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Things Not So Special in NFL's Championship Week

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No one ever says, “Special teams win championships.” It’s always, “Defense wins championships,” which the NFL playoffs were trying to reassert after an offense-heavy regular season. But on Championship Sunday everyone witnessed in stark detail that whereas special teams can’t win a championship, it can sure lose a championship for you.

For some reason Baltimore Ravens’ kicker Billy Cundiff came onto the field late running towards New England’s 25-yard line, the Patriots with the 23-20 lead with 15 seconds of regulation remaining, knowing he could send the game to overtime with a 32-yard field goal. It would have culminated a 65-yard drive by quarterback Joe Flacco that started inside the two-minute warning which featured a 29-yard catch-and-run by Anquan Boldin.

I was half-heartedly watching the kick since the game wasn’t that good, and it’s hard to screw up a 32-yard field goal. I saw the holder have a little bit trouble controlling the ball, but watching the kick live I actually thought it was good. It wasn’t until I saw the referees indicate it was no good that I knew something was wrong. Watching the replay it was more than obvious the kick was wide left giving the Patriots the 23-20 win. WAY WIDE LEFT. Hell even Scott Norwood was laughing.

If someone had been there with me watching this game, I would have been really embarrassed about my misjudgment. Was the kick so off that my mind as a defense mechanism told me that it was good?

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Then in San Francisco in the shithole otherwise known as Candlestick Park the special teams culprit was 49ers returner Kyle Williams. With normal returner Ted Ginn, Jr. out with a knee injury, all the 49ers needed Williams to do was not fuck things up too much against the New York Giants. Early in the fourth quarter there was a bit of foreboding as Williams allowed a punt to touch his knee. The Giants recovered and scored a touchdown to take the 17-14 lead.

It seemed like Williams atoned himself with a 40-yard kickoff return on the ensuing drive which allowed the 49ers to tie the game. But there he was in overtime fielding a Steve Weatherford punt at San Francisco’s 19-yard line. He ran for five yards when Jacquian Williams stripped the ball from Kyle Williams. Devin Thomas fell on the ball, Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes kicked the 31-yard field goal, and with the 20-17 victory the Giants advanced to the Super Bowl.

In my very limited experience in being around athletes, they seem to take close losses very hard. I can only imagine what the Ravens and 49ers are feeling. Granted I suffer from extreme disappointment almost every morning when I wake up, but that’s more of a problem best left for me and my shrink.

One thing I have never seen an athlete do, at least in front of the media, was point a finger at a particular person blaming them for a loss no matter how glaring the error. In fact talking to athletes who commit these sorts of errors months later, they always say they had complete trust of their coaches and teammates. So as fun as it is to think that Cundiff and Williams have no business being anywhere near their teammates, that’s not how it works (unless you are the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets).

In the world of athletics, you win as a team, you lose as a team. Maybe if the wide receiver ran a different route allowing the quarterback to complete the touchdown pass, then perhaps it wouldn’t have boiled down to that particular moment. There are just way too many permutations in a game that it’s impossible to lay the blame on one particular player or event.

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Coming into these games all of the talk was about if Joe Flacco would step up to the moment, if the Patriots’ defense would show up, if 49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith could replicate his game from last week, if the Giants were recapturing the magic of their 2007 run.

It turns out all four teams played pretty evenly for the most part. And usually the deciding factor in such games is the special teams. A missed field goal in one game. A fumbled punt return in the other. Those two plays were the difference between continuing to live for another play and losing.

Meanwhile there were other sporting events happening here in Los Angeles. The Clippers beat the Toronto Raptors 103-91 in a matinee while the Lakers went down to the Indiana Pacers 98-96 on 42% shooting. And down in Anaheim the Ducks continued to chug right along with a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

TONIGHT’S ACTION
Ottawa Senators at LA Kings. 7:30 p.m. FSWest, AM 1150 KTLK.
LMU Lions at Santa Clara Broncos. 7:00 p.m. 88.9 FM KXLU.