By Neil Keefe
» More columns
If Tony Romo doesn’t overthrow Miles Austin on third-and-5 with a little over two minutes left in Dallas in Week 14, I’m not as a happy as I am right now or was all day on Monday or on Sunday night. But because Tony Romo is who he is as a quarterback, I have that same, “Is this real life?” feeling I had during the Giants’ playoff run in 2007. And if this isn’t real life, I don’t want to wake up from it.
There’s this elephant in the room that no one in the tri-state wants to talk about (well at least I don’t), but I think at this point I have to address it. That elephant in the room is that the New York Football Giants are the hottest team in football and one win away from heading back to the Super Bowl. (I’m sure Patriots fans take exception to that after their team blew out a .500 team at home for their first playoff win since the 2007 AFC Championship, and maybe 49ers fans are upset about this claim after their team beat the anti-road warrior Saints, but I don’t care.)
I have tried to keep my Giants hype and confidence to a minimum (and I will revert back to that as the weekend approaches), but right now with the Giants in the NFC Championship Game and Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees at home, I don’t think I can hold back my feelings at least for today. After Sunday’s win, I’m counting down the seconds until 6:30 p.m. this Sunday. I have put sleep on the back burner in exchange for countless hours of watching Giants playoff highlights from 2007 on YouTube like it’s porn, and I’m paying the price now since I’m overtired and in serious need of those caffeine pills that Jessie Spano was using on Saved By The Bell. But I can draft off fumes and the emotional high of a Giants’ playoff win against the 15-1 Packers for at least a few more days as long as I am awake enough to occasionally check in on my friend Tim (the Packers fan from Friday’s column) with a text message or email to make sure he hasn’t resorted to spending his life in bed like Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys until the next postseason.
I think we’re at the same point we were at in 2007 in that the Giants are the NFC team that can win the Super Bowl. I don’t think Alex Smith and the 49ers can beat Tom Brady or beat the Ravens defense in a neutral setting, especially in a dome. And for the sake of humanity, I don’t think anyone outside of New England or the Greater Baltimore area wants to see the Patriots or Ravens win the Super Bowl. Like 2007, if the Cowboys or Packers had played the Patriots in Glendale, well that “16-0″ banner at Gillette Stadium would instead be a championship banner and everyday of my life I would have to hear about the Perfect Patriots: The Greatest Team Ever. I don’t think anyone out there wants to hear about the 2011 Patriots: The Team That Revitalized The Dynasty or the 2011 Ravens: The Team That Let Ray Lewis Sail Off Into The Sun As A Champion. Don’t you non-49ers, non-Patriots, non-Ravens fan want the Giants to win it all? Or am I just wrongfully assuming that everyone else is in the sports world that isn’t a fan of those three teams is as much against the Patriots and Ravens as I am?
There will be plenty of time to talk about what this Sunday means, and yes, I will be calling on Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights again this week to help prepare for the 49ers. But there is still that win from this past Sunday against the “best” team in football that needs to be talked about, even if it was a blowout and even if it was only in the divisional round of the playoffs.
If the Giants end up finishing 2011 the way they finished 2007, then all the columns and books and special edition DVDs that will come from it will look at these three factors as important keys to another historical playoff run.
The Fumble/The Call/The Challenge
Have you ever muttered something to your girlfriend or to your mom out of anger and frustration that you didn’t mean and wish you could take it back? But fortunately for you they didn’t fully hear you or hope they heard you wrong and say, “What did you just say?” and you are given a second chance to review your initial remark and change it? You would have to be an idiot to have this chance to review your words and come back with the same answer. Well, unless you’re Ray Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond or NFL referee Bill Leavy.
I really don’t know how anyone could watch Greg Jennings fumble and think that it wasn’t a fumble. And I really don’t know how the guy whose job it is to watch this play in slow motion from every available angle can watch it and think it wasn’t a fumble. It’s hard for anyone to convince me that the officials in the game didn’t have heavy, heavy money on the Packers’ money line or that Roger Goodell wasn’t pacing in a dark room somewhere trying to figure out a way to get both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady to championship weekend. I have yet to hear someone say they agree with Leavy’s decision and even though the NFL’s statement didn’t say that Leavy was wrong, it implied it.
Leavy’s call was an embarrassment. It was an embarrassment to him and to all officials and to the league as a whole. Luckily for him the Giants won the game and won it convincingly otherwise he would probably be spending a lot of his time on Monster.com and none of his time in the tri-state area.
I know I shouldn’t be mad about this play because the Giants won by 17 points, but they could have lost the game because of this call. So yeah, I’m mad. When it happened I was casually drinking for the game, but after the call stood, I took my alcohol intake from Wayne Gretzky points per game in ’1998-99 to his points per game from ’85-86. I’m mad because if a call like that can happen in a game like that, why can’t it happen again this weekend or in the Super Bowl?
The argument that the Hail Mary (we’ll get to that) and the bad call negate each other is a silly one. The Hail Mary was a designed play of genius executed by an elite quarterback and a premier receiver. The bad call was a blown call by an incompetent official whose time under the hood and then announcement of “After review, the call on the field stands” should be used as a Lasik eye surgery infomercial at 4 a.m. on the YES Network. I just need to remind myself that the Giants won. The Giants won!
Packers Choice To Defer/Onside Kick/Go For It On Fourth Down
Mike McCarthy isn’t someone I would want sit at a blackjack table. I just picture him hitting on 12 against the dealer’s 2 on one hand and then staying on 12 against the dealer’s 2 on the following hand. Play with some consistency, Mike. If you’re going to do something one way, then stick with it. Did you not watch the Falcons’ Mike Smith change his thought process and decision making on short yardage situations last week?
The Packers had the worst pass defense in the history of the NFL. That’s right, the history of the NFL. That’s not a long time or anything. But you know what the Packers do have? Maybe the best quarterback on the planet who just came off the best regular season in the history of the NFL and masked the defensive inefficiencies of his team all season.
So … The Packers win the coin toss and elect to defer. That means McCarthy, instead of putting Rodgers on the field with a chance to take an early lead and quickly put a dent in the Giants’ confidence on the road against the No. 1 team, he puts his historically bad defense on the field. (At the time I didn’t think about it that much and was actually upset about the decision because I love getting the ball in the second half.)
But then just six seconds into the SECOND QUARTER after tying the game, McCarthy elects for an onside kick that the Giants recover at the Green Bay 41. Umm, OK? You just tied the game, 15:06 into the game, and now you’re trying an onside kick? McCarthy might as well have had the Lambeau big screen show a personal message from him saying, “Hey Tom, I don’t trust my defense! I trust them so little I’m going to try an onside kick in a tied playoff game and give your All-Pro quarterback a short field to play with!” But just 15 minutes of football before that, he decided to put his defense on the field over this offense? Well, what’s it going to be, Mike?
(Here’s the problem with an onside kick, which I’m not breaking any ground about. If you recover it you’re a genius like Sean Payton in the Super Bowl. If you don’t recover it you’re an idiot. It’s like swinging away on 3-0. You better drive the ball into the gap or over the fence because if you pop it up like Mark Teixeira then you better enjoy answering questions from the media.
But it doesn’t stop there. On fourth-and-5 from the Giants’ 39 with over 13 minutes left to play and the Packers trailing by seven points (not 17 or 27, just seven), McCarthy has his offense go for it (yet another “Eff you” move to his defense). Rodgers is sacked for a loss of six yards, the Giants take over at their own 45 and go down the field and kick a field goal to make it a two-possession game.
Mike McCarthy coached the game and made decisions like you would expect Andy Reid or Norv Turner to in a playoff game. And I can’t thank him enough for it.
“WHAT THE EFF ARE YOU DOING?!?!?!?!” That’s what I screamed (along with spilling Coors Lights everywhere and throwing Tostitos at the TV like Chris Kattan as Mr. Peepers on Saturday Night Live) when the Giants went to the line and Eli Manning was out there and not Lawrence Tynes. (Sure, Lawrence Tynes is as inconsistent as McCarthy’s playcalling and already missed one field goal), but with four seconds left on the clock and no timeouts, you’re only going to be able to run one play, and that one play is a Hail Mary. What’s the success rate of for a Hail Mary? That’s not rhetorical. I’m actually wondering. What is it?
But the crazy thing about the play is that when Eli let the ball go and the FOX camera panned to it soaring through the air to the corner of the end zone, Hakeem Nicks looked like the only guy in the end zone. (For any of you that saw the Steve Bartman 30 for 30 documentary, Catching Hell, on ESPN, it looked like the part where they remove everything from the scene of the ball in the air except for Moises Alou to see if he would have caught it. Nicks looked like Alou the entire time). The Packers secondary was behind Nicks and poorly positioned to knock the ball down or slap it down or even intercept it. And of course Nicks catches it and pins it to his helmet and facemask to create yet another 2007 comparisons from the David Tyree catch. (FYI: The last time the Giants scored important points in a divisional playoff game was the last time they were in the divisional playoffs in Dallas. That year turned out pretty well too. I’m just saying…)
The Packers didn’t deserve to win. They turned the ball over four times* (five if Bill Leavy is even semi decent at his job). Aaron Rodgers played like Joe Flacco and Jermichael Finley played like the Patriots’ Reche Caldwell in 2006. Without Leavy and Goodell and an unbelievable camera angle on that fumbled kick return, a 37-20 game would have been more like 50-3. And there’s a very real chance that without a phantom roughing the passer penalty and Leavy’s incompetence, the Packers are held touchdown-less at home in a playoff game after going 15-1 in the regular season.
On my Amtrak ride back from Boston on Monday morning, I had the New York Post sitting on the seat next to me and somewhere on the trip in Rhode Island a guy came up to me and said, “Are you done with that Post?” I said, “Yeah, you can have it.” He replied, “I have to read about my Giants.” A few days ago no one thought any Giants fan would want to read about the Giants on the Monday after Green Bay. Now it’s about wanting to read about the Giants on the Monday after San Francisco.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe