I want to look back at Conference Championship Sunday in the NFL now that there is a little bit of perspective. As the Purple Haze begins to lift over Baltimore and The Raven Nation and the Red and Gold San Francisco Fog lifts over The Bay Area Communities I think it is a good time of look at why 2 great defensive teams lost. Although the NFL is doing its best to imitate the woeful NBA, in my mind and my eyes there is nothing more entertaining then a 17-14 slugfest with every yard fought over, big men hitting big men, muddy uniforms with numbers covered (the sad loss due to the much improved artificial fields of today), and with the evenings dark shadows creeping in over the stands and onto the fields ( much improved lighting systems even on during bright sunny clear blue skies at 1pm of early fall have successfully removed the ghostly figures of ’60s football games).
My feeling on winning and losing football games, beyond the obvious final score, is when is the game won or lost. When I was young and would be able to hit the bars, I always would the tales about how someone would go out and have 10-15 beers and the last stop order one more beer. The next day he would tell the bartender that the last beer he had was bad and his hangover/illness had nothing to do with the previous ten.. We all say you need to step on your opponent and break his will, force your will upon him, etc. And we have THE PLAY or THE CALL that decides the game. I put credibility to the first concept and almost none to the second when it comes to losing in NFL football. If through 59 minutes of game, and you have not put your opponent away and a single play or call can determine the out come of the game, then as a team you deserve what you get. You earned it, good or bad. Not the player who did not complete the catch nor the official that blew the call against your team, either a penalty on you or a missed called penalty your opponent. But just like the first fifteen beers, the fans do not remember the previous 59 minutes, they remember who dropped the pass, who threw the INT, fumbled the ball, committed the penalty, missed the kick or the positive of all of the previous.
First up my hometown Ravens.
Baltimore Ravens vs New England
We all know the final score and the final plays but what happened earlier that would have probably changes the outcome. Negate the necessity of last minute heroics.
Offensively, the first three series the Ravens had they ran first. After the second series, I said pass the damn ball, don;t give up on the run, just try passing the ball. Fortunately we were only down by 3. Then the big pass although under thrown and on the NE 3, a field goal for 3. There are 4 points left on the field. Matching TDs and a NE field goal and only down 10-13 (with 4 points squandered). A NE field goal and a Ravens TD now has it 17-16 Ravens. This is now the big play of the 3rd quarter. Woodhead fumbles a Koch punt. Our ball on NE 28yard line. I said go for the TD pass. It is time to step on the jugular and put the Pats away. Of course we run Rice and although we do make a first down, with the sack it is 3 points (4 more points left on the field, now -8). At 20-16 that is the last points the Ravens score. Convert two TDs instead of field goals and it is a two score game, not a one score. With 11:29 left in the 4th quarter, NE gets the winning TD.On the Ravens next series, they are running Williams and Rice , moving the ball, eating clock, all good. They have moved the ball 30 yards with 5 rushes and 1 safe pass. NE cannot stop the run. The ball is on the NE 46 first and ten. I yell at the TV, the dogs scatter, don’t pass the ball, keep running it (after all, we fans who watch the game closely for pleasure know so much more than the people that do it 24/7 for a career). Flacco passes over the middle, INT, his only of the day. But the football gods are on our side and Brady throws an INT. We get back to the NE 30 and on 3rd and 3 we run Rice up the middle from the shotgun. There has been no luck there all game and it is a 3 yd loss. Looking at a 51 yd FG. Cundiff has been no good from there all season. So why did we not consider making the 3rd and 3 a two down plan? We knew Cundiff could not kick it that far.So 3 more points left lying on the field (now -11). We get the ball back and the rest we know. Flacco moves us to scoring position. Evans drops a pass he should have held onto. Cundiff misses a 32 yarder. If we had converted any field goal to a TD we win. I believe Evans could have won the game and Cundiff could have tied it but neither lost the game.
Defensively, we gave up two INTs to penalties. The first that was negated allowed NE to score their first FG (-3 points for the defense). The face mask penalty on NE first possession of the 2nd quarter moved the ball to the Baltimore 7 and Ellis ran in untouched against the number 2 rushing defense. Instead of a FG they get 7 (-4 more on the defense now -7). On NE last possession of the 3rd quarter another Brady INT is negated because of penalty. That was 1st and teen on the Ravens 40. NE ends scoring the winning TD (-7 on the defense to a total of -14 points given up).
So take any positive and any negative scoring opportunities off the board and the Ravens win easily, they did not lose because of Cundiff or Evans, they just did not win because of them. Rodney McKissic of the Boston Hearald is one who blames or congratulates Evans: http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/football/patriots/view.bg?articleid=1398149&srvc=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+bostonherald%2Fsports%2Ffootball%2Fpatriots+%28N.E.+Patriots+-+Patriots+%26+NFL+-+BostonHerald.com%29
Bo Smolka of CSN Baltimore also lets the blame slip to Evans: http://www.csnbaltimore.com/blog/ravens-talk/post/Game-slips-through-Evans-hands?blockID=636194&feedID=6703
STL Today allows all people to blog who is the bigger goat: http://interact.stltoday.com/forums/viewtopic.php?printertopic=1&t=860950&postdays=0&postorder=asc&&start=12&sid=ecec88e494578e6d72701982e824f020
Bryn Swartz at Rantsports.com also lays Goathood on the three weekend players: http://www.rantsports.com/clubhouse/2012/01/23/2012-nfl-playoffs-billy-cundiff-lee-evans-kyle-williams-which-player-committed-the-biggest-blunder/
Now on to the West Coast Harbaugh and Kyle Williams.
San Francisco 49ers vs New York Giants
Again we know the score but is Kyle Williams the goat here?
The stats tell the whole story. We can start with Time of Possession. New York Giants +11:18 which means the 49ers defense was on the field for 2/3 of the game. That is tiring which also give the Gmen a 33 play differential. The 49ers were 1 of 13 on 3rd downs, a 7.7 % success rate, man I think you score higher than that on a SAT if you get your name correct. They had 6 three and outs with 4 in the second half. The 49ers were 0-1 in the Red Zone and of course had the two turnovers. Considering the defense was on the field for 11 more minutes and 33 more plays, they held the Gmen. The offense did not score. Although the Gmen did score off the turnovers, the 49er offense did nothing to help the defense. To blame the loss on Kyle Williams excuses the absence of offense and as a forever Ravens fan, I know about the offense letting the defense down. The flow of the game says that SF would not have moved the ball with no fumble.
Marcos Breton of the Sacramento Bee puts the blame on Williams: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/01/23/4207268/49ers-fumble-away-super-bowl.html
Hollywood Gossip puts the blame squarely on Williams: http://www.thehollywoodgossip.com/videos/kyle-williams-fumbles-49ers-lose/
Peter King of SI calls Cundiff and Williams surprise goats: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/peter_king/01/23/super.bowl.xlvi.matchup/index.html
Of course the most vitriol comes from the fans and Kyle Williams receives the worst and most. And writing like above flames this stupidity.
In football you win as a team or lose as a team. It is the ultimate team sport of the major sports. It requires the execution of all three phases of the game to win and each phase has 11 involved players with assignments. Unlike baseball where seven can stand around and scratch themselves while the pitcher, catcher and hitter play, a dominating player like Michael Jordan can carry a team, and in hockey a great goal scorer can carry a team. Football needs all 11 at all times. Evans could have won the game. Cundiff could have tied the game. Williams could have made it tougher for the Gmen to score or easier for the 49ers to score, but none of them could lose the game. The Ravens and 49ers lost those games much earlier.