While the New York Giants and New England Patriots are joyful as they head to a Super Bowl rematch, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are still reeling from late-game miscues by kicker Billy Cundiff and punt returner Kyle Williams.
Both Cundiff with the Ravens and Williams with the 49ers contributed to their teams missing the Super Bowl, but surprisingly, few teammates are blaming the two for the losses. While fans of both teams are likely beside themselves -- Williams has reportedly received Twitter death threats -- their teammates have rallied around them.
We all lost this game, 49ers tight end Delanie Walker told reporters after the game. We play as a team -- it's 45 of us out there. It's not Kyle's fault, so don't go over there and act like it is. Cause it's not.
Williams has received the lionshare of the blame after two punt return mishaps led to a Giants overtime victory in the NFC Championship. The 23-year old replaced an injured Tedd Ginn Jr. as the team's punt returner and struggled throughout the game with his duties.
But it started to go really downhill for Williams in the fourth quarter. In the fourth, Williams mistakenly allowed a Giants punt to bounce on the soggy grass; it grazed off his knee and was recovered by the Giants' Devin Thomas. The Giants were able to convert the turnover with an Eli Manning 17-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham to put the Giants up 17-14.
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It didn't end there for Williams, though. He managed to misplay another punt in overtime that was recovered yet again by the Giants' Thomas. Williams caught the ball cleanly, but didn't properly stow the ball away and saw it knocked out by Jacquian Williams at the 49ers' 24-yard line. The Giants advanced the ball a few yards before Lawrence Tynes hitting the game-winning 31-yard field goal to send New York to the Super Bowl.
The impact of the two fumbles on the outcome of the game wasn't lost on Williams.
You hate to be the last guy that had the ball, to give it away in that fashion and to lose a game of this magnitude, Williams said. It is what it is. We're going to move forward as a team. Everyone has come to pat me on the back and the shoulder to say it's not me.
But even though the fans aren't likely to forgive Williams anytime soon, his teammates all had his back in the locker room after the game.
We all know him. We know how committed he is to winning,49ers quarterback Alex Smith told reporters after the game. It's not on him. I look at the 1 for 13 on third downs. I know he's going to feel bad, but he's still part of our team. We didn't lose the game there. We lost it across the board offensively. We just couldn't get it done.
Thousands of miles away, many Baltimore Ravens had that same mindset with their embattled kicker, Billy Cundiff. The Ravens appeared on the verge of sending the AFC Championship game to overtime before Cundiff badly botched a 32-yard field goal attempt.
There were some reasons for the wide left field goal attempt -- Cundiff rushing onto the field late and a badly spotted ball are part of the rationale -- but almost all of the blame has been put on the kicker's faulty right foot.
Some of the blame for the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots can be attributed to Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans letting a sure touchdown catch slip through his hands late in the fourth quarter. Evans has fully accepted the blame for the loss, but fans have zeroed in on Cundiff instead of the wide receiver in part because of the belief that Evans caught the ball and the play should have been reviewed by referees.
Ravens fans are amongst the most loyal in the entire NFL and they certainly didn't hold back in letting Cundiff know how they feel. One horrible comment that was passed around social media Web sites was, Apparently Billy Cundiff tried to hang himself but had trouble kicking the chair out from under him.
Cundiff fully expects to get his fair share of hate -- can you say Scott Norwood? -- but ultimately believes that the rough experience will make him better in the long run.
It's one of those situations that will strengthen me in the end, Cundiff told reporters after the game. Throughout my career, I've had challenging situations and I'm still standing here today. It's something that is going to be tough for a while, but I've got two kids and there are some lessons I need to teach them.
The kicker indicated one of the toughest parts about the loss was letting down defensive leader Ray Lewis. Cundiff said after the game that you know that Ray poured his heart out ... to let him down is pretty tough.
But Lewis, considered to be one of the toughest players in the entire NFL, wasn't angry at the Ravens kicker. Instead the emotional leader of the team defended him in a post-game interview.
As a man, I said it earlier: Not one play won or lost this game, Lewis said. Could you have put us in a position to keep playing? Absolutely, but one play didn't win or lose the game. There is no one man who has ever lost a game.
There is no 'it's Billy's fault' here or 'Billy missed the kick.' It happens. Move on, move on, because life doesn't stop.
Learning to forgive Williams and Cundiff will likely be very hard for 49ers and Ravens fans to do, but if the players can do it so quickly after an emotional loss -- why can't they?