Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A SuperBowl Rematch? Yes, But the WRONG One!

Baltimore Ravens' field goal kicker Billy Cundiff walks from Gillette Stadium Sunday in shock and dismay after missing a game-tying 32-yard FG. In fact, Ravens' receiver Lee Evans was the real cause of the Ravens' not getting to another Superbowl!

All the pundits from every sports news nook and cranny are bloviating about the impending SuperBowl "rematch" between the New York Giants and New England Patriots coming on February 5th. This, of course, would reprise the match for Superbowl XLVII where the surprising Giants took down the then perfect (18-0) Pats, by a score of 17-14.

But not so fast! The real rematch ought to be reprising Superbowl XXXV between the Baltimore Ravens and the Giants, which the Ravens won handily in Tampa, 34-7. So what happened, and how did a bogus rematch replace the one that should have been?

Basically, one player mucked up what had been destined to be a Baltimore victory on Sunday, in the AFC Conference Championship. Truthfully, the Ravens had outplayed New England on both sides of the ball. The much maligned Ravens' Quarterback, Joe Flacco, actually had bested the Patriots' ace Tom Brady - he with three Superbowl rings already. The numbers don't lie: Flacco had two passing touchdowns, Brady 0, Flacco passed for some 306 yards, Brady only 239, and Flacco had only 1 interception to Brady's 2.

More pertinently, with barely 1:33 left, Flacco had steadfastly driven the Ravens from their own 21 yard line to the Patriots' 14, with the Patriots ahead by a field goal, 23-20. Clearly, it was Flacco's game now to win or lose in the classic two minute drill. Then with barely 20 seconds left, Flacco hefted a nicely thrown pass straight into the right edge of the end zone with receiver Lee Evans there to catch it and end the game with a 27-23 win for the Ravens.

Except that Evans boffed the catch! He evidently forgot or never bothered to apply what every 10 or 11 year old Peewee football player is drilled on: SECURE the ball first in any end zone play! You have to expect any defender worth his salt will desperately try to bat the ball from your hands, so you must ...in Michael Irvin's words...."hug that mother like your life depends on it"! Well, Evans failed to do that and paid the price when a subsititute corner named Sterling Moore knocked the ball from his grasp.

Instead, according to sports guru Woody Paige, dean of Denver Post sports writers, Evans "non-chalanted the catch and missed it". While Warren Sapp, on the NFL Network, opined: "he had the winning TD but he relaxed too soon!" Indeed, and Evans and the team paid dearly for this unacceptable miscue which can be seen in the clip below:


Within about five nanoseconds, thousands of man-hours of preparation and team labor was thereby flushed down the proverbial toilet. The game was still not lost, since kicker Billy Cundiff only had to make a 32-yard FG to tie the game and at least keep the Ravens' chances alive though Evans mucked them up. But, he shanked the ball wide left! Patriots fans then became delirious realizing that their team's unearned victory had been snatched from the jaws of defeat and they were heading for their 7th Superbowl and not the Ravens. The missed FG can also be seen at the end of the short clip.

Do I blame Cundiff like most pundits do? Not really. Because if Evans makes the TD catch he had all set up compliments of Joe Flacco, Cundiff becomes a non-issue. And by all counts, and football justice, Evans should have made that catch....no excuses! At least he was inconsolable after the game and accepted blame for the loss, as well he should. Because making that single play would have sent the Ravens on.

While his team mates talked the usual politically correct banter of being a "team sport" we know differently and also that they had to be bitterly disappointed at his incompetence at a time when elite players are supposed to make big plays...not boff them. The fact of the matter is that when a key player makes a misplay that essentially cedes victory to the opponent, it is that player's miscue or misplay that has in the space of a second or les destroyed all the thousands of hours of prep , blood, sweat and toil of the TEAM for the year. In the same sense, Kyle Williams has to accept responsibility -- as he has-- for the Giants' winning in the later NFC game ....by boffing a key punt and letting the Giants recover in overtime, to make the winning field goal.

No, it is absolutely not right that a lot of SF fans tweeted him threats, including death threats according to the San Francisco Chronicle - but that doesn't absolve him of the responsibility of making the most critical error of the game nor does it justify conflating all the players' errors (including Vernon Davis' two 15 yard penalties) in order to dilute his most critical one. Yes football is indeed a "team sport" but that doesn't mean one player can't - by himself- turn the team's chances of winning to nil by one misplay. This is something all football lovers need to admit, especially the players.

So the Superbowl coming up in 2 weeks really has the inferior AFC team playing vs. the Giants. In my football crystal ball I can see only one outcome here: The Giants again beating Brady and his Patriots, just like they did four years ago. Is it better to have lucked out and thereby gotten to a Superbowl -- and lost- than never to have gotten there at all? That's a question Mr. Tom Brady and his team mates will have to answer in two weeks, after they finally get their comeuppance when their luck runs out.

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