Column: Are you ready for some frostbite?

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 6, 2014 at 3:46 am •  Published: January 6, 2014
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OK, so they're not who we thought they were.

Every time you see that big snowflake in the middle of this year's Super Bowl logo, it suggests the easiest way to pick the last team standing is to draw a line through teams from warm-weather climes and then round up the usual cold-weather suspects.

The NFL's opening playoff weekend changed that.

Neither New Orleans nor San Francisco had won a game in the cold since 2000 — applying the 32-degree benchmark — and San Diego hadn't even played the minimum 10 games in those conditions required to make the list. They not only managed to win; all three did so on the road against teams — Philadelphia, Green Bay and Cincinnati, respectively — that ranked Nos. 2-4 on that same list, and trailed only always-formidable New England, which wins in bad weather an eye-popping 80 percent of the time.

The biggest weather challenge, though not the biggest upset, came in Green Bay, where the mercury registered 5 degrees at kickoff, with a wind chill of minus-10. The 49ers were expected to lean heavily on their ground game, if only to hold mistakes to a minimum. Instead, they wound up throwing the ball as many times as they ran it, 30 each.

After Phil Dawson's game-winning kick as time expired gave San Francisco the win, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh seemed almost bothered at questions about throwing the ball around. He didn't point out that his quarterback was the one wearing short sleeves — Colin Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee — with plenty of cold-weather experience. Or conversely that Michael Crabtree, the receiver Kaepernick threw to most often, was born in Texas and played his high school and college ball there.

Toughness, Harbaugh said finally, wasn't about where you grew up or played before.

"People talk about cold weather and it would be tough to catch balls ... Michael Crabtree catches everything, It's unbelievable." Harbaugh began. "In the northern snowlands, down to the tropics' sunny scenes, he's catching the football.

"If my life depended on it," he added a moment later, "and somebody had to catch the ball, I'd enlist Michael Crabtree to do it."

And until this weekend, if Harbaugh and most others had to choose someone to throw it in similar conditions, the Saints' Drew Brees and the Chargers' Philip Rivers likely wouldn't be the first names that come to mind. And to be honest, neither did more with his arm than was necessary.

Brees handed the ball off plenty in Philadelphia, and the 10-minute edge in time of possession, coupled with a last-gasp field goal by Shayne Graham proved decisive in sealing New Orleans' first-ever playoff win on the road. Rivers threw even less, just 16 passes in all, and let his defense capitalize on turnovers by Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton. He admitted afterward playing that conservatively didn't sit well, but also that he learned playing in lousy weather demanded it.

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