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For the first time all season, I can't say "Man, I wish I'd gotten a chance to watch more NFL games this weekend."  Well, I can, I wish there had been more games, but I saw all that there was.  And I knew it was going to be a special day - I said to my roommate, "So it's 0 degrees here, and I'm being generous.  I can't walk outside for 5 minutes without my legs going numb.  Later today, when it's dark, they're going to play a football game 400 miles north of here." 

I don't much care for the phrase "instant classic," in fact, it joins "blueprint" and "bulletin board fodder" and anything ending with "-gate" as words I am sick of hearing.  But an epically cold game, that goes into overtime, with the stories that came out of this NFC championship... I'll use a different phrase that means the same thing: This was one for the ages.

Eli Manning has had a magical postseason, and shrugs it off with a coolness bordering on apparent apathy.  Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs continued to dominate as the league's newest hot tandem.  Plaxico Burress embarrassed Al Harris.  And Lawrence Tynes went from goat to hero faster than I ever remember seeing.  It was faster for me than for you, most likely - here's what happened in my little world:

I have DVR, so I was watching the game a little behind everyone else.  Everything was going great, and I was close to catching up.  There were about 4 minutes left in the fourth.  Then something happened and we blew a fuse.  I ran downstairs, flipped the circuit breaker, ran back up, and turned the TV back on.  Naturally, the recording had stopped, and the game was live.  It was overtime, and Brett Favre was throwing a pass-it's picked off!  CRAP!  I knew too much about the future.  First I made sure to record everything after the game on FOX, to make sure I wouldn't miss anything, then I went back to the game.

It was a unique experience for those last four minutes.  On the Giants' final drive, I knew how it would end.  Not exactly how, but I knew they wouldn't score.  As they pressed inside the 30, I wondered how it would happen.  Then they got inside the 20, and I knew it would be a monumental screw-up of some kind.  As they lined up for the field goal, I wondered if we'd see a shank or a block.  And as you know, it was one of the worst shanks in recent memory.

And that was the end of this recording; I then had to go to the next one - due to the cut of power, it was stored as two separate recordings.  I suppose I'm lucky that it didn't happen two minutes sooner - I would have missed the kick, like Tynes did (nyuk nyuk).  Okay, so I went to the next recording, which started at the beginning of the Giants' drive.  It didn't take long for fourth down to happen, and Tynes kicked again, and nailed this one.  So for me, the two kicks happened about three minutes apart, less time than the amount of time that elapsed on the game clock.  Tynes was a hero, of sorts anyway.  But I did notice that the first person Eli Manning was shown embracing on the field was not Tynes, but the holder, Jeff Feagles.  Interesting...

Also in the post-game celebrations, Brett Favre looked positively jovial, which surprised me.  He did not look like a man who had just single-handedly given the other team a trip to the Super Bowl.  Maybe it says something about his attitude, and maybe that attitude was a factor in the careless picks he threw (Ryan Grant and Mark Tauscher saved his rear on the previous one).  I can't say that for sure, but here's a bold proclamation I will make: Brett Favre will absolutely not retire this offseason.  Whatever his attitude said, it definitely did not read like a person who just blew his one last shot at a championship, but rather a person who believes there's always next year.

I don't have much left to criticize about Eli Manning.  I think one of his greatest assets is that it's all a game to him.  He tries his damndest to win, just like I try my damndest to win at poker, but in the end, it's all a game.  His chemistry with his receivers is great these past couple of wins - he and Plax pulled off some stuff that you don't dare do with a rookie, and he has something special going on with Kevin Boss - and now I can't even say he plays poorly in cold weather! 

I'm amazed I'm not hearing much about the potential controversy about the heat of the Giants' bench.  Pam Oliver reported early on that the bench, which was supposed to be heated, wasn't.  No one brought it up again.  Someone should be lambasting FOX for irresponsible reporting.  Either it was a legitimate problem, and a possible controversy to pepper the headlines with; or it was a brief short.  I don't know what really happened, but it's irresponsible of FOX to give us such a compelling storyline and not follow up on it one way or the other. 

I was a little frightened by the color of Tom Coughlin's cheeks by the end of the game-I was seriously concerned for his health.  They went from pink to red to almost purple.  Watch out for frostbite, Tom, that s**t is dangerous.

And speaking of Coughlin, it's clear that I was wrong about him.  It seems we forget the playoff success he had with Jacksonville during that franchise's infant years.  The guy can coach, and he's been doing it for a while.  His apparent change of heart this year is no longer merely apparent.  He has softened just enough to get his team in his camp, and getting rid of critic Tiki Barber has helped (I wouldn't be surprised to see Jeremy Shockey go away this offseason).  He seems to have modeled himself after Bill Belichick, being secretive and allowing the media to paint him as paranoid, fostering an "it's us against the world" mentality that unifies his team.  Junior Seau was quoted in Peter King's MMQB as saying that everyone in New England trusts everyone else to get their job done, so they can focus on their own assignments, and New York has the same trust.  So many coaches, my Redskins included, handicap themselves by doing something different when forced to start the backups, compensating for the assumed drop in ability.  DC Steve Spagnuolo and Coughlin kept doing what they do, and it worked out.

I was not, however, wrong about Norv Turner.  After the game he called, he's back on my chopping block.  You take a coach who is conservative to a fault, and come playoff time he will always play it way too safe.  The attitude that could have won this game is, "We have nothing to lose - let's give ‘em hell."  But in only the first drive of the game, he was already far too careful.  Fourth-and-five.  Fine, punt it.  Due to the wind and the cold, the punt goes twenty-some yards.  Hey, I don't blame the punter - I doubt I'd be able to kick a frozen ball TEN yards into the wind.  But you get the gift of a lifetime - a Patriot pushes another Patriot into your kicker accidentally, five yard penalty, fourth and inches, safely outside Gostkowski's field goal range if you turn it over.  YOU DO NOT PUNT TO THE PATRIOTS IN THIS SITUATION!  You go for it - add onto a penalty a converted fourth down, and you've taken a lot of the wind out of the fans' and your opponents' sails.  And if you convert that fourth down, on the next play you call something that has a decent chance of going for 30 yards.  You HAVE to punch the Patriots in the mouth to beat them.  Norv turned the other cheek instead.  This is why Jesus would have been a lousy football coach.  And in the more highly published gutless move, Turner opted to punt on fourth-and-ten with just a few minutes left, and never got the ball back. 

You know, in all the talk about what happens if the Patriots underestimate the Chargers, it looks like San Diego is the team that underestimated their opponents.  They didn't respect Laurence Maroney (but they do now), they didn't seem to believe that Tom Brady will beat any defense eight times out of ten, and they played them like they would play any other football team.  They intercepted the league MVP three times, which NEVER happens, and didn't come close to winning.  This is the same team that should have lost on a last-second field goal to Indianapolis after getting six interceptions. 

I have to say, though, Quentin Jammer might be my favorite NFL corner right now.  He made play after play, and I was so impressed with the times he made himself noticed, I started looking at replays where coverage was blown to see if he made bad plays that went unnoticed.  Well, I'm sure there were one or two, but I didn't see them.  He hung tight with his man, often Randy Moss, every time, and did some beautiful work.

For all the talk about how classless both of these teams can be, there was shockingly little extracurricular activity between plays.  In fact, there didn't seem to be much fire in either team.  I had to remind myself this was the AFC championship several times, because both teams looked like it was just another day at the office.  The Pats are going to need to show a little more spirit against the Giants if they want to win the Super Bowl.

I can't believe I just said that.

It it just me, or is it getting easier to take Randy Moss out of a game?  Two catches in two playoff games? 

Also in the gutlessness department - LDT looked pretty much ready to go.  He even had his helmet on much of the time.  Did you think there'd be another game to save him for, Norv?  Yeah, you've got a great backup runner, and an 80% LDT isn't as good a rusher as a 100% Michael Turner.  But Tomlinson can catch or pass with the best of them as well - having him in the game gives you the chance to call some trick plays and keep the Patriots off-balance. 

I love Laurence Maroney.  He consistently adds two yards to what he should have gotten.  That's my kind of running back; I almost wish he was on a team that showcased him more.

There were five picks in this game, and credit the interceptor for most of them; the passes were decent enough, but the back made a spectacular play.  However, I couldn't believe Brady's end zone interception to Antonio Cromartie.  The amazing thing was how much time Brady had on that play - he had pretty good blocking if I remember correctly, and I was thinking "Oh, man, you can't give Brady time like this.  Guaranteed touchdown."  Then a Charger caught it, and he was the only person in the area.  What happened?

And Cromartie, what are you doing running that ball out of the end zone?  If they'd gotten Rivers for a safety on the next drive, those two points are coming out of your paycheck. 

Chris Chambers - he's had his issues, but I've loved the guy ever since he was a free-agent fantasy steal several years ago.  And he showed me yesterday that he might be the NFL's best sideline receiver.  His ability to get those feet down inbounds is uncanny, and he did it no fewer than four times.  Smart move letting him go, Miami.  Of course, this is the same team who traded Welker to a division rival.  Morons.

I love that Kevin Faulk is the Pats' all-time leader in catches.  A backup running back for most of his career, and he holds that title.  A big reason, of course, is that for so many years, Brady made people look better than they are, then some team overpaid for them in free agency so they didn't stay with the team long.  See David Givens, David Patten, Christian Fauria, and Deion Branch.

I like this Super Bowl matchup.  One major reason is that both teams play best in the fourth quarter; they're among the best at engineering a comeback.  So it'll probably take 60 minutes to put this game away.

I did some research on the quarterbacks around the NFL.  On Yahoo! Sports, they have a "Split stats" tab for each player, and one of those parameters you can look at is "late & close."  I'm not sure what defines "late & close," but I do know that Eli Manning and Tom Brady are some of the best.  Brady is second in passer rating among those I looked at, behind only Todd Collins.  He's also second in yards per attempt, again behind Collins (who boasts a 155.8 and 13.3 Y/A!).  Manning comes in fifth in that category, behind Matt Hasselbeck and Tony Romo.  Only Manning, Hasselbeck, Romo, and Collins (again, of those I looked at) have a better passer rating when it's "late & close" than in a win.  And if you're curious, two of the worst that I found while looking at those that I assumed might be good were Jeff Garcia and Vince Young.  That surprised me.

Of course, there are always going to be obvious storylines that get played up to excess.  It's why we love the two weeks of hype leading up to this game.  But what I like about this matchup is that most of the storylines are about individual accomplishment.  The Hype Machine will talk about similarities between Belichick and Coughlin and how they might have together "formed a bl**pr*nt" for a successful team, and they'll talk about rematching that season finale game, and all that nonsense.  But really, this game is refreshingly devoid of obvious inter-team storylines.  Yeah, there's Eli vs. Brady, but there's not much substance there.  They've played each other once.  There's Plax and Moss, but again, not much there.  You've got a bunch of Pro Bowlers, but that's pretty standard for a Super Bowl.  So no, we won't get much of that stuff, instead it'll be individual stories: Tom Coughlin's career resurrection, Eli's coming of age, Ahmad Bradshaw's sudden emergence, Plax actually looking like a team member, the Patriots' shot at perfection, Seau's shot at finally getting a ring, that kind of stuff.  That's what I prefer - the potential stories on one side, and those on the other, and the fact that only half of them will have the storybook ending. 

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