"Here we go again" almost always has negative connotations. When the New York Giants lose a few games in a row and Tiki Barber pops up to criticize Tom Coughlin, we all roll our eyes and mutter, "Here we go again." Or when Rex Ryan guarantees a Super Bowl victory -- "Here we go again." Or when Brett Favre comes out of retirement -- "Here we go again." Or when Bud Selig proclaims that Fred Wilpon is the "perfect local owner" -- "Here we go . . ." actually, that one requires an "Are you kidding me?" But in the case of the Giants, "Here we go again" is a good thing. Reminders of their magical 2007 season are everywhere, and with their upset win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, the parallels are getting even more eerie. They move on to play the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, which will be a rematch of the title game 21 years ago, and will be the eighth Giant-49er playoff game, all of them coming since 1981. And the two teams will get another crack at each other after the Giants just fell short to the Niners, 27-20, back in November. Here we go again, indeed.
What were the momentum changers, turning points and key plays in the win over the Packers this past Sunday? Let us count the ways. Hakeem Nicks bounced off defenders and ran through some more for another long touchdown, which was a replay of his score against the Falcons in the previous game. The Giants recovered not one but two onside kicks. They kept their composure and were not flustered at all as the officials blew one call after another, all to Green Bay's advantage (was this the same ref that worked the Winter Classic? -- the questionable calls opened the door for conspiracy theorists to run wild). Ahmad Bradshaw's 23-yard ramble across the field and out of bounds set up the Hail Mary heard round the world (and seen on the cover of Sports Illustrated), with Nicks' big mitts pulling the ball out of the Green Bay sky. Michael Boley sacked Aaron Rodgers on a fourth down. Osi Umenyiora came up with yet another one of his patented strip sacks, which most likely prevented a Packer touchdown. Victor Cruz made a slew of third-down receptions. Antrel Rolle recovered a fumble. Kenny Phillips forced a fumble with Chase Blackburn scooping it up and running it back 40 yards to the Packer four-yard line, which was quickly followed by a Mario Manningham touchdown reception. Bradshaw set up another touchdown, when he ran for 24 yards, and Jacobs put the finishing touches on the game with the last score of the day. Oh, and Eli Manning worked his usual voodoo once again. It was one clutch play after another, with everybody pitching in.
And now it's Giants-49ers in the NFC Championship Game once more, with Big Blue getting hot at the right time, and possibly making another magical run. Here we go again.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Giants at 49ers: Click here for everything you need to know about the NFC Championship Game, including position-by-position breakdowns, who's practicing, who's talking too much, who's calling the game, a little Giants-49ers history and updates on Manning's queasy stomach.
Waiting for Baron: When the New York Rangers signed Brad Richards this summer to pair with Marian Gaborik, and they quickly decided that the two weren't going to thrive playing together, they put them on separate lines, and never looked back. Splitting up the pair has given the team depth, and they're now one of the top teams in the NHL. Unfortunately, the New York Knicks don't have that luxury with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. And so far, building the team around the two superstars just isn't working. Who thought the Knicks' biggest problem would be offense, and not defense? Yes, they sure need a real point guard, and maybe a new coach, with Mike D'Antoni not exactly squeezing the best out of this bunch, but if Anthony and Stoudemire can't figure out how to coexist, then there are real long-term problems at the Garden, as they can't take turns on the court like Richards and Gaborik. There was no Anthony on Saturday night, as the Knicks were blown out by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 104-92 (the final score belies the non-competitiveness of the game). The Thunder showed them what a real contender looks like (though Oklahoma City subsequently lost to the Wizards, so anything can happen on any given night). Things were a little better for their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee, with a banged-up Anthony back in the lineup, but they still weren't good enough to win, losing to the Orlando Magic, 102-93, despite keeping Dwight Howard in check. And on Wednesday, Steve Nash showed them what they're missing, when he put on a point-guard clinic, as his Phoenix Suns beat the Knicks, 91-88. Is Baron Davis really going to magically transform this team into a consistent winner? The more they lose, though, the better he looks.
Two Out of Four Ain't Bad: Sick and tired of all the losing, Deron Williams hoisted the New Jersey Nets on his back last Friday, scored 35 points with 14 assists, and led his team to a 110-103 victory over the Suns. The Nets went 15-for-32 from behind the three-point line, winning their third game of the year. Unfortunately, Williams wasn't able to do that every night, as he was booed in his return to Utah on Saturday, with the Nets losing to the Jazz, 107-94, and they lost again on Monday, to the Clippers, 101-91. But on Wednesday, Williams had a lot of help in defeating the Golden State Warriors, 107-100, with MarShon Brooks hitting for a career-high 22 points (with eight rebounds) and Kris Humphries scoring 18 and hauling in his usual 15 rebounds.
Pipe Down, Mr. Dolan: All season long, John Tortorella has relentlessly drilled it into his team to focus on the next game. Forget the big picture, forget the standings, forget the last game, forget the games around the corner -- concentrate on the task at hand. And if the team wavers, as it did last week against Ottawa and on Sunday in Montreal (where the Rangers make every Canadiens team look like the 1977 Habs), Tortorella cracks the whip and his team responds positively, such as in Saturday's and Tuesday's whitewashings of the Maple Leafs and Predators, respectively. Everything's under control. Everything's in order. But then the team's owner, James Dolan, comes out of the woodwork, commenting on his hockey team for the first time in nine years, and jinxes the Rangers (as they lost to the Penguins on Thursday) when he said, "I'm very proud of the organization. I'm particularly proud of Mr. Sather. Because all the way back to 2004 when things weren't going so well and we had a lot of free agents in here and we made the decision to basically redo the strategy, Glen and I actually had a pact. I actually gave him something that I won't reveal what it is. I said, ‘You can't give it back to me until we win the Stanley Cup.' And I think I'm getting pretty close to getting that thing back." An unhappy Tortorella responded in an un-Rex-Ryan-like way, "We've got to go about our business. I've got an owner up here talking about a Stanley Cup. That's a bunch of BS. We've got to take it one day at a time." He later chatted with Dolan and they both had a laugh about the situation, but let's hope we don't hear from Dolan again for another decade.
A Couple of Old Goalies: Evgeni Nabokov notched his 300th win on Saturday, when the New York Islanders defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 4-2. He's the 26th goalie in NHL history to reach that mark. Nabokov didn't stop there, though, as he recorded No. 301 on Tuesday, shutting out the Capitals, and No. 302 on Thursday, when the Isles defeated the Flyers, finishing with a 3-1 mark this week. Martin Brodeur shot past 300 wins years ago, and this week he bounced back from his eight-minute, two-goal yanking in Calgary with a pair of wins in the home-and-home with the Winnipeg Jets, only letting one puck get by him in each game. But the New Jersey Devils still can't beat the elite, losing to the Bruins on Thursday once again, this time by a score of 4-1.
As the Jets Turn: The turmoil and disarray in New York Jets Land keeps on trickling in. This week, on Showtime's Inside the NFL, LaDainian Tomlinson stated, "It's as bad as I've been around, honestly. And I've been around some locker rooms and quarterback-receiver situations and what-not. But it was as bad as I've been around. This is the type of football team they wanted. Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan are both brash, in-your-face type of style -- say whatever you want, just get it done on the field. And then it leads to other things, as guys are calling each other out and saying, ‘I'm not getting the ball' or whatever it may be. Can it be fixed? I think absolutely it can be, but they're going to have to make some tough decisions." And Woody Johnson chimed in with his two cents about the warring Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes, saying that the wide receiver will definitely be back next season and claiming, "He may be one of the best players we've ever had." But he was not so unequivocal about the future of his quarterback: "We're going to look at every possibility."
Can't Have Enough Pitching (but You Can Have Too Many A.J.s): Not satisfied with the choices in the New York Yankees' starting rotation, Brian Cashman revamped that questionable portion of the roster in one fell swoop last Friday, when he swapped young potential stars with the Mariners and also signed a veteran, which now gives the team seven hurlers to choose from. As promising as Jesus Montero's offense is, he is most likely going to be a DH or a defensively challenged catcher, so the Yankee GM shipped him (along with Hector Noesi) for possible top-of-the-rotation 23-year-old Michael Pineda and 19-year-old prospect Jose Campos. Pineda went 9-10 in his rookie year last season, with a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings. Hiroki Kuroda left the Dodgers on the same day, and signed a one-year $10 million deal with the Yanks. And Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson reupped, avoiding arbitration, as did Mike Pelfrey, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez and Manny Acosta of the New York Mets. If only Cashman were a magician and could just make A.J. Burnett disappear, and if we could snap our fingers and make the Wilpons disappear (who may "only" be on the hook for $386 million now, when their trial begins on March 19) -- the 2012 season would be just a little more promising.And that's the New York week that was. (And say a prayer for Hall of Famer Gary Carter, whose tumors have increased, as his battle with cancer goes on.)