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Reactions from NFL Championship Sunday: Giants, Patriots set up Super Bowl rematch

For the second time in four years the New York Giants and New England Patriots will meet in the Super Bowl after the two teams won their respective conferences on Sunday. Here are some quick-hit reactions from both games.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady dives in for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter during the NFL AFC Championship football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, January 22, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Patriots 23, Ravens 20

- I feel for Billy Cundiff, I really do. He’s a professional kicker and professional kickers need to make 32-yard field goals when the snap and hold are perfect. It doesn’t matter what the stakes were or the fact that the Ravens blew opportunities during the game that could have saved him the horror of costing his team a chance to play in the Super Bowl. He’s a kicker and he should have made the kick, period. That said, he’s also a human being and there’s nothing anyone could say to make him feel worse than he already does. It sucks for him and it sucks for his teammates, who killed themselves for 18 weeks just to see their Super Bowl hopes dashed in a blink of an eye. Eighteen weeks have hard work flushed away on one bad kick…

- …of course, had Lee Evans bothered to hang onto the ball two plays before, Cundiff would have been spared all of this misery. Cundiff will absorb most of the fans’ barbs this week but the fact of the matter is that his kick would have only tied the game. Evans had a chance to potentially win the game for the Ravens had he hung onto a beautifully thrown pass by Joe Flacco on a second-and-1 from the New England 14. The damn thing was in his hands as he was about to stick his second foot into the ground and he had it knocked away by safety Sterling Moore. If Evans hangs onto the ball we’re talking about a Ravens-Giants rematch instead of Patriots-Giants II.

- Some Baltimore fans are complaining that John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron mismanaged the time when the Ravens drove the ball down to the New England 14-yard-line with less than two minutes remaining in the game. I get that. The Ravens had a second-and-1 from the 14, and a third-and-one from the 14. They could have handed the ball to Rice on either down and have him pick up the first, which would have given the Ravens a fresh set downs with two timeouts remaining. But just last week Cameron watched as Rice was stuffed at the goal line versus Houston so maybe he didn’t want to re-live the moment by playing into New England’s hands. The Patriots’ front seven did a great job bottling up Rice all day so ask yourself this: Was it the play calls or the execution that was the problem? Again, if Evans hangs onto the ball on second down then the Ravens are probably heading to Indianapolis. We fans are great at second guessing coordinators but in this case, Cameron gave his team a chance to win and the players just failed to execute.

- The numbers don’t paint a very pretty picture for the New England defense this season but the fact remains that Bill Belichick’s D is playing its best football over the past few weeks. Vince Wilfork was a freaking beast today and allowed Rice very little running room, while the rest of his front seven ‘mates also played extremely well. The secondary still has leaks but this isn’t the same defense that struggled so mightily earlier in the season.

- Have the Patriots ever won an AFC championship game when Tom Brady didn’t play well? If they have, I certainly don’t remember when. While everyone was questioning Flacco’s confidence heading into today, it was Brady who was the lackluster quarterback. Following Brandon Spike’s interception of Flacco mid-way through the fourth quarter, Brady gave the Ravens new life on the very next play by throwing into triple-coverage and getting picked off himself. Granted, the two interceptions he threw were both incredible plays but Baltimore defenders but Brady was off the entire game. In some respects, I don’t even know how the Patriots won. They’re heading back to the Super Bowl so that’s all that matters in the end, but this was not a very compelling performance by New England. That said, even though the Ravens continue to be a thorn in Brady’s side, his fourth-down touchdown leap proved to be the game-winning score for the Pats. And that was one hell of a gusty leap.

- Apparently Rob Gronkowski left Gillette Stadium in a walking boot, although he says his left ankle is “fine.” Good thing the media now has two weeks to talk about his injury every hour like they did with Pittsburgh offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey leading up to last year’s Super Bowl. Because that wasn’t nauseating or anything.

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter during the NFL NFC Championship game in San Francisco, California, January 22, 2012. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Giants 20, 49ers 17

- Kyle Williams wasn’t even supposed to be returning punts for the 49ers: that job belonged to Ted Ginn Jr., but he was inactive today with a knee injury. So it’s only fitting that Williams muffed two punts that indirectly propelled the Giants to their second Super Bowl appearance in four years. Just like Billy Cundiff, I feel for Williams. It’s not like the kid woke up this morning and said, “Yeah, this is a good day to cost my team an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl.” It was just a really bad day for the former Arizona State product. Granted, the conditions weren’t ideal for any ball carrier but Williams shouldn’t have been close to the bouncing ball that hit his knee and his fumble that set up Lawrence Tynes’ game-winning field goal was caused in part because he was carrying the ball away from his body. Making matters worse, he didn’t record a single catch so it might be a long offseason for Williams, who nearly lost a fumble on a poor pitch earlier in the game, too.

- Just like Cundiff, Williams will draw most of the ire from fans and the media this week. But the blame cannot be laid at his feet alone. Did Williams put the Niners in bad position with his two muffed punts? No question. His turnovers led to 10 New York points, which proved to be the difference in the game. You can’t ignore that. But let me throw out some numbers: 1-of-13. That was San Francisco’s third-down efficiency today. They converted one third down on 13 attempts, which is absolutely horrendous. Here are some more numbers: 12-of-26. Alex Smith completed just 12 passes and only three of which came on the 49ers’ final two drives when they had an opportunity to win the game. Williams cost his team dearly but rarely does a football game come down to one or two plays.

- There were many factors that played into the outcome of this game but to me, the play of the quarterbacks was the difference. Alex Smith made two great throws to Vernon Davis that resulted in 14 points, but he was at the root of San Francisco’s ineptitude on offense. He often looked for the rush instead of anticipating it, his pocket presence was non-existent on some drives, and he often held onto the ball too long. When the 49ers had an opportunity at the end of the fourth quarter to put a drive together and potentially win the game with a field goal, Smith threw three straight incomplete passes and only 14 seconds came off the clock. He looked like a quarterback who couldn’t wait to get off the field on the 49ers’ lone possession in overtime, too. Take away Davis’ 112 receiving yards and the Niners did nothing on the outsides today. Don’t get me wrong, without Alex Smith’s play in the fourth quarter lat week, the 49ers aren’t playing in the NFC title game. But it’ll be interesting to see if San Francisco wants to invest making him their franchise quarterback when he still has a lot of the same issues that have haunted him throughout his career.

- On the flip side, Eli Manning got his ass handed to him repeatedly by a very good San Francisco defense and he continued to make plays to give his team a chance to win in the end. This Giants team was severely banged up at the beginning of the year and everyone essentially wrote them off when they lost to the Redskins in Week 1. And when they lost to the Redskins again late in the season, nobody expected the G-Men to even make the playoffs. But just like Eli did today in ‘Frisco, the Giants just kept hanging in there and now they’re heading back to the Super Bowl. Were the Giants a work of art offensively today? No, but let’s give San Francisco’s defense their due. They weren’t going to allow Manning to come in and do whatever he wanted on their home turf, and they certainly didn’t. At the end of the game Eli looked like someone who had been run over by a sewage truck. Justin Smith used his body as a rag doll on several occasions and yet there was Manning, peeling himself off the turf play after play. Criticize this guy all you want for not having Tom Brady’s bravado or his brother’s passing records but don’t say he’s not a winner. Manning proved to a national audience today what he’s proven to Giants fans all year: That without him, the G-Men don’t even win nine games this season, nevertheless have a chance to win their second Super Bowl in four years.

- Victor Cruz caught 10 passes for 142 yards today, all of which came in the first half. That is not a misprint.

- Considering the Giants have beaten the Patriots the last two times these two teams have met, I would love to see the media have some balls and talk about whether or not New England can beat New York, instead of the other way around. The Patriots are already listed as 3.5-point favorites and you know the media is just chomping at the bit to talk about Brady and Belichick. But seriously, let’s see if the national media has any marbles and spends the next two weeks discussing whether or not the Pats can get the best of the Giants.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Think Ryan Fitzpatrick might be good for Lee Evans?

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 9: Lee Evans #83 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates during the game against the Miami Dolphins on December 9, 2007 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Lee Evans hit the waiver wire in a couple of my leagues, and it got me wondering — would he be worth a pickup now that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter in Buffalo?

Looking back to 2009, Evans averaged 3.0 catches for 36 yards and 0.43 TD with Trent Edwards at QB and 2.6 catches for 40 yards and 0.44 TD with Fitzpatrick.

In other words, there wasn’t much of a difference who was playing QB for the Bills — Evans’ numbers were about the same.

That said, I wouldn’t be opposed to picking him up if I had an open roster slot just to see what happens over the next couple of weeks. Buffalo has a fairly easy schedule for the rest of the season and Evans is just 29 years old, so it’s not like he’s over the hill. However, he hasn’t been fantasy starter-caliber since the 2008 season (63-1017-3), so one wonders what kind of upside he really has at this point. It’s important to note that last season (by far the worst of his last four), he was playing second fiddle to Terrell Owens.

If he just went back to his 2007 and 2008 averages — 3.7 catches for 51 yards, along with his career 0.4 TD per game average — he’d post 11.2 fantasy points per game. Those are WR26-type numbers. That makes him a decent WR3 option, which means he should be owned in most leagues.

2010 NFL Question Marks: Buffalo Bills

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 18: Trent Edwards #5 of the Buffalo Bills calls out orders against the New York Jets during the game on October 18, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Bills defeated the Jets 16-13 in overtime. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Bills, who, as you may imagine, have a couple of issues on their plate.

Ugh. I think I had the Bills in mind when I first thought about doing this series, as there’s no limit to the number of issues going on right now in Buffalo.

Actually, that’s not fair because the Bills are moving in the right direction and the hiring of GM Buddy Nix is proof of that. Nix has 14 years of NFL experience and previously spent 26 years coaching in the college ranks. The guy knows how to scout and for a team that desperately needs to re-stock their roster with talent, that’s huge.

Whether or not Chan Gailey was the best choice for head coach is debatable, but at least a) he has experience and b) isn’t Dick Jauron. For the time being, let’s give Gailey a chance and take solace in the fact that the Bills actually have people in their front office who don’t base their decisions on simulations in “Madden.” (“Madden says that the Cowboys would be willing to take Marshawn Lynch, a fourth, and a seventh for Tony Romo, so get Jerry Jones on the phone and let’s see if we can wrap something up by lunchtime.”)

That said, things still look bleak for this team, especially compared to the rest of the AFC East. Defensively, the secondary is deep and the team devoted a lot of time this offseason re-tooling the line for new coordinator George Edwards, who will implement the 3-4. It’s going to take time for the new scheme to take shape, which is why I’ll leave the defense alone for now.

The offense, however, is another story.

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Daily Six-Pack: NFL preseason rewind

Here are six quick-hit thoughts on some of Week 1’s preseason NFL action.

1. Stafford was impressive.
While it was only the first preseason game of his young career, Matthew Stafford was awfully impressive Saturday against the Falcons. In his debut, Stafford completed 7 of 14 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. And if Keary Colbert didn’t have hands made of concrete, Stafford’s numbers would have been more impressive. Granted, he was playing against Atlanta’s backups, Detroit kept their starting offensive line largely intact and he did throw an interception that was returned 41 yards for a touchdown. But the key was that Stafford looked comfortable in the pocket, showed confidence in his throws and for a rookie, displayed great footwork and overall mechanics. He still has much to prove, but if he continues to play this well throughout the preseason, it might be hard for the Lions to keep the rookie off the field in his first year.

2. The Bears secondary looked shaky.
If Saturday’s preseason loss to the Bills was any indication of how Chicago’s secondary will play in the regular season, then the Bears are in trouble. Lee Evans abused cornerback Nathan Vasher repeatedly, while Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick completed over 88 percent of their passes. Granted, it was only one preseason game and rookie sixth round pick Al Afalava was impressive against the run. But the Bears look awfully thin in the secondary and if the starters perform as poorly as they did last night for the remainder of the preseason, then trouble could be on the horizon.

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Terrell Owens signs with the Buffalo Bills

T.O. has signed with the Buffalo Bills.

A source told Buffalo News NFL columnist Mark Gaughan that the deal is for one year and is worth $6.5 million guaranteed.

“I’m leaving America’s team (for) North America’s team,” Owens said at a hastily-called press conference Saturday night.

“I must move on, and it’s another beginning for me,” Owens said. “If I can be that extra added piece to get them to the playoffs, then that’s what I’m here for. I looked at the defensive side of ball and offensive side of the ball, and these guys have all the pieces.”

Owens, who was released earlier this week by the Dallas Cowboys, has 951 career receptions for 14,122 yards and 139 touchdowns. He has had nine 1,000-yard receiving seasons during his 13-year NFL career.

The 35-year-old, who is 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, provides the Bills with a pair of dynamic receivers, also including Lee Evans.

With a one-year deal, the Bills aren’t taking on much of a risk, but this seems like a desperate move by a muddling franchise. Why add all the drama here? Sure, they have a talented pair of wide receivers, and T.O. usually waits a year before destroying team chemistry, but does is a one-year circus worth it to a team that still needs to retool?

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