The Best

Being a place-kicker in the NFL has its ups and downs. This was never more evident than this past Sunday when Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the AFC title game, and New York’s Lawrence Tynes split the upright from 31 yards out with 7:06 left in overtime of the NFC championship tilt.

Cundiff’s boot would have knotted it, but host New England escaped with a 23-20 triumph, while the visiting Giants prevailed over San Francisco 20-17.

“It was amazing,’’ said Tynes. “I had a dream that I was going to kick the game-winner, but it was from 42 yards.”

The Patriots and Giants will meet February 5 at Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLVI, and reprise their classic battle four years ago.

That was the season in which New England entered 18-0 and football immortality was riding on the outcome, but New York upset the 13-point favorite with a three-point win on Eli Manning’s game-clinching toss late.

San Francisco’s Kyle Williams will go down as the goat after fumbling a punt deep inside 49ers’ territory that set up Tynes’ kick.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Williams allowed another punted ball to touch his knee, and made it possible for Manning to find Mario Manningham with a 17-yard pass that gave New York a 17-14 lead and 8:34 left.

“We kept plugging away,’’ said Manning (32 of 58 for 316 yards and no interceptions). “They’re a great team, and we knew we couldn’t have turnovers.’’

San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith (12 of 26 for 196 yards with no picks), the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, made it 7-0 when he found tight end Vernon Davis on a 73-yard pass and 7:11 left in the first quarter, but Manning, the top selection in 2004, brought the Giants back with a six-yard pass to tight end Bear Pascoe early in the second quarter.

New York took a 10-7 lead when Tynes converted a 31-yard field goal as time ran out in the second quarter.

“Everyone stepped up,’’ said New York wide receiver Victor Cruz (10 receptions for 142 yards). “I’m just glad they have confidence in me.”

Smith’s 28-yard toss to Davis (112 yards and three catches) made it 14-10 with 5:18 showing in the third quarter, and David Akers tied it at 17-17 when he booted a 25-yarder with 5:39 left in the final quarter.

New England quarterback Tom Brady, a three-time Super Bowl winner, was coming off a six-touchdown outing against the Denver Broncos, and while he wasn’t sharp (22 of 36 for 239 yards and two interceptions), did have a one-yard dive that capped a 63-yard, 11-play march that made it 23-20 early in the fourth quarter.

Cundiff’s 20-yard field goal with 14:21 left in the second quarter offset Stephen Gostkowski’s 29-yarder with 5:49 remaining in the first quarter.

When running back Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis (68 yards and 15 carries) scored from seven yards out and 10:35 showing in the second quarter, New England vaulted ahead 10-3, but Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco (22 of 36 for 306 yards with one pick) tied it at 10-10 when he hit tight end Dennis Pitta (41 yards and five catches) with a six-yard strike as 6:03 remained before the half.

Flacco’s 29-yard toss to Torrey Smith (82 yards and three catches) late in the third quarter gave Baltimore a 17-16 lead.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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