LITTLE ROCK — Guilty of occasionally reaching for an angle to advance an Arkansas game, I understand that historical material is an option. The thing is, I’m not convinced that what happened years ago, or even a few weeks ago, has much to do with what is going to happen Sunday when the Super Bowl participants are decided.
Spotted online, the headline: “San Francisco 49ers look for first road playoff win in 24 years,” got my attention.
First, I wondered how many road playoff games the 49ers had played since 1988 and how many of the current players might be stigmatized by the record when San Francisco takes on Atlanta. After all, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kapernick was born in ‘87.
Turns out, the 49ers are 0-5 in road playoff games in the last two dozen years, including one in Atlanta in 1999 and the last one at Tampa Bay in January 2003.
On Sunday, that losing streak will be about as relevant as Denver quarterback Peyton Manning beating Baltimore nine straight prior to the playoff game against the Ravens last Saturday. The quarterback with the winning streak is the same one who suffered three turnovers — one of them was not his fault — in the overtime loss.
In the other championship game, fans are inundated by an equally large number of meaningless factoids. For instance, Baltimore 33, New England 14 is the only lopsided score in the five meetings between the John Harbaugh-coached Ravens and Bill Belichick’s Patriots. The margin in the other four meetings was six, three, three, and one and that means … absolutely nothing.
Some of the players involved in Baltimore 31, New England 30 in late September are no longer available. Neither are any of the officials. That day, replacement refs called 24 penalties, 14 of them against the Patriots, including a pass interference that set up Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal.
New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught two passes that day, is out with a broken forearm. In September, Stevan Ridley had fewer carries than Danny Woodhead and they totaled less than 75 yards rushing. Thirteen regular season games later, Ridley was the No. 7 rusher in the league with 1,263 yards.
When the two teams met a year ago in the AFC title game, Baltimore’s Lee Evans dropped a pass in the end zone in the final minute and, two plays later, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal in a 23-20 loss. Evans was cut in August, two weeks before Cundiff.
Tom Brady and Wes Welker; Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, those are the players most likely to decide the late game; the first game might be as simple as Kapernick vs. Matt Ryan.
The bicep-kissing Kapernick showed off the tats on his arms and the resiliency in his gut when he threw an early interception for a Green Bay TD and bounced back with a record-setting performance. That was more impressive than Ryan completing two passes to open receivers against a retreating Seattle defense in the final minute, an accomplishment proclaimed by some to signify his maturation as a quarterback. Forgotten was his silly interception that helped the Seahawks rally from a 20-point deficit.
Kapernick won’t duplicate his stats vs. Green Bay, but his versatility is a big plus and San Francisco should win a close one. The last thing I want is 34-31 with Sam Baker causing Ryan to fumble late and Kapernick finishing a 59-yard drive with a 22-yard strike to Vernon Davis. That’s the scenario spit out from a Madden NFL 13 simulation and many of us will be out of work if it’s accurate.
In the other game, the edge goes to the experience of Brady and Welker.
Personally, I’d be satisfied if one of the games is as compelling as Baltimore-Denver or Atlanta-Seattle.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.