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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Special Teams the Difference in AFC and NFC Championship Games

We hear coaches say it so often that it has become a cliche. When guys like Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin take the podium the week before a game, they always mention special teams. It is the third phase of the game that people tend to ignore. When analyzing the match-up between two teams on paper, we look at offenses and defenses. On Sunday, we were all reminded of how important the forgotten phase of the game truly is.

In the AFC Championship game, it was Billy Cundiff. The game was headed to overtime. Both the Ravens and Patriots had come up with timely turnovers to keep the game close. Tom Brady had an unimpressive day throwing the ball, but he led a go-ahead drive in the second half that was capped off by an uncharacteristic leap into the end zone over a pile of Ravens defenders.  Joe Flacco put Baltimore in a perfect position to send the game to overtime by bringing his team to the New England 21-yard line.  Perhaps the Patriots would block it, but no NFL kicker is going to shank a field goal inside 40 yards, right?  Cundiff shanked it, and the Patriots advanced.

Then, there was Kyle Williams.  Williams, who is the son of Chicago White Sox G.M. Kenny Williams, probably didn’t get much sleep on Sunday night.  In fact, I doubt he’ll get much for the rest of the week.  In the fourth quarter, Williams decided at the last second to let a punt bounce by him with the Giants bearing down.  The whistle blew as Giants receiver Devin Thomas scooped the ball up, insisting it glanced off Williams’ knee.  Thomas was right, and the Giants took over after the play was reviewed.  New York took the lead on the ensuing drive.

Then there was overtime.  Harbaugh stuck with Williams as his return man, and after the Niners had forced the Giants to punt a second time Williams coughed it up again.  New York’s Jacquian Williams punched the ball loose and Thomas once again recovered.  San Francisco’s defense had come up huge all night, but the Giants began the drive too deep in San Francisco territory.  For the second time in a span of about four hours, special teams had lost a conference championship game.

When coaches stress the important of special teams and ball security before a big game, they aren’t wasting their breath.  It takes an entire team to lose a game, but both the Ravens and Niners could be preparing for a Super Bowl right now had the special teamers done their jobs.  Believe it or not, there’s more to a game than guys like Eli Manning and Tom Brady.

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