Turnovers and big mistakes highlighted Sunday’s AFC and NFC championship games, rather than outstanding individual play or brilliant team performance. It was difficult not to feel empty inside or even a little depressed after all that transpired, whether you’re a fan of one of the teams that participated or not. Not one team played spectacularly, and not one specific player played exceptionally well outside of the New York Giants' Victor Cruz. Yes, the games were close and exhilarating late, but the outcomes were exasperating.

It’s easy to say that the NFL product has worsened due to the early playoff exoduses of the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s also easy to say that if football was played within a series format, those teams would’ve been at the forefront of Sunday’s games and we wouldn’t have had to witness Billy Cundiff’s horrific hook of a field goal for the Baltimore Ravens versus the New England Patriots and Kyle Williams’ disastrous overtime fumble for the San Francisco 49ers versus the Giants on Sunday. It’s easy to say the best team in the NFL probably won’t be the one winning the Super Bowl.

But that’s not football. Coming away from Sunday’s games discontent is understandable, but making the game of football what you want it to be isn’t. The best part about the game is that preparation and execution preside over all else. Therefore, mistakes are a gigantic part of the game. They have the potential to render immense detriment to a team. Those who love basketball and love the series system don’t like that. Those who realize that the game of football is about striving for perfection, or at least the closest thing to it, do.

It wasn’t just the mistakes themselves that changed these games, but the abundance in which they were committed. For both the Ravens and 49ers, play calling turned out to be unstable enough to be mistake-riddled.

It started out early for San Francisco when the Niners dialed up a reverse play early in the first quarter amidst sloppy field conditions. Yes, this is minor compared to everything else that eventually transpired, but calling trick plays in the middle of a muddy mess of a football game probably isn’t something that’s going to pan out most of the time. Kyle Williams fumbled the ball on this play, but I don’t fault him at all for it. The call itself was far more indefensible.

The more important aspect of San Francisco’s play calling was its total blunder of a game plan. The 49ers finished the game 1/13 on third down, and Alex Smith only totaled 12 completions. He only completed one pass to an actual wide receiver. The team virtually gave up on Frank Gore despite proficiency in the running game when it was utilized. Drives seemed to only last about a minute and three-and-outs were aplenty. Give much credit to the New York Giants defense, but Frank Gore has no business rushing the ball under 25 times in a game comprised of horrible conditions where time of possession is key. Top that off with a struggling quarterback that might’ve reverted back to his true colors and you have yourself a complete lack of preparation as well as execution.

Baltimore’s play calling gaffe came on the final possession. Third-and-one on New England’s 14 yard-line, the Ravens dialed up a pass play that led to an incompletion, so they had to settle for the game-tying field goal attempt. The only problem: they had a timeout remaining. In the first quarter of this same game, Ray Rice converted a third-and-one on a run up the middle behind a brilliant second effort. There was no reason not to run a mirror image of that play again. If you don’t get it, you use the timeout and you kick the field goal regardless. If you get it, you give yourself at least two downs to take a shot at the end zone with roughly 15 seconds to work with. Instead, they called a pass and squandered the opportunity for a couple extra plays, settled for a field goal, and Billy Cundiff missed it. Now they’ll be sitting at home on Super Bowl Sunday like the rest of us.

Not capitalizing is considered a mistake as well. Joe Flacco can continue to bark back at the media all he wants, but until he makes deadly throws following his opponent’s mistakes, he won’t be seen as elite. That’s the difference between guys like him and Alex Smith and guys like Tom Brady and Eli Manning. It manifested on Sunday.

Brady seized the game on a fourth-and-goal end zone dive to put his team up 23-20 in the fourth quarter. It was filled with guile and no regard. The same went for Eli Manning and his plethora of pressure throws and third down conversions. He was on the ground more than Alex Smith was all game and still managed the resiliency and wherewithal to achieve key first downs in a game where the 49ers had stuffed everything else in the Giants offense. He didn't figure out a way to put the game away in regulation or the overtime period, but he was unequivocally the toughest player in the league last Sunday. The sentiments of his teammates ring true – he’s truly as tough as they come.

Some little things in these games made the world of difference, too. Imagine if Ted Ginn, Jr. had been healthy enough to return punts for the 49ers. Imagine if Julian Edelman didn’t have to play defensive back for the Patriots and cover Anquan Boldin in pressure situations down the stretch (it would’ve been the epicenter of defensive meltdown topics all week if Cundiff hadn’t missed that kick). Imagine if Brady didn’t painfully overthrow Rob Gronkowski for an easy touchdown in the first quarter, or loft floaters instead of darts, or get cocky after Flacco’s first interception and throw into double coverage in the end zone. Imagine if Lee Evans had just hauled in the touchdown pass that would’ve changed the perception of Joe Flacco. Imagine if the 49ers defensive backs hadn’t continually leveled each other on every interception opportunity. Imagine if Kyle Williams had just stayed away from his first muffed fumble instead of letting it take an awkward bounce towards his knee. Imagine if turnovers weren’t such an enormous factor.

And that’s the thing, turnovers and mistakes are monstrous factors. The playoffs are showing us these things in undeniable fashion. It showed when Andy Dalton threw three interceptions in the wild card round, when T.J. Yates threw four interceptions in the divisional round, when Green Bay committed four turnovers and New Orleans five upon their exits, and ended with mistakes by Baltimore and San Francisco capped off with a shanked field goal and a gut-wrenching fumble.

The Patriots and Giants haven’t made those types of mistakes, and they’ll be playing in a greatly anticipated Super Bowl XLII rematch because of it. Compounding that with the greatness that they have shown, and the true football fan wouldn’t have it any other way. Make no mistake about it – the Giants and Patriots are truly the two best teams in the NFL.

By Clayton Terry via FeedCrossing
Written by FeedCrossing, Content News Source (Archive/RSS)

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