Another conference championship and another pair of games decided by the kickers.
It's usually easy to blame the coaches and their mishaps, but this year, it was simply the players that made the difference in the coaching battles.
A bounce and kick a few feet to the right and these grades might be a tad different, but what happened did so indeed.
Although the coaches did all they could, there are still those few decisions that could have changed our Super Bowl rematch.
After coming off a huge win against the Green Bay Packers, keeping the intensity up on the Giants' sideline was already a tough enough task for Tom Coughlin to accomplish. Sure, it’s the playoffs, but the G-Men did exactly what they needed to do in order to make their way back to the Super Bowl, with an even bigger 20-17 win over the Niners.
Coughlin and Co. were able to put up major yardage against a usually stingy San Francisco defense, tallying over 350 yards of total offense. The Giants went straight at the Niners’ linebackers and gathered 90 yards on 26 rushes against the NFL’s top rush defense, who only gave up an average of 77 yards a game during the regular season.
The Giants defense was also able to hold off any potential for a San Francisco offensive attack led by quarterback Alex Smith. New York let Frank Gore and the Niners’ run game go off for 150 yards, but with the exception of a few long plays, they shut down the aerial assault.
The fact that Coughlin was able to do these things against the Niners defense can only give them some confidence heading into their matchup with the New England Patriots.
The Niners were hoping their defense would be able to carry them to the Promised Land, but in the end it just wasn’t enough.
Jim Harbaugh gave San Francisco plenty of chances to finish the game after Vernon Davis found the end zone for the second time. Solid defense held the Giants for the most part, but the offensive game simply couldn’t put up enough points on the board to send these Niners to the Super Bowl.
Sure, Harbaugh left returner Kyle Williams in to return after he let one kick bounce off his knee and give the Giants excellent field position, but the head coach couldn’t have guessed that his young returner would get stripped in his next opportunity at a punt return.
Harbaugh did all he could as a coach with a mediocre quarterback that checks down more than Mark Sanchez, but the players he had just weren’t enough to beat New York. You can’t fault him for their flaws
The Patriots might have sneaked away with this win, but a missed kick wasn’t the reason they were up in those finals seconds.
New England still managed to show the Ravens why their passing offense was ranked No. 1 in the NFL and put up just enough points to send Baltimore packing.
The Pats were able to put up 330 yards of total offense against a much-feared Baltimore defense even with two Tom Brady-thrown interceptions and a lost fumble. Belichick handled the ball well enough when his team did have the ball, and they scored enough to get the win.
On defense, the Patriots still gave up 306 passing yards but held Ray Rice and the Ravens rush game to 116 yards.
Belichick knew stopping the run game would be key and that proved to be the difference.
The Ravens and John Harbaugh understood that the way to attack the Patriots defense was through the air, and that was exactly what Joe Flacco and his receivers did.
Although they managed to throw for over 300 yards and rush for another 100, while the defense held a high-scoring Pats offense to 23 points, it just wasn’t enough when kicker Billy Cundiff came in for his third field goal of the evening. By far the easiest field goal of his night, he simply pushed it wide and let all of Baltimore down.
John Harbaugh did enough to exploit the weak Pats defense, but the rush game and Ray Rice were going to be essential in keeping the Ravens offense on the field and Tom Brady off of it.
Their third-down efficiency cost them dearly, and now he and his brother have all offseason to look back and wonder about what could have been.