I predicted the two home teams to win the AFC and NFC Championship games. It seemed like a reasonable bet at the time. After all, home teams usually enjoy a few points of “home cooking”, whether it’s favorable calls from officials, overwhelmingly lopsided fan support, home field familiarity, undisturbed time clocks, and plain ol’ “home sweet home” comforts.
Oops. It’s a good thing I didn’t go to Vegas with my picks.
How was I supposed to know that Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens would “out” Tom Brady in the second half? Despite bringing the New England Patriots to within 25 yards of pay dirt on six possessions, the Pats could only muster one touchdown and two field goals. Brady, the ultimate closer–and winner of three Super Bowls, as well as the heart of Gisele Bundchen, couldn’t close the deal. The guy who won the hand of one of the most beautiful women in the world, couldn’t even get a date to the local high school prom on a day where he held all the cards: host city advantage and home field advantage.
Instead, it was unsung Joe Flacco who rallied the Ravens to a furious second half comeback victory. The quarterback who would lead his team to a 28 – 13 victory over the vaunted Bill Belichick-led Patriots, on the strength of 21 unanswered points in the second half. You know, the same quarterback who couldn’t cut it as a BCS-level quarterback, and had to transfer down to the Delaware Hens so he could get some snaps in college. He was even overshadowed by his gregarious teammate, future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.
However, skeptics who overlooked the unheralded Flacco may have forgotten that he did lead the Hens to the 2007 FCS championship. He’s led the Ravens to five consecutive playoff seasons. Flacco can throw a football, and he can lead a team to a championship–even to a Super Bowl
The NFC Championship was also a surprise–even if oddsmakers favored the San Francisco 49ers by four points over the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan made his name as one of the game’s top QB’s. Tony Gonzalez redefined his tight end position. He was the sentimental favorite, a player teammates would run through concrete walls for, as he would likely retire after this season. But the most compelling reason is Ryan’s targets were big, fast, and strong.
Roddy White, Atlanta’s normally affable 4-time Pro Bowler, was abnormally quiet, focused on winning a place in the Super Bowl. He was ready–anxious to put a feather cap in his otherwise impressive resume. After all his accomplishments, he was still missing an invite to the Big Dance. Fellow wide receiver Julio Jones only managed to set a Falcons record with 11 catches for 182 yards. A Super Bowl berth was theirs to lose, and it would go through the city of Atlanta.
The Falcons were poised, ready to get their monkey off their back, and to make a statement to the rest of the world that they had finally arrived. In short, they were overdue. It sure looked like it, as they raced out to a 17 – 0 first half lead. And then something happened.
The visiting 49ers started defying logic–again. Colin Kaepernick, who had a total of eight NFL starts under his belt, and who replaced former starter Alex Smith in Lou Gehrig-esque fashion, would again lead his troops out of that huge hole in the first half. He rallied the 49ers to a stirring 28 – 24 comeback victory, while watching his defense finally thwart the Falcons, who fell 10 yards short of immortality.
If Flacco was unsung, Kaepernick was unheard of before this season. At least Flacco was a first-round draft pick. Kaepernick was a second-round draftee out of that football powerhouse Nevada. He was backing up a rising star in Alex Smith, a former #1 pick overall. Colin was an insurance policy with a hard-to-spell name.
But he can also throw a football–and run like a deer. So much so, that the Falcons had a good game plan of checking him at the line of scrimmage, shadowing his every step in pocket containment. The only problem is they couldn’t stop a battering ram named Frank Gore. And by loading up on the line of scrimmage somewhat restricted the quarterback’s scrambles, it left the Falcons vulnerable against the vertical passing game. The 49ers receiving corps of Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis aren’t exactly chopped liver themselves.
So we have two Cinderella stories of under-appreciated quarterbacks, who were able to slay their more recognizable adversaries. Each carries an unassuming, non-self-promotional quality about them. They may not have the celebrity wives, or the Hollywood movie star charm. But they do their talking on the field, and are completely deserving of a date with destiny in New Orleans.
My Super Bowl prediction? Niners by a touchdown.
But don’t bet the rent money.
Topics: AFC Championship, Alex Smith, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Colin Kaepernick, Delaware Hens, Football, Frank Gore, Gisele Bundchen, Joe Flacco, Julio Jones, Lou Gehrig, Matt Ryan, Michael Crabtree, Nevada Wolfpack, New England Patriots, New Orleans, NFC Championship, NFL, Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Rent Money, Roddy White, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl, Tom Brady, Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis