Every Sunday night, Around The League takes a closer look at four of the weekend's most interesting subplots. We call it The Filthy Four ... mostly for alliteration purposes.
Giants leap out of Lambeau
But make no mistake: The Giants earned this win, overcoming both the defending Super Bowl champions and some brutal officiating that led to 14 Packers points. Eli Manning (21-of-33 passing, 330 yards, three TDs, one interception) is playing out of his mind right now. Throw in some wild pointing gestures and gibberish talk at the line of scrimmage, and you would've swore Peyton was playing for Big Blue.
Next stop is San Francisco, where the Giants meet the 49ers with the franchise's fifth trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The 49ersbeat the Giants 27-20 back in Week 10. These two teams last faced each other in the conference championship in Jan. 20, 1991, when Bill Parcells' Giants knocked off the heavily favored 49ers on Matt Bahr's last-second, 42-yard field goal.
The final score of that game was 15-13, the type of defensive struggle you'd expect next week. But then again, this postseason has showed us that past performance doesn't guarantee future results.
The Tebow conundrum
John Elway almost made it. He was so close. The Broncos' executive vice president of football operations rode the Tim Tebow roller-coaster for three months, his every word about the young quarterback endlessly dissected. Nobody regrets contractually obligated radio spots like ol' No. 7.
A six-game winning streak made it seem like Elway could confidently head into the future with Tebow at the controls. The three-game losing streak that followed produced doubts, but a stirring performance in the wild-card playoff round against the Steelers seemed to re-establish Tebow's footing.
Then came Saturday night's beatdown at Foxborough. It wasn't so much that the Broncos lost badly -- most people expected that. It was more how Tebow didn't seem to give his team a chance, submitting the type of performance (9-of-26 passing, 136 yards, one lost fumble, five sacks) that bolsters the argument we're dealing with a one-hit wonder on the level of the "Bad Day" guy.
So now put yourself in Elway's shoes for a moment. Are you any more confident in Tebow now than you were a month ago? Are you ready to hand the franchise keys to a guy who barely completed one-third of his passes against a Patriots defense ranked 31st?
Public sentiment will conclude Tebow -- who has become nothing short of a cultural phenomenon -- must return. Four dramatic wins during his run has put more than enough goodwill in the bank for many Broncos fans.
But Elway isn't being paid to promote goodwill. Feel free to step out of his shoes now -- it's clearly not a fun place to be.
Smith re-writes his story
All that No. 1 pick disappointment stuff? Now it's only a chapter in Smith's story, not the whole book. More people will remember what he did against the Saints, matching Drew Brees throw-for-throw down the stretch in an outrageous playoff win. Smith finished 24-of-42 passing for 299 yards with a 103.2 rating, the type of production for which the 49ers waited seven years.
"It shows he's becoming an elite quarterback," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "I'm glad the world could see what he did today."
Ah, there it is again, that buzzword that's affixed itself to the quarterback position. Unofficially, The Elite Club is populated by Rodgers, Brady, Brees and both Mannings. Philip Rivers is knocking on the door. Tyler Palko also is knocking, but he's just dropping off some dry cleaning.
Smith isn't qualified to sit at the big boys table, but the 49ers don't need him to be. He successfully performed what was asked of him all season, and when the moment called for it Saturday, he raised his game to another level. Not bad for a first-round bust.
Ravens must be ready for the next challenge
New England has scored at least 40 points in three of its last four games, including a 45-10 decimation of the Denver Tebows that could have been significantly worse had Bill Belichick decided to amp up his Evil Meter (it's surprising he didn't in retrospect).
The Associated Press contributed to this report.