When the Patriots got deus ex Cundiff'ed yesterday afternoon, it took a while to process what I'd just witnessed. Look at this box score again. New England got their butts summarily kicked up and down the turf in every subcategory of every phase of the game. The better team (on the field) lost, simple as that. It rocks you back on your heels to fully arrive at the following realization: Tom Brady carried the Pats all season and basically dragged them to this game. He then threw for 239 yards, 2 picks, 0 TDs, and ended the day with an abysmal 57.5 passer rating. And New England still won the game.
Then that zany Niners/Giants affair came along and out-weirded the preceding four hours. After wading through every stat, every turning-point play, and every small-but-in-retrospect-kinda-huge detail, I can safely say the following: there is no logical reason, whether buried or in plain sight, why the Pats and Giants are booking hotel rooms in Indy while Baltimore and San Francisco book time on their couches to watch the Super Bowl from afar.
Because yesterday's Chamionship games were completely bizarro wars of attrition, in every possible football connotation of that phrase. Field position, injuries, turnovers, shamelessly baffling play calls, you name it. Near as I could tell, the Ravens, Pats, Niners, and Giants were trying to exhaust each other in the futility and stupidity departments, and succeeding heartily in that objective. Some scattered thoughts on a strange day:
A. Due to the amplified nature of the postseason, it's the time of year when heretofore unknown quantities become vividly, if briefly, prominent in our consciousness. Really, it seems like myths, goats, and/or unsung heroes are manufactured by circumstance once or twice per playoffs. It's to the point that the emergence of such moments or storylines has a clockwork-like nature. Even granting that premise, though, yesterday pushed the bounds of no-names having dramatic effects on a game. In hindsight, Kyle Williams (who?) and Sterling Moore (seriously, WHO???) may well have been the two most significant people playing professional football yesterday. ... Huh?
B. Two calls that were not reviewed and could not be challenged yesterday: The Lee Evans TD catch/drop, the Ahmad Bradshaw fumble/forward progress stop. I think replay has done plenty of good for the game, and I fully acknowledge that overusing it would further disrupt a viewing experience that has already suffered mightily at the hands of (see if you can hear the venom dripping from my vocal cords here) TV timeouts. Nonetheless, you absolutely must get those calls right. I'm not saying the wrong conclusions were reached because in both instances I believe the correct call was made, but the NFL needs to amend its definition of when booth-mandated replay is appropriate. As has been done with overtime situations, I like the concept of expanded replay as a playoffs-only device, but the following needs to happen: Expand endzone replay to include plays that were not initially ruled scores, and review all turnovers, regardless of a thrown challenge flag. We can even reduce the number of allotted challenges if we make these reviews mandatory, but it needs to happen.
C. Speaking of overtime, that's twice that the shiny new overtime rules have been rendered moot by sudden-death style endings happening anyway. We have yet to see the college-style possession system in effect. Won't someone please just play a game where this happens so we can figure out if we even need this rule?
D. Still speaking of overtime, Ed Hochuli was, uh, still speaking of overtime. For like twelve minutes. It was a thoroughly entertaining display of awkward verbosity concerning the new playoff rules for OT; "thoroughly" being the operative word. Apparently ol' Ed was determined to make sure every conceivable scenario was explained to the players and everyone watching at home in painstaking, mind-numbing detail. Mission accomplished, Ed. Well done.
E. Steven Tyler. Ugh. I realize it's de facto interwebs protocol to link an article or Youtube clip when you reference something, but I'm not going to do that in this case. If you didn't see or hear that particular rendition of the National Anthem, you're better off. Trust me. Steven can continue being an addled, incoherent source of comic relief on American Idol for the rest of eternity, but can we agree that his singing career needs to be Old Yeller'ed behind the rock'n'roll barn? It's time, right?
F. It's quite possibly that Hoodie has lost his coaching fastball. That doesn't mean he can't or won't throw a great game in two weeks and for the next however many years, but methinks the old guy is slipping just a touch from his pedestal of unrivaled sideline machinations.
G. Of the possible permutations of Super Bowl opponents, this is going to be the most entertaining. The Pats want revenge, the Giants are at the peak of their playoff swagger, and the rest of us get to watch, if not exactly Ali/Frazier II, one of the more loaded rematches of the past 20 years in any sport. I won't beat you over the head with all the obvious subplots and angles that are going to be run into the ground over the next two weeks, but suffice it to say there quite a few intriguing story arcs in play.
(Note: I'm not beating you over the head now so that I'll have some material to draw on between now and then. Shrewd.)
Anyway, as we hurtle inexorably towards February 6, whence we commence another desolate, football-less stretch, we'll have plenty to keep us occupied. There's hoops and hockey afoot, and pitchers and catchers report to spring training in mere weeks. One nice thing about sports: never a dull moment. Unless you're watching Ed Hochuli explain something, of course.