Captain Comeback: Another Giant San Francisco Treat

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 16, 2012



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Factologist


And that’s why the Divisional round is the best weekend of the NFL season. While the AFC games left something to be desired, the weekend was bookended by stunning results in the NFC.
 
Four winners from last week set out to prove their mettle and further validate their season with a road trip to what was supposed to be the four best teams in the league this season; each fresh from the (cursed?) bye week.
 
Many different themes, streaks and theories were put to the test.
 
In the true battle of offense versus defense in San Francisco, would the dome team from New Orleans find their usual offensive proficiency outdoors against the NFC’s best defense and best team when it comes to turnovers? Would a regular season passing yardage leader (Drew Brees) finally win a Super Bowl, after historically going 0-45? Is Alex Smith for real?
 
Was the Tebow Zone still accessible in cold New England, and would it work against the AFC’s best offense? Would an 8-8 playoff team make it to the AFC Championship? Would New England’s recent past struggles in playoff rematches have any effect?
 
Can a rookie quarterback go on the road and beat arguably the best defense in the league and their full plethora of aging veterans that know the window is closing? Would Joe Flacco, making his first playoff start at home, win over any doubters with a big performance?
 
Was it going to be 2007 all over again for the Giants in Green Bay? Did they learn from the 38-35 loss in Week 13, like how they learned from their Week 17 loss (38-35 as well) to New England in 2007? Would the Packers be rusty on offense, with Aaron Rodgers not playing since Christmas? Will another (probable) league MVP and scoring juggernaut fall short of a title?
 
You know all the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to these questions. Now let’s look at how it happened, and the historical significance that went down in the Divisional round.
 

Drive of the Week

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints
Winner: San Francisco (36-32)

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Deficit: 3 (32-29)
Quarterback: Alex Smith (10 4QC, 12 GWD – table)
 
“Defense wins championships” has a nice ring as a cliché, and for 55 minutes in San Francisco, it was reigning true again. That’s when the Arena football-type madness took over.
 
Four straight go-ahead touchdowns scored in the last 4:11? There’s never been another postseason game with a finish like that in NFL history. While you’re at it, good luck finding the regular season equivalents.
 
In a game that figured to be defined by turnovers, the San Francisco 49ers once again dominated the turnover battle. It happened right from the start, when Donte Whitner forced a Pierre Thomas fumble at the SF 2 on the game’s opening drive. The hit also knocked Thomas out of the game, and the Saints would only finish with 13 handoffs for 32 yards on the day.
 
After Aldon Smith sacked Drew Brees on third down to force a three and out, the best field position team in the league took over at their own 46. Two plays later, Alex Smith threw a pass to Vernon Davis, who broke by multiple defenders to run in for an easy 49-yard touchdown.
 
Brees responded with a bad interception, returned to the NO 4. It was the first interception he threw on his last 226 postseason attempts, which is a NFL record. On third down, Smith would find Michael Crabtree for a 4-yard touchdown and 14-0 lead.
 
The Saints fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the 49ers the ball at the NO 13. But a three and out would lead to David Akers making a 25-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead early in the fourth quarter. The turn of events may have reminded fans of the 1994 NFC Championship when Dallas fell behind 21-0 in San Francisco after a turnover-filled start.
 
As high-powered as the Saints are, Brees has just one career win when trailing by 15+ points in a game (21 at Miami in 2009). He would have to lead an all-time great comeback now. The only team to ever blow a 17+ point lead at home in the playoffs is none other than San Francisco, and they did it twice (1957 vs. Detroit, 1972 vs. Dallas). Would history repeat itself?
 
Brees led an 80-yard touchdown drive, completing all 7 of his passes, and hooking up with Jimmy Graham for a 14-yard score. After the 49ers went three and out, Brees came right back with a beautiful 25-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston. Just like that it was a 17-14 game.
 
But after the 49ers punted again, Brees threw his second interception of the game, which matches his interception total from his first 8 playoff starts. The teams would trade a few more quick possessions, and Smith fumbled on a sack with 0:17 left. That ended the 49ers’ streak of five straight games without a turnover, which is the second longest streak ever.
 
The third quarter began with another San Francisco punt, but once again the Saints fumbled on special teams, as this time Darren Sproles fumbled a punt return. The 49ers would move the ball 3 yards and kick a field goal to go up 20-14.

We talked about the turnovers by the 49ers, but the Saints matched their season total in lost fumbles (5) with 5 lost fumbles in just two playoff games. Their 5 turnovers on the day were a season high.
 
With the teams trading punts, the game moved to the fourth quarter. On a 3rd and 12 at the SF 29, Brees threw a perfect pass to Colston down the middle, but he was unable to haul it in for a go-ahead touchdown. They settled for John Kasay’s 48-yard field goal instead.
 
The offenses continued to sputter, until there was 10:38 left and Frank Gore ripped off a big run for 42 yards. It was shades of Marshawn Lynch from last season, but Gore would be tackled at the NO 22. The 49ers added the field goal for a 23-17 lead with 7:36 left.
 
That’s when the fun started.
 
Taking over at his own 21, Brees would complete six passes on the drive, including a 44-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles, who had 37 yards after the catch on the play. The Saints had their first lead of the game, 24-23, with 4:02 left. Sproles had a playoff record 15 receptions in the game for 119 yards, and none were bigger than that one.
 
Smith, already having 5 fourth quarter comebacks this season, took over at his own 20. On the third play of the drive he would find Davis down the field for a 37-yard gain. With 2:18 left, the 49ers would be flagged for having 12 men on the field, setting up a 3rd and 8. What happened next really changed the course of events.
 
The play was brilliant as Smith ran a quarterback sweep around the left end, untouched, on his way to the end zone with 2:11 left. The 28-yard rushing touchdown was the second longest go-ahead rushing touchdown by a quarterback in the fourth quarter (Ken Stabler went 30 yards against Pittsburgh before the Immaculate Reception).
 
Should Smith have gone down inside the five? The Saints had one timeout left and the two-minute warning. That means the 49ers could have kicked a field goal for a 26-24 lead and given Brees about 1:15. That’s too much time for just a field goal. Smith was right to score. However, the two-point conversion run failed by Gore, and the 49ers led 29-24.
 
Though he had to go 88 yards for a touchdown, Brees made short work of the defense. On the fourth play of the drive he found the big target Graham over the middle, and with defenders falling down (can anyone defend these tight ends?), including Patrick Willis, Graham went 66 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:37 left. Sproles easily caught the two-point conversion for a 32-29 lead.
 
Smith’s done good things this year, but this was the drive of his career. It started with two dump passes to Gore for 18 yards. After a deep pass just missed, Smith threw a perfect pass on a rope to Davis, who turned it into a 47-yard gain. A short pass to Gore followed by a spike made it 3rd and 4 at the NO 14 with 0:14 left.
 
Instead of going for overtime, the 49ers remembered who they were, and designed the right play for the win. From the team that brought you “The Catch and “The Catch II”, it was time for another classic game-winning touchdown pass in the playoffs by a 49ers’ quarterback.
 
Smith gunned the ball into Davis, who took a shot and held on for the touchdown with nine seconds left. It was the fourth straight go-ahead touchdown scored in the last 4:11 of the game. 49ers win 36-32.
 
Last drive was just Brees able to complete one more short pass to finish with a playoff record 40 completions. He was 40/63 for 462 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT, 93.5 passer rating. It was his record third straight playoff game with 400+ yards passing. He also became the first player in NFL history to throw for 460+ yards in consecutive games. Brees is the first quarterback in NFL history to lose two playoff games when scoring 28+ points (36 at Seattle 2010, 32 at San Francisco 2011).
 
Smith was 24/42 for 299 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 103.2 passer rating and the 28-yard rushing touchdown. Out of his 10 career comeback wins, it was the first time he had to regain the lead twice in the fourth quarter.
 
Smith to Davis was the sixth memorable game-winning touchdown pass the 49ers have had in the playoffs. They have all been at home.
 
49ers - Game-Winning Touchdown Passes (Postseason)
Quarterback Date Opp. Down Receiver Distance Time Left Result
Joe Montana 1/10/1982 Dallas 6 Dwight Clark 6 0:51 W 28-27
Joe Montana 12/31/1983 Detroit 6 Freddie Solomon 14 1:23 W 24-23
Joe Montana 1/22/1989 Cincinnati 3 John Taylor 10 0:34 W 20-16
Steve Young 1/3/1999 Green Bay 4 Terrell Owens 25 0:03 W 30-27
Jeff Garcia 1/5/2003 NY Giants 5 Tai Streets 13 1:00 W 39-38
Alex Smith 1/14/2012 New Orleans 3 VernonDavis 14 0:09 W 36-32
 
Prior to the season finale at St. Louis, Smith was 0-23 as a starter when the opponent scored 24+ points. He won the season finale 34-27, and now he won what was truly his first fourth quarter shootout over Brees; 36-32.
 
How rare was the four go-ahead touchdown frenzy at the end?
 
The most recent regular season equivalent took place in Pittsburgh when the Raiders pulled off a 27-24 upset on 12/6/2009. Starting with 8:27 left in the game, five straight go-ahead touchdowns were scored. Bruce Gradkowski became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw three go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter (the last with 0:09 left to win the game), while the Steelers had a go-ahead run and then pass.
 
For the best playoff comparison, one would have to look at the “Ghost to the Post” game between Baltimore and Oakland in the 1977 season. Trailing 21-17 in the fourth quarter, the Colts scored a touchdown, answered by an Oakland touchdown, answered by a Colts touchdown, answered by an Oakland FG to force overtime. Eventually Ken Stabler would throw a 10-yard touchdown to Dave Casper for the win. Interestingly enough, Oakland won with a -4 turnover differential that day, which is what the Saints attempted to do here.
 
It was only the second playoff game where each team scored at least 16 points in the fourth quarter:
 
2003 Super Bowl: New England (18) vs. Carolina (19*)
2011 NFC Divisional: New Orleans (18) at San Francisco (16)
Regular season: 12 times since 1940
 
*Jake Delhomme threw one go-ahead and one game-tying touchdown pass in that Super Bowl.
 
Brees became the first quarterback in history to throw two go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a playoff game and lose. The only other quarterbacks to ever throw two go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of a playoff game are Ken Stabler (1974 vs. Miami; “Sea of Hands”) and Eli Manning (Super Bowl XLII).
 
Carson Palmer (12/31/2006 vs. Pittsburgh) and Damon Huard (11/4/2007) are the only other two quarterbacks in NFL history to throw to go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter when trailing and lose the game.
 
One would have to do further research to find if there’s ever been a game where four straight go-ahead touchdowns were scored in the final five minutes like on Saturday.
 
Does it exist? The Captain leans towards “no”, because it probably would have been something great and memorable that immediately comes to mind.
 
That’s what Saturday’s ending was like: instantly unforgettable.
 

The Tebow Zone’s Season Finale Was a Rip-off

Just as the classic game in San Francisco was over, you likely switched over to CBS just in time to see our next game kick off. It was going to be difficult to top what football fans just witnessed, but little did we know it’d be one of the biggest playoff duds in years.
 
The Captain has likened Tim Tebow to the classic sci-fi series The Twilight Zone all season. It’s actually a very good comparison on several levels. For as great as the original Rod Serling series was, sometimes you would get an episode that was just really bad. Whether the premise was too corny or the ending didn’t make sense, you can pick out a bad episode rather easily. But when the episode was great, it was something truly memorable to watch.
 
That’s basically how Tim Tebow plays football. When he transforms into seemingly a new quarterback in the fourth quarter to deliver another historic win, it’s a fascinating thing to watch. But when it’s a week like the Buffalo game or Kansas City, it’s an absolute train wreck that never should have been allowed to happen.
 
Saturday night’s game in New England was one of those bad episodes. A very bad one in fact.
 
The Patriots and Tom Brady were looking to get their first playoff win in four years. A fast start was necessary, and on the fourth play of the game they introduced a new wrinkle: TE Aaron Hernandez in the backfield, where he took the handoff like a running back would and ran for a 43-yard gain. Wes Welker caught a 7-yard touchdown on the next play, and just like that it was 7-0 Patriots.
 
Moving it into New England territory on the ground, Tebow was at the NE 37. The pressure got to him and he was sacked, fumbled, and lost the ball. The Patriots continued to go at a fast pace, and it wasn’t long before Rob Gronkowski was tipping a one-handed catch to himself for another touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
 
Denver punted, and when you expected the rout to be on, Brady threw his worst pass of the night: a poorly overthrown ball that was easily intercepted by Quinton Carter. Now Tebow had the ball at the NE 24, and would convert a third down to last week’s hero Demaryius Thomas.
 
On the first play of the second quarter, Willis McGahee rushed for a 5-yard touchdown, making it 14-7. The teams exchanged punts, before New England would put together a 52-yard drive, ending with another touchdown to Gronkowski.
 
Later, with 2:06 remaining, Brady would throw a perfect pass deep down the left sideline, and Deion Branch used the subtle push-off to create enough separation for a 61-yard touchdown. It wasn’t even halftime and Brady had a playoff career-high 4 TD passes in the first half.
 
They weren’t finished, as Denver went three and out with incomplete passes, leaving enough time for the Patriots to add on. They did, with a 19-yard touchdown to Gronkowski with 0:05 left. Brady set a playoff record with five touchdown passes in the first half. The rout was on, and there was no stopping it. 35-7 at halftime.
 
Another Denver three and out started the second half, followed by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Hernandez. Brady tied Daryle Lamonica and Steve Young with his 6th touchdown pass in a playoff game.
 
At 42-7, the rest of the game was just a matter of seeing which records could be broken, and how bad it could get for Denver. It would mercifully end 45-10, with Tebow finishing 9/26 for 136 yards. He threw for 316 yards last week. Switch the ‘1’ and ‘3’ this week, and against the New England secondary to boot.
 
Subtracting the kneel down to be fair, Tebow dropped back 35 times for 122 yards (3.49 yards/drop back). That’s in Sanchez vs. Giants territory, from this season. Amazingly, the Broncos had 14 plays (no kneel down; come on CBS) that lost yardage on the night. About the only quarterback that had a worse night than Tebow was Phil Simms in the broadcasting booth.
 
The Broncos continued the trend of teams with non-winning records that have won a playoff game not being able to advance past the Divisional round. You can see most of them win the Wild Card game by one score before losing the Divisional game by 11+ points.
 
8-8 Teams Give New Meaning to "One and Done"
Team Year WC Opp. Result DIV Opp. Result
St. Louis 2004 at Seattle W 27-20 at Atlanta L 47-17
Minnesota 2004 at Green Bay W 31-17 at Philadelphia L 27-14
San Diego 2008 Indianapolis W 23-17 OT at Pittsburgh L 35-24
Seattle 2010 New Orleans W 41-36 at Chicago L 35-24
Denver 2011 Pittsburgh W 29-23 OT at New England L 45-10
 
It was still a successful season for Denver, but after allowing a fifth opponent this year to score 40+ points against them, there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. How much Tebow can improve as a passer with his first off-season as a starting quarterback remains to be seen, but he should have at least earned that opportunity.
 
As we pull the plug on The Tebow Zone for this season, one thing’s for sure: it will return. In what form? We don’t know, but you haven’t seen the end of this show in Denver. Terrible ending or not, Tebow made the Broncos worth watching again.
 

Too Many Mistakes from Yates as Baltimore Escapes

In just his seventh career start, rookie quarterback T.J. Yates was faced with an unenviable task of facing the veteran-laden Ravens’ defense in Baltimore, where they have compiled a 27-5 record under John Harbaugh.
 
It was the first home playoff start for Joe Flacco, terrible facial hair and all, as he looked to improve on his subpar track record of postseason performance. But this was a Houston team built around Arian Foster in the running game, and Wade Phillips calling the much improved defense. Points would be at a premium.
 
After a 60-yard kick return by Danieal Manning to start the game, Houston was in great field position at the BAL 41. Andre Johnson got involved in the action right away, catching a pair of passes for 16 yards, but the Texans would settle for a field goal.
 
The Ravens had an insipid beginning with a three and out, but that’s when the special teams quickly turned on Houston. Jacoby Jones flirted with a bouncing ball deep in his own end, and after making a terrible decision to touch it; he was hit and fumbled the ball. Baltimore took over at the Houston 2, and three plays later it was Flacco throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to wide open TE Kris Wilson.
 
After getting away with a risky pass on one drive, Yates predetermined he would lock onto Johnson and threw a poor interception to Lardarius Webb. The decision was bad, but Johnson did the rookie no favors on his route, seemingly making no effort to get inside position on Webb. Baltimore turned that mistake into a 34-yard touchdown drive, and led 17-3 with 1:08 left in the first quarter.
 
Houston did not panic, picking up the pace in the second quarter by featuring a lot of Foster. After a field goal, Houston was driving again, and on a 3rd and 9 at the BAL 17, Yates took a bad snap and lofted an inaccurate pass to Foster, who made an excellent one-handed catch and picked up 12 yards for the first down. Three plays later Foster would score a 1-yard touchdown to pull within 17-13.
 
That score would hold for a long time, as the Baltimore offense continued to sputter. Flacco had a few passes dropped in the game, but he also demonstrated little pocket awareness, going down on five sacks in the game.
 
Houston kicker Neil Rackers missed a 50-yard field goal that hit the bottom of the cross bar, falling short. Baltimore took advantage of the field position by driving to the HOU 1, but Ray Rice was stuffed on fourth and goal.
 
The Ravens would go three and out on their next two drives, as the game moved into the fourth quarter. On 3rd and 12 at his own 48, Yates threw another bad pass that was easily intercepted by Webb with 7:21 remaining.
 
The offense finally started stringing together first downs for Baltimore, as they moved to the HOU 26 with just over three minutes left. But rather than run the ball and force Houston to use their last two timeouts, Flacco threw two straight incomplete passes that were badly off target.
 
Billy Cundiff came on for the 44-yard field goal, which the Captain must admit he was rooting for, as he picked the Ravens to win by a score of 20-13. It was good, and Baltimore led 20-13 with 2:52 left.
 
The stage was set for Yates to put his name in Houston lore with a critical touchdown drive. He had the time, the two timeouts, and 72 yards to go. He also had Andre Johnson, who started the drive with two catches for 34 yards on good looking passes from Yates.
 
But with the ball at the BAL 38, just after the two-minute warning, Yates got greedy and went for the deep ball. A crowd of Ravens swarmed Johnson, and none other than magnet-hands himself Ed Reed snagged the ball with one hand and fell back to the ground for the interception. It is the 8th interception in just 10 playoff games for Reed.
 
Ray Rice would trudge along for an apparent game-ending first down, but video review moved the ball back, and the Ravens were stuffed on third down, forcing a punt. Yates got the ball back at the HOU 48 and 0:45 remaining. Houston, -4 in turnover differential, still had a chance.
 
A 9-yard completion to Owen Daniels started the drive, but his next pass was deflected at the line. Just like that only 0:24 remained. The third down pass was nowhere close, and on 4th and 1, Yates again went for all the marbles. The pass fell incomplete in the end zone, and Reed once again had a hand in there for the game-ending play.
 
Yates finished 17/35 for 184 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT, 28.8 passer rating. He could have very easily had 5-6 interceptions on the day had defenders not dropped passes. Arian Foster still rushed for 132 yards, and his 285 rushing yards this postseason are a record for any running back in their first two playoff games.
 
Flacco did not have a turnover, but 14/27 (51.9%) completions mark is in line with the shaky 57.6% mark he had in the regular season.
 
It was hard not to watch the game and imagine what might have been if Matt Schaub was able to play for Houston. It was a successful season for the Texans overcoming many impactful injuries to just make the playoffs, winning a game, and having an opportunity in Baltimore. But the chances greatly improve for it to have been a Super season if they had their starting quarterback.
 

Green Bay Fans: You Were Warned On Opening Day

Watching their dream season come to a quick halt at the hands of the New York Giants, the Green Bay Packers became the first 15+ regular season win team in NFL history to not win a playoff game. But if you’ve been following along all season, this shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.
 

How We Got To Sunday

The Green Bay Packers are a unique team. A potential dynasty, their ability to either dominate or stay competitive with their opponent down to the wire in almost every game the last few seasons is unrivaled. Their 19-game winning streak is easily the most unique in NFL history, as they never trailed once in the fourth quarter during it. Since 2008, they have lost just six games by more than one score; tied with Pittsburgh for fewest in the league.
 
But that strength has tried to cover up for the team’s weakness: the inability to make fourth quarter comebacks. They are the quintessential front-running team in the league today. That article’s been around since opening day of the regular season, and it explains that despite all the close games they play, a staple of Mike McCarthy’s tenure at Green Bay has been a remarkably bad record at winning close games in the fourth quarter or overtime. The record is specifically worse in games where Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback.
 
Rodgers’ record is now 3-18 (.143) at fourth quarter comeback opportunities. Backup Matt Flynn had the lone comeback win for the Packers this season, coming in that Week 17 shootout with Detroit.
 
Meanwhile, the New York Giants are a fascinating team. They really have the right formula for success in today’s NFL: a rotation of very talented defensive linemen that they can rush the passer with by only sending four, enough solid coverage guys to get the job done, and the quarterback can provide what is at times absurdly good play in critical situations like third downs, in the red zone and of course in the fourth quarter. Their biggest problem has been consistency.
 
All it took was one strong effort in a fairly meaningless game in the 2007 finale against the undefeated New England Patriots. Just over a month later the Giants were capping off a most improbable Super Bowl run by ending the Patriots’ perfect season.
 
They spent the first three quarters of the 2008 season as the best team in the league before Plaxico Burress did you know what. They started 5-0 in 2009 before a collapse. Last year they were 6-2, but another second half swoon let to another missed postseason.
 
Now this year, the Giants started 6-2, with Eli Manning leading five game-winning drives. On the day before Halloween, the Captain took to Twitter to give CHFF’s own Quant Coach a prediction for this season:

Green Bay would finish imperfect with one loss, and it came in the Divisional round instead of next week, but in the end, the Packers fell to the Giants in the postseason.
 
When the teams met in Week 13 this year, Green Bay mostly controlled the flow of the game, but the Giants did tie it in the final minute. Rodgers led a classic one-minute drill for a game-winning drive. The Captain wrote that “the Giants lost 38-35, the same score they lost to the 16-0 Patriots in 2007’s regular season finale. Will they get a rematch this time?”
 
Before we got there, the Giants were just fighting for their playoff lives, while the Packers’ perfect season came to a surprising end in Kansas City in Week 15. What happened there? The Packers didn’t get any takeaways on defense, and the Chiefs led the entire fourth quarter, with Green Bay unable to make the comeback.
 
By season’s end, the Packers were 15-1, and the Giants had secured the NFC East. They would defeat Atlanta in the Wild Card, setting up a rematch that Green Bay probably wasn’t thrilled about starting their title run with.
 

Sunday: The Giants Break Another Scoring Machine

The Giants have been here before. They took out McCarthy’s Packers in overtime in the 2007 NFC Championship on a frigid night. The weather was cool again this year, but not enough to make Tom Coughlin a tomato again.
 
New York took the opening kick and Eli Manning converted two third and long plays to get a field goal on the board. Green Bay would answer with their own field goal, but only after Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings were out of sync on a wide open 3rd-and-8 play. Rodgers had not played since Christmas, while Jennings was playing his first game in over a month. It showed all night.
 
Eli found Hakeem Nicks, who bounced off defenders and raced 66 yards for a huge touchdown. On Green Bay’s drive, with the ball in Giants’ territory, Jennings appeared to fumble the ball, but the referees said he was down. Video replay showed clear evidence of a fumble and New York recovery, yet the referee somehow concluded he was down. The Giants had lost out on a Jake Ballard touchdown in the Week 13 meeting after more visual evidence was apparently just missed by the review process.
 
The Packers would finish the drive with a game-tying touchdown instead of the Giants having the ball. Perhaps feeling the need to repent for the gift, Mike McCarthy went for a surprise onside kick that didn’t fool the Giants. But Lawrence Tynes’ 40-yard field goal was blocked, negating the bad decision.
 
Green Bay’s receivers would drop passes, a problem throughout the game, to end their next drive. Eli would make his first big mistake with an interception, but four plays later it was Pro Bowl FB John Kuhn losing his first career fumble for the Packers. It led to a field goal and 13-10 lead.
 
Later, with only 0:15 left in the half, the Giants had the ball at their own 40. They were going to run a simple draw, but whistles blew the play dead for a Green Bay timeout. The Giants would make them pay, as Ahmad Bradshaw cutback on the field and ripped off a 23-yard run to get out of bounds with 0:06 left.
 
Rather than send out the kicker, the offense stayed on the field at the GB 37, and Eli appeared to be taking too much time. That’s because he went for the Hail Mary, and amazingly enough Nicks came down with it in the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown to end the half. The Giants led 20-10, with Manning passing for 274 yards in the first half.
 
Green Bay needed to get it together in a hurry, and they started the half with Rodgers scrambling for 15 yards on 3rd and 10, which is something he did often in the game (7 carries, 66 yards). But with the ball at NYG 30, the pressure got to him and he fumbled on a sack. That was his first lost fumble of the season.
 
The Giants would go three and out. Green Bay settled for a field goal after Jennings was unable to get another hand on a pass in the end zone. New York once again went three and out.
 
The fourth quarter began with Green Bay down 20-13. After moving the ball to the NYG 39, Rodgers missed a wide open Jermichael Finley on 3rd and 5. The Packers decided to go for it, despite New York only having two three and out drives in the half, and 13:00 left.
 
Rodgers couldn’t locate a throwing lane and was sacked back at the 45. The Giants now had great field position, and just a field goal would be huge. They would get the field goal, and burn over five minutes off the clock in the process.
 
Now down 23-13 with 7:40 left, this was the season for Green Bay. Ryan Grant wouldn’t go down on a play, but that’s often dangerous, and he too would fumble on the play. The Giants returned it down to the GB 4, and Manning went to Manningham for the 4-yard touchdown right away. Giants led 30-13 with 6:48 left, and the fat lady was clearing her throat.
 
Rodgers threw three straight incompletions, but was bailed out on a candidate for “worst roughing the passer penalty of the season”, which says a lot. He would finish the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver with 4:46 left.
 
But Victor Cruz would recover the onside kick, and Eli converted a huge 3rd and 11 to Cruz for 17 yards. Three plays later, Brandon Jacobs scored on a 14-yard touchdown run. Rodgers would have his last pass tipped and intercepted, and the Giants had come out with a 37-20 victory.
 
The Giants have now defeated the two highest scoring teams in NFL history in the playoffs. They held the 18-0 2007 Patriots (589 points) to just 14 points in Super Bowl XLII, and now they held the 15-1 2011 Packers (560 points) to just 20 points in Green Bay.
 
How good is that? The Packers scored at least 24 points in every game this season except for the 14 scored on the road at Kansas City. Their 321 points at home is the 2nd highest mark in NFL history (2011 Saints – 329). The 2007 Patriots never dipped under 20 until the Super Bowl.
 
The teams ranked in the top 10 all time for points scored have only won two championships, including one team in the AFL.
 
Ten Highest Scoring Teams in NFL History
Rk Team Year GP Record Points Result Opp.
1 New England 2007 16 16-0 589 Lost SB NY Giants
2 Green Bay 2011 16 15-1 560 Lost NFC-D NY Giants
3 Minnesota 1998 16 15-1 556 Lost NFC-C Atlanta
4 New Orleans 2011 16 13-3 547 Lost NFC-D at San Francisco
5 Washington 1983 16 14-2 541 Lost SB LA Raiders
6 St. Louis 2000 16 10-6 540 Lost NFC-WC at New Orleans
7 St. Louis 1999 16 13-3 526 Won SB Tennessee
8 Indianapolis 2004 16 12-4 522 Lost AFC-D at New England
9 New England 2010 16 14-2 518 Lost AFC-D NY Jets
10T Miami 1984 16 14-2 513 Lost SB San Francisco
10T New England 2011 16 13-3 513 ? ?
10T Houston 1961 14 10-3-1 513 Won AFL-C at San Diego
 
If the Giants and Patriots meet in a rematch in the Super Bowl, they’ll have a chance to take down another all-time scoring machine.
 
Like the Saints on Saturday, Green Bay had their worst game of the season in regards to turnovers, with 3 lost fumbles and one interception. Their previous high this season was two turnovers. Their 14 turnovers tied for the 5th fewest ever in a season.
 
Assuming Rodgers is named MVP, the league MVP has now gone 0-13 at winning the Super Bowl since Kurt Warner last won it in 1999. Rodgers joins Tom Brady (2010) and Milt Plum (1960) as the only quarterbacks with a passer rating over 105.0 for the season to not win a playoff game.
 
We’ve seen how in many ways this week that the 1999 Rams were an anomaly in terms of winning the Super Bowl, whether it’s based on being a dome team, playing only one quality opponent, or their overall strength of schedule. But what the Rams had was a defense, and when they needed to step up in the 1999 NFC Championship, they did, beating Tampa Bay by just an 11-6 score.
 
Green Bay did not have that kind of defense. They lived on takeaways all season, and when they only got one, and the offense gave up four, it was a recipe for disaster. The Giants (400) allowed 41 more points than the Packers (359) did this season. But like the Packers last year, the Giants were the hot team heading into the game.
 
As the Packers should know all too well by now: it’s not how a team starts, it’s how they finish.
 
NEXT WEEK: The playoffs go old school with the 49ers and Giants meeting in the NFC Championship. Alex Smith and Eli Manning each set franchise records with 6 game-winning drives this season. Can we get a 7th from someone?
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He enjoys when history repeats itself; but only history he liked the first time it happened. You can send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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