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Announcers also remembered Joe Paterno during yesterday's pro football games. Those two conference championships on Sunday determined the lineup for the Super Bowl. The New York Giants will play the New England Patriots in a rematch of a Super Bowl from four years ago. Neither team made it to the big game easily. Both have great quarterbacks, but on Sunday, both had to rely on defense. Here's NPR's Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: If an AFC team was to take down the Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens were as plausible a candidate as any. By many measures, the Ravens have the AFC's best defense. They'd need it to have a fighting chance against the Patriots scintillating offense.
But one area where all sides acknowledged a mismatch was at the quarterback position. The Patriots are led by Tom Brady, two-time league MVP, three-time Super Bowl champion. The Ravens are helmed by Joe Flacco, who owns no Super Bowl rings, but does have a Fu Manchu mustache.
In the week leading up to the game, Flacco's own teammate, safety Ed Reed, made some fairly obvious observations about areas where Flacco could improve. In the tight-lipped NFL, that counted as fodder, especially for Wally and Bob, two Patriot fans who spotted a Baltimore backer wearing the wrong jersey in the stadium yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Flacco!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Flacco!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hey!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: His own team's talking trash about him. You know...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Flacco!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...when your own team's talking trash about you, it's going to be tough to come on the road...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Where's Ed Reed?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...and beat the best quarterback of all time.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Where is he?
PESCA: But a funny thing happened on the way to the finals. Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady. The Baltimore signal caller aired it out for over 300 yards and two TDs. Brady, on the other hand, missed some open receivers, was picked off twice, and only got into the end zone via leg, not arm. WBZ radio's Gil Santos had that call.
(SOUNDBITE OF WBZ RADIO BROADCAST)
GIL SANTOS: Fourth and goal, Pats trail 20 to 16. Brady calling signals. Brady leaps into the end zone, touchdown. He went right over the top and into the end zone.
PESCA: That touchdown was the only score of the 4th quarter, but the Ravens came close to winning the game on a would-be touchdown that was broken up at the last second. Kicker Billy Cundiff then missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the contest into overtime.
Afterward, Ravens defensive leader Ray Lewis was adamant that no one person was to blame for the loss.
RAY LEWIS: Not one player won or lost this game. And there's no one man that's ever lost a game.
PESCA: And he's right, but so is Tom Brady, who made almost the exact opposite point.
TOM BRADY: You know, these games come down to one or two plays. And our defense really made some huge plays there, some very critical plays, and it went down to the end.
PESCA: What makes Brady more right than Lewis? Maybe it's just that his argument has the virtue of a victory behind it.
As those two combatants were picking over the details of their game, the 49ers and Giants were busy treating each other's quarterbacks like a moody four-year-old handles fresh Play-Doh. The game went into overtime, with San Francisco QB Alex Smith completing only 11 passes in regulation.
Smith failed to move his team the first time the 9ers gained possession in overtime, and he never got the chance to touch it again. The Giants forced a fumble on San Francisco's 24 yard line during a punt return. A few Ahmad Bradshaw runs later, and Fox's Joe Buck had the call.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX SPORTS BROADCAST)
JOE BUCK: Long snap. The kick is good.
PESCA: The kick - no gimme, we learned a few hours earlier - set up a rematch of one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history. This time around, the Patriots come in far from perfect. Their defense ranked second to last in yards allowed, and the Giants weren't much better.
In fact, all season, there was a general notion that the NFL had gotten away from the days when we could say offense wins games, but defense wins championships. Maybe that will prove true, but yesterday, defenses certainly won conference championships.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, Foxborough, Massachusetts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.