The two games played yesterday resulted in one of the greatest NFL Championship weekends of all-time. Both games were close throughout, and were decided by a field goal.
Each game has its own fair share of storylines, but there is one common factor that affected the outcomes of both games: special teams.
For the Ravens, their mishap came in the kicking game. Before I get to that, let’s recap the last drive for the Ravens.
They were down 23-20 with 2:46 left, and the Pats’ had the ball. The defense stepped up and forced a three and out, which gave the Ravens the ball back with 1:44 remaining on the clock.
The drive started on the Ravens’ own 21-yard line. After running five plays, they advanced the ball to their own 48 yard-line, and called timeout with 58 seconds remaining. In their next two plays the Ravens got the ball to their own 14 yard-line after a 29-yard completion to Anquan Boldin, followed by a 9-yard completion to Boldin.
In the box score, the next play is read as an incomplete pass from Joe Flacco to Lee Evans. In actuality, it was a season-saving pass breakup by Sterling Moore of the Patriots. Flacco threw a perfect pass to Evans in the endzone, who actually had control of the ball. Before he could hold the ball long enough to establish a touchdown, Moore came in and punched the ball out. If Evans had just held on tighter, or fallen to the ground, the Ravens would have been heading to Indy next week.
The snap was just fine, but the kick went wide left.
Williams’ Muff and Fumble
The mishap for the 49ers did not have to do with the kicking game, but instead with the punt return game. Ted Ginn Jr was out with an injury, so Kyle Williams stepped in for him.
With the 49ers leading 14-10 in the fourth quarter, the Giants were forced to punt with around ten minutes left in the game. The ball was bouncing and Kyle Williams got very close to the ball, but he seemed to avoid it. The ruling on the field was that he did not touch it. Undeterred, Devin Thomas picked it up and ran it into the endzone, as he was convinced that the ball hit Williams. The Giants challenged and the call was reversed, as replay showed the ball hit Williams’ knee. The Giants got the ball where Thomas originally picked it up, and the new drive resulted in a go-ahead touchdown.
Both teams had their chances in the end of regulation, but the defenses held strong and sent the game to overtime.
The Giants won the toss, but quickly punted it away. The 49ers followed that up with a three and out, and gave the ball back to the Giants. Eli Manning and the offense advanced the ball to the 46 yard line of San Francisco, but a sack pushed them back to their own 46. This meant fourth down, and a punting situation.
Kyle Williams fielded the ball and ran it for five yards before the unthinkable happened. He was stripped of the ball, and it was recovered by Devin Thomas once again. This gave the Giants the ball deep in 49ers territory, and resulted in a game-winning 31 yard field goal from Lawrence Tynes.
The mishaps of Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff will not go down as the biggest blunders in playoff history, but they will likely be the biggest blunders in the careers of both players. The key will be for them to move past the mishaps, and not let it dwell in their minds. Cundiff especially, as a kicker with no confidence usually results in a kicker without a job.
For Williams, he will have to forget about the whole situation and move past it. It is easy to say that as a fan of the game, but he is so young that he can’t let one play define his career. There are the so-called “fans” that will attack him through mediums such as Twitter, but those people need to put things into perspective.
At the end of the day, it was just a game, and a player made a mistake.