By Eddie Mayrose
It went down, for the most part, as it had been predicted by many of the experts. The young star at quarterback, already with a Super Bowl title under his belt and clearly one of the game's elite, was unflappable. The defense, maligned for much of the year, rose to the occasion and made enough plays to thwart its powerful opponent while the team's star wide receivers carried the day. Finally, the head coach, forever underestimated, had his squad prepared to excel on a big stage.
The twist, as we all know now, is that those resumes, widely and deservedly credited to the Packers leading up to the game, belonged to the Giants instead, as Big Blue handed the 15-1 Pack a thrashing at Lambeau. Eli Manning, one of the best in the NFL, was as good as it gets. Finally healthy, the defensive line did just enough to take Aaron Rodgers out of his game and Hakeem Nicks was unstoppable. That everything came together under Head Coach Tom Coughlin, under fire for most of the season by the “first-time, long-time” crowd, made the win that much sweeter.
Now, it's on to San Francisco, where a hard-hitting defense and a muddy field await. The Giants have made this trip before, coming out on the short end of a 27-20 decision that started a four-game losing streak. That contest now seems as much a distant memory as the loss to the Packers that was the last in that skein. These playoffs might as well be a different season, so stark is the difference in the team's play from then until now.
While the Niners had a wonderful season, it came largely at the expense of divisional opponents that were terrible. Their quarterback, Alex Smith, has yet to convince anyone that he's the guy going forward, even after posting a 13-3 record, and their wide receivers are nowhere near as productive as their counterparts in Atlanta and Green Bay. In short, I'll be shocked if the Giants aren't booking a trip to Indy at about 11 p.m. Sunday night.
I'm not that concerned with a sloppy field, as I think Manning and Co. will have no trouble navigating a sloppy track. I do think that a wet field will hinder Frisco's passing game, especially if Big Blue can pressure Smith. The Giants have been down this road once before, punching their ticket to Super Bowl XXV with a 15-13 win at Candlestick in 1990. Look for a similar outcome this time, with the Giants scoring a late touchdown to close out a 20-10 win.
As I Sit and Think…
The next time you hear a Major League Baseball exec complain about how the Yankees, because of their money, have such a competitive edge, think about this. While the Bombers are able to pay more than anyone for free agent talent, their enormous budget does nothing to help them when it comes to trades. If these guys are really concerned about challenging New York in the AL, maybe they should think twice about handing over their top prospects whenever the Yankees come calling. If they'd stop helping Brian Cashman improve his team, it's likely that the gap between the Yanks and the rest of the league would close. Such was the case this week, when the Mariners handed over prized pitching prospect Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero. Montero was terrific during a September call-up last season, posting a .328 BA with 4 HR in just 69 AB. That's right, just 69 AB! Montero, a top prospect himself, is still very much a question mark. Pineda, however, posted a 9-10 record for a very bad team while registering 173 K in 171 IP, all at the age of 22 - a considerably larger body of work. The Mariners, in their haste to acquire a guy with only a hot month on his resume, overpaid terribly and, in the process, made the strong stronger …
You have to feel for Rangers' fans. The Blueshirts finally have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup and most of their long-suffering fans can't even watch them on MSG ... All you need to know about the Mets' prospects for 2012 is that Mike Pelfrey signed a one-year contract this week for $5 million. The fans probably would have chipped in more than that to make him go away … I've had my fill of the revisionist history that has consumed Joe Paterno. Reading his interview in the Washington Post made me want to throw the paper out the window. He can color it any way he likes and it won't matter. He's nothing more than a coward who put his own success ahead of the lives of young kids.