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Blue away

The Baltimore Sun

Some observations as we sweep up the confetti from another NFL season:

There were lots of winners on that New York Giants sideline Sunday. Tom Coughlin's job is safe for several more years, and often-ridiculed Eli Manning owns the town when, two months ago, they wanted to run him out. But a guy who should cash in is defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Mentioned for a month as a head coaching candidate, he led a defense that held four playoff opponents - including the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, three of the best offenses in the NFL - to an average of 16.3 points. If Spagnuolo isn't hired this year, the buzz should stay with him throughout next season.

That the Giants were better without running back Tiki Barber and tight end Jeremy Shockey speaks volumes about that indefinable mojo called "chemistry."

Bill Belichick finally seemed to offer an opposing coach a sincere post-game greeting, albeit a second too soon. He could have helped soften his image of being bitterly self-absorbed with some magnanimous post-game comments, but, of course, he didn't even try.

Tom Brady remains the antidote to Belichick. He was as gracious in defeat as he has usually been in victory.

Patriots linebacker Junior Seau waited 13 years to get a second crack at a Super Bowl ring after losing with the San Diego Chargers after the 1994 season. If New England revamps its aging linebacker group, he won't get another, sadly.

I wonder whether Belichick would have passed up the shot for a 49-yard field goal (as he did in the third quarter) if Adam Vinatieri were still with New England. Vinatieri was 0-for-2 beyond 40 yards in the regular season for Indianapolis, but in the Colts' playoff loss, he made his only field-goal attempt, a 46-yarder.

How unusual was Sunday's outcome? According to proposition bets posted this past week by the Station Casinos in Las Vegas, the odds of New England scoring exactly 14 points were 30-1 (in contrast, the odds for the Pats to score 35 on the nose were just 6-1). The 31 combined points scored by the two teams were in a range (29-35 points) that was listed as a 15-1 shot.

The early word out of Vegas is that the sports books got hammered (at least that's what MGM Mirage sports book director Robert Walker told the Las Vegas Review-Journal). Cash poured in on the Giants to win outright at odds that drifted from 5-1 to 4-1. Of course, those long-shot wagers cashed.

In four playoff games this year, Eli Manning threw six touchdown passes and just one interception (and that pick actually hit a Giant in the hands). Big brother Peyton, in his four playoff wins that led to a Super Bowl victory last season, threw just three touchdown passes and was intercepted seven times. The younger Manning completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 854 yards, and the elder Manning completed 63.4 percent for 1,034 yards.

In an almost equally stunning upset, Michael Vick had a court victory yesterday. A federal judge ruled that he doesn't have to return $20 million in bonus money to the Atlanta Falcons. Although the judge's decision is a brief break in the long losing streak Vick brought on himself, it extends Falcons owner Arthur Blank's dismal run.

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