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January 21, 2008

These Were, Well, Super

The two NFL championship games yesterday turned out more competitive than first thought, with the NFC title decided in overtime for the second time in history. The result has the undefeated team overcoming their quarterback's worst game all year to go to the Super Bowl. He gets to face the kid brother of his AFC nemesis, who beat the league's cold-weather team on the third-coldest playoff game in history.

First, the Patriots get a chance at history, but only after overcoming three interceptions by a QB who only had eight all season:

With a trip to Super Bowl XLII at stake and NFL history hanging in the balance, the Patriots relied on their stout defense and clock-burning running game to beat San Diego, 21-12, turning back an inspired effort by the banged-up Chargers.

It was an oh-so-close call for the undefeated Patriots, who overcame three interceptions by Brady and on three occasions stopped the Chargers inside the New England 10-yard line.

Said linebacker Mike Vrabel: "It was probably our time to win a game."

And now the Patriots have a chance to win their fourth Super Bowl since 2001, plus secure a hallowed place in league history. They're 18-0 and with one more victory will join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only teams to win every game, from opener through grand finale.

For those who had forgotten that the Pats won 17 on their defense as well as their offense, Sunday provided a reminder. The Patriot D put on a tour de force showing yesterday. Despite the uncharacteristic sloppiness of Tom Brady, they kept the Chargers out of the end zone.

As for the Chargers, they seemed to overcome the exit of LaDainian Tomlinson and have energy and enthusiasm to spare. They moved the ball at will through all but the last ten yards of the field. They simply could not cross the goal line, and while the Chargers will spend all off-season trying to assign blame for that on their offense, truthfully it was the spirited New England defense that gets the credit.

On the other hand, the NFC championship appeared to have an unending supply of goats:

Lawrence Tynes couldn't have been feeling confident after hooking two field-goal tries -- two potential game winners -- wide left.

But with the New York Giants facing a crucial fourth down in overtime -- try an improbable 47-yard field goal or try for a first down -- Tynes did not wait for his coach to decide.

"I just ran on the field," he said. "I kind of made the decision for him."

Moments later, his kick sailed through the uprights, giving the Giants a 23-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game at sub-zero Lambeau Field on Sunday night.

Tynes avoided being a goat with his surprising 47-yarder, but both teams had missed opportunities. Thanks to the cold, passes got dropped and mistakes got made, and neither team looked especially sharp. The Giants managed to keep moving the ball, however, while the Packers offense appeared to freeze solid sometime in the third quarter.

Brett Favre has managed miracles all during his career, but last night he and his entire team came up empty. They never did adjust to the run defense of the Giants during the game, and it looked like the cold kept them from making any adjustments at all. Favre had little of his usual snap on his passes, and the final interception looked like a dead duck from the moment it left his hands. In the end, the Giants proved more adept and more adaptable in the cold, and Eli Manning completely outplayed Favre in the latter's element.

Tom Brady now has to face off against a Manning in the Super Bowl -- it's just the other Manning, the one people had begun to write off earlier this season. Will he follow his brother to championship glory and end the dream for the perfect Patriots? Given his own perfection over the last three weeks -- and the fact that the Giants get to stay on the road, where they've won a record 10 in a row -- it's a distinct possibility.


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