have beaten the "Three-peat" 49ers and Harbaugh's 49ers teams twice now in SF in the NFC Championship. And both games ended via setups of key late turnovers. Considering that the Giants have also beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice in the past 5 years, it is probably a little bit of relief to both franchises that neither the Patriots or the 49ers have to see the Giants from here on out. And this seques this NY Giants blog writer's picks for the winners of today's Conference Championship games. I am thinking 49ers-Patriots. I'll be rooting for the Ravens in the AFC game and a competitive game in the NFC title matchup.
I would not be surprised by any of the 4 permutations for the Super Bowl. Why? Because the NFL is slop. Every team can win, and every week there is enough weakness is play that allows for any team to win. Last week, we saw a prohibitively favored Broncos team choke vs the Ravens. Anything is possible. The Ravens deserved the win (the 2 DEN special teams TDs overshadowed how the Ravens were outplaying the Broncos otherwise). What does it say that the #1 seed loses like that?
In ATL, a similar storyline developed with the Seattle Seahawks essentially taking the first half off before showing up in the proper time zone and beating the Falcons. If not for Pete Carroll pulling a Prevent Defense Special with 0:31 left, ATL is bounced from the playoffs with another none and done. What does it say that the #1 seed almost loses like that?
ATL is not a great football team. I expect them to fold at some point along this journey. When they were up 27-7 vs the Seahawks, I was not buying their stock. They may win today, but I am not buying their stock. And they may pull off a sad miracle and win 2 weeks from today, but I am not buying their stock. Sure, it would be great for Tony Gonzalez to get a ring. But other than that, these guys are not ready for primetime. They remind me a lot the 2006 Chicago Bears, who somehow slipped their fraud all the way to the Super Bowl before getting unmasked by Indianapolis. I never bought the Bears stock that year either. If SF learns ANYTHING from the Giants loss in last year's NFC Championship, it is that 60 minutes of concentration will win you this game. If SF plays a clean game, they will beat ATL. This is because, even though SF is not as good as SEA, Harbaugh is a better coach than Carroll any day of the year. Harbaugh will kick the FG. Harbaugh's team will not squander a FG at the end of the half. Harbaugh will not go into the Super Prevent with 0:31. Yes, Mike Smith and Pete Carroll each tried to choke the game, and ATL won because Carroll was the bigger loser. There aren't many people who think Jim Harbaugh is a nice guy. If ATL wins today, I will not shed a tear for the Niners. But the 49ers should win because the have a decided edge in coaching.
There is not a great deal to say about the Ravens-Pats matchup. These teams know each other very well. Let's remember something from last year's AFC Championship. If Lee Evans hold onto the ball, the Ravens play the Giants in the Super Bowl. I adhere to the belief that the post-video Cheaters are cursed now and that God has a plan for the Patriots to get teased in a maximum way before succumbing to an otherworldly defeat. How else do you explain the Tyree helmet? How else do you explain Welker inexplicably dropping a wide open ball that seals a title? I believe the Giants were destined to win. I believe the Patriots are destined to lose. Until further notice, the only conclusion I can come up with from 2007 and 2011 is that the Patriots have sinned and now they are cursed. So the way the blueprint looks, using the "cursed" prism, is that they will beat the Ravens, only to get teased again in a loss to the 49ers in XLVII. If NE faces ATL, then it will be the cursed team vs the not-ready-for-primetime Mike Smith, which is akin to the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. I just have no answer to that one, other than to expect NE would somehow break the curse because Smith is too great a loser.
So here are the scenarios:
SF vs NE and SF wins the title. (This is my expected outcome.)
SF vs BAL and a coach named Harbaugh wins. (I would lean towards Jim.)
ATL vs BAL and BAL wins the title.
ATL vs NE and NE breaks the curse.
Follow me on Twitter, we'll have fun watching the games.
If you really think the NFL is "slop" because there's parity, go watch the NBA for a full season, which might as well be a coronation it's so far from a competition. Then come back and tell me if you still think the greatest professional sports league on the face of the Earth is still "slop".
@TC4EVA I don't watch much of the other 3 major sports because they are sub-slop. Yep, free agency and rules changes have watered down the NFL to the parity-induced lowest common denominator that we see. I love the NFL as much as anyone, but the reason why it is slop is because it is no longer which team is best for 16 games, it is all about the last ~3 games of the reg season + playoffs.
@ultimatenyg @TC4EVA I've been watching the game for a long time, and here's just a brief list of what's improved in the NFL over the past twenty years: coaching, scouting, drafting, the player talent pool, in-game strategy, the use of technology, player safety, training, nutrition, film study. I could go on and on and on. The idea that the league is "slop" now compared to some mythical golden age of the game is just false. I hear it a lot, mostly from the "old-timers", although I guess I'm approaching that status myself. But it's not grounded in reality. Nearly every aspect of today's game is functioning on a higher level than it was twenty years ago. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out why. Money. The league is practically printing money. The kind of money that lures the best and the brightest. The talent pool, both in the coaching and executive ranks, and in the player ranks, is flat out better. It's bigger. And so more franchises are able to stock their organizations with talent. Combined with new rules that have effectively taken away the ability of a defense to bully an offense like they did back in the day, and you get parity. A level playing field. That's not slop, that's the closest thing to utopia that you can get in professional sports. Who wants to know before the season even starts who's going to win the championship? The reason we love sports is that it's the ultimate reality show. There's no telling what's going to happen next. The NFL is the gold standard when it comes to validating that statement. If you're interested in dynasties, watch your Steel Curtain highlight video, or pop in "Downtown Abbey".
@TC4EVA @ultimatenyg I tend to agree with this. The league is not "slop" (or "garbage" as I believe Pete referred to it as in his massive "sour grapes" post a few months after Super Bowl 46; basically downplaying the Giants' Super Bowl win as meaningless and/or undeserved). I'm sorry, that's BS.
TC4EVA pointed out rather nicely all the reasons why nostalgia goggles are likely involved for those claiming the league right now is "crap" or "garbage".
That said, they better not ever increase the amount of playoff teams. I'm okay having a 9-7 team make a big run. But a 7-9 teams doing that would feel... dirty.