Here are five things to love from conference championship Sunday:
One. Eli Manning. The Giants’ comeback kid of a quarterback didn’t need a lot of late heroics to get his team into the Super Bowl, thanks to two dreadful plays by 49ers fill-in punt returner Kyle Williams that gave Manning and company the ball at the San Francisco 29- and 24-yard lines to set up the final 10 points in the Giants’ 20-17 overtime victory in the NFC title game. But Peyton’s kid brother put the ball up 58 times in conditions that were not conducive to passing, completing 32 for 316 yards and two TDs. The 49ers sacked him (six times) and smacked him (12 more times), but Manning just kept coming back for more.
Two. Tom Brady. Not for anything he did on the field during the Patriots’ 23-20 victory over the Ravens in the AFC title game, although his 1-yard leap-and-reach did provide what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. As a passer, however, he had a very un-Brady-like outing: a 57.5 passer rating, with 22 completions in 36 attempts for 239 yards, two interceptions and no TDs. It was after the game that Brady garnered his style points by stepping to the podium and saying he “sucked pretty bad.” But the Patriots won anyway, thanks to Billy Cundiff slapping a 32-yard field goal attempt wide left with 11 seconds left.
Three. Patrick Willis. Sure, the 49ers lost. But it wasn’t Willis’ fault. The Pro Bowl inside linebacker had eight solo tackles, a sack, two QB hits and a pass breakup to pace the 49ers’ good-enough-to-win defensive effort.
Four. Tight ends. They were not only seemingly everywhere, they were making plays. The 49ers’ Vernon Davis caught two TD passes (73 and 28 yards). The Patriots’ duo of Aaron Hernandez (seven for 66) and Rob Gronkowski (five for 87) combined for 12 catches and 153 yards. The Ravens’ Dennis Pitta had five catches for 41 yards. The Giants’ Bear Pasco caught only one pass, but it was 6-yard TD. Besides, the dude’s name is Bear Pasco.
Five. Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, strong safety Deon Grant, wide receiver Deion Branch, linebacker Niko Koutouvides and linebacker Tracy White. The former Seahawks are going to the big dance in Indy – Bernard and Grant for the Giants; Branch, Koutouvides and White for the Patriots.