That was an exciting day of football. The bad news: I lost my bet, so I'm out of my pool. The good news: I feel like this NFL season was worth it - we've got ourselves a new Super Bowl matchup. My thoughts:
PATRIOTS 21, CHARGERS 12
The Chargers blew this opportunity. When Tom Brady looks as bad as he looked in the early part of this game, you need to pounce, and pounce quick. All the Chargers could muster were field goals...and that's not going to do it. LaDainian Tomlinson may have been hurt - but continues to be invisible in playoff games. I need to stress this - he does get yards in playoff games - but he hasn't changed a playoff game, and he hasn't put up a super performance in a playoff game. And he was a non-factor (again, albeit with an injury) in this game. But the Chargers put up a fight with the likes of Michael Turner and Darren Sproles...and Phillip Rivers played but could not get the ball into the end zone.
One other thing worth commenting on - did you happen to see when Nate Kaeding made his third field goal - just before the half, which made it 14-9 Pats? He started celebrating like the Chargers had just taken the lead or won the game. Take it easy Kaeding...maybe if you had kicked like that in your other playoff games, a 14-9 deficit at halftime of the AFC Championship Game wouldn't feel like such a big deal.
GIANTS 23, PACKERS 20 OT
The only thing wrong with this game was that it hit the over. And I'll tell you why before I go any further. The third quarter - both teams got drives sustained (after defensive stops) by penalties. The penalty on the Packers, which seemed legit, leading to the Giants' TD, and then the Sam Madison penalty, which I've never seen a replay of, which seemed like payback for the Packers' penalty on the Giants' drive. I maintain had those penalties not happened, the game would have been 13-13 going into overtime, and I'd be sitting pretty in my pool. But I digress (I really am taking the loss in the pool a lot better than I thought I would).
The Giants pulled off the upset in another fantastic game by Eli Manning. I can't believe the maturing of Eli Manning that we're watching this post-season. And I'm surprisingly happy for him. I should clarify - I've never hated the Giants. I certainly dislike certain people involved with the Giants (not a Coughlin fan), but I'm pretty indifferent to the Giants. I'll root for them, I'll root against them, depending on the situation, but I'm indifferent. Mostly, usually, (not lately), I find them boring to watch, so I don't even bother. But I've jumped on their bandwagon, and I'm rooting for them this post-season. And I'm really happy for them and for Eli Manning. (And other than the Super Bowl matchup thing, I couldn't lose with this NFC Championship, because I like Favre and the Packers a lot, too.)
The Super Bowl matchup now is one that has never happened before (YES!). And it's interesting, because I'm willing to bet that never before has there been a Super Bowl matchup not where both teams played in the regular season (that's happened many times before), but where they played in the last week of the regular season. And if that's the case (and they have played in the last week of the regular season), I bet it wasn't as intense as Giants-Patriots in Week 17 of this past season. I wonder a couple of things right away:
1) Who does it benefit more? The Patriots, who game plan so well, or the Giants, who now have not only a recent game plan against this team, but a game plan that worked, and just needs a little tweaking?
2) The teams battled hard just a few weeks ago. Is there any carryover into the big game?
3) Don't you get the feeling the Patriots would rather not play the Giants? New York is a team that knows them, having already played them, and is hot. 10 straight wins on the road. Playing its best football. Things seem to be breaking for them. If I were New England, I'd rather be playing the Packers, with their old quarterback, instead of the Giants, with their young quarterback playing the best football of their career.
One last point - I wrote this week about the Giants being a better team without Jeremy Shockey (or, at least, Eli Manning being a better quarterback without him). I can't believe I totally forgot about Tiki Barber. What a difference it must make for the Giants to not have him badmouthing the coach, putting down the quarterback. He must be steaming over at NBC watching the Giants do this....and I kind of like that.