SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: Kyle Williams #10 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after fumbling the ball in overtime of the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The Giants beat the 49ers 20-17 in overtime. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The dust clouds (or in the case of Ravens fans, the fury) have settled a bit from two nail-biters in the conference championships and we begin to look ahead to one of the lesser-reported aspects of the Super Bowl; the game itself.
Amid all the overdone storylines we're bound to read ad naseum (did you know the Giants and Patriots played in a recent Super Bowl? Welcome back to relevancy, David Tyree. Can we please get Rodney Harrison to weigh in on how he got beat on that play?), writers around SB Nation are pointing out some interesting details on how the Super Bowl participants made it to the big game.
Ed Valentine of Big Blue View points out three reasons why the Giants defeated the 49ers. Here's a hint, it wasn't because of their pass protection.
He does point out the special teams advantage the Giants had, though. Two Kyle Williams fumbles turned into 10 points, and in a 20-17 game, it can't get much bigger than that.
Along with excellent punting from Sam Weatherford, the Giants were able to use the same elements San Francisco used all season to defeat a team that gave QB Eli Manning the most savage beating of his life. Special teams are, as always, a winning edge.
Over on Pats Pulpit, Greg Knopping highlights the play of LB Brandon Spikes, and how he went from the ground to the stratosphere in just two plays.
Spikes was crushed by Ravens fullback Vonta Leach, resulting in a big gain for RB Ray Rice. Spikes dropped into coverage on the next play, and QB Joe Flacco didn't see him underneath the receiver. Spikes got what should have been an enormous interception that could have sealed the game in the fourth quarter.
No one was talking about how elite Flacco was after that throw (or another one from the second quarter, as Bill Barnwell points out in a phenomenal piece about both games), but Patriots QB Tom Brady gave it right back on the next play, in what could be the dumbest decision he's made in his career.
Neither quarterback played well, and anyone saying Flacco was anything more than hit-and-miss is in denial. Sure, Lee Evans should have held onto that ball as if his life hung in the balance, but missed tackles, not great passing, got them in position for the game-tying field goal. What about the two throws Flacco made way late to a wide open Torrey Smith in the first half? Obviously, there's the interception, but what about his last pass of the game, the one he tried to cram in a window smaller than the space between his eyebrows that should have been intercepted?
Neither the Patriots nor the Ravens took advantage of opportunities to win the game. They both chose to let the other team lose it. And the Ravens did.
It's certainly fair to hold K Billy Cundiff responsible. An overlooked aspect of the Patriots run to the Super Bowl is K Stephen Gostkowski. He's 4-for-4 on field goals this post-season, and while his longest is 35 yards, Cundiff would probably kill to be perfect from that range today.
Danny Woodhead had a critical fumble against Baltimore, and rest assured, the Giants will be going for the ball the same way they did against Williams. As it is with any big game, possessions will most likely determine the outcome. Both teams were in the top 10 in takeaways in the 2011 regular season, and when you have a quarterback who can convert those extra possessions into points, it's not a surprise when you make it to the Super Bowl.