As much as the previous week’s NFL Divisional Championship games were more in the mold of Lombardi era splendor with game-ending miracle passes and courageous goal line stands, Sunday’s Conference Championship contests looked at times like hard fought games pitting the semi-pro Pottstown Firebirds against the Charlotte Chargers.
After Minnesota’s loss to the Eagles, their sixth consecutive championship game loss, I recalled their four Super Bowl losses in a bygone era when legendary coach Bud Grant became famous for refusing to dress warmly to ward off the freezing outdoor January Minnesota winters.
After losing tight end Rob Gronkowski, a.k.a. “The Ford F-350” to a concussion related injury, Tom Brady found a way to win by passing brilliantly to Danny Amendola for two fourth quarter scores that turned the tide. The second of those scores was an act of terpsichorean artistry worthy of Fred Astaire as Amendola needed to reach as far as he could to snag a Brady bullet headed out the back of the end zone while dragging his back foot down with barely an inch to spare.
The Jacksonville Jaguars looked great for the first three quarters against the Patriots. Quarterback Blake Bortles outplayed Brady, hitting consistently on third door passes to control the clock, going into the fourth quarter with a ten-point lead. At the 13:30 mark, the game turned when the Jaguars recovered a fumble after stripping the receiver of a completed pass, returning the ball to mid-field. That’s when they could have put New England away. But a Jaguar three-and-out ensued and the game changed in the Pat’s favor. Brady completed his patented fourth-quarter-comeback, bringing what appeared to be a churlish smile to Bill Belichik’s face.
Two curious coaching decisions arose, one in each game. New England scored with a minute to go in the first half to pull within 14-10 of Jacksonville. The Jaguars had all three time outs remaining, first-and-ten at their own twenty-five, when they decided to take three knees to end the half. Manning, Brady, Rodgers, Favre, et. al., would have fired away to get into field goal range.
Halfway through the third quarter, the Vikings drove the length of the field to fourth and goal, inside the five, down, 31-7, admittedly a tough hill to climb. But they would need a three eventually to have any chance to catch the Eagles, so why not take it there? The fourth down pass was incomplete, for all intents and purposes ending the game, and what had been a terrific Vikings season.
The Philly faithful will travel to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl a week from Sunday, undoubtedly outfitted in those dog masks they’ve worn during these playoffs boasting of their underdog status. Even though the Vegas oddsmakers have made New England a touchdown favorite, don’t be surprised if you see a lot of Eagle fans smiling when they take them off at game’s end.