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  • Jan

    Steelers Top Ravens 23-14 in AFC Championship Game, To Face Cardinals in Super Bowl

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens 23-14 on Sunday night to win the AFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 in Tampa Bay, Florida. The Steelers #1 ranked defense was the difference and Troy Polamalu’s interception and subsequent 40-yard return for a touchdown all but out the game out of reach with just under 3 minutes to play.

    The Steelers defense harassed Ravens rookie Quarterback Joe Flacco all game long. Flacco, who had led his team to 2 playoff victories to get to the AFC Championship Game, was exposed as a rookie who still has much to learn about how football is played in the NFL. Flacco completed only 13 of 30 passes for 141 yards. He threw 3 interceptions, 2 in the 4th quarter which destroyed all chance of the Ravens pulling off the improbable upset win in Pittsburgh.

    Hines Ward summed it up best: “It was a typical, hard-hitting, physical game. It’s the way every Baltimore-Pittsburgh game is. Sometimes guys get hit so hard. you don’t know if they’re going to get up. They say defense wins championships, well, we have the No. 1 defense. And they’re the reason we’re really going to the Super Bowl.

    The Steelers have now won 2 out of the last 4 AFC Championship Games. Ben Roethlisberger will get a chance to play in his 2nd Super Bowl in only his 4th year in the NFL. In Sunday’s game, Roethlisberger completed 16 of 33 passes for 255 yards. He connected with Santonio Holmes on a 65 yard touchdown pass minutes into the 2nd quarter to give the Steelers the early 13-0 lead, but most importantly, Roethlisberger did not throw any interceptions. Roethlisberger led the Steelers on efficient drives that also resulted in 3 field goals for kicker Jeff Reed.

    Despite trailing early, the Ravens never gave up. Baltimore cut the Steelers lead to 6 points right before the end of the 1st half on a 3-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee. McGahee’s 2nd touchdown of the game – a 1-yard plunge in the 4th quarter – cut the Steelers lead to 2. The Ravens had their chances later in the 4th quarter, but Flacco’s inopportune interceptions brought an end to the Ravens run.

    The Pittsburgh-Arizona Super Bowl match-up is an interesting one. Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was the Steelers Offensive Coordinator when the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2006. After Bill Cowher retired following the 2006-7 NFL season, the Rooney family and the Steelers elected to go outside the organization and hire Mike Tomlin as the Head Coach. Whisenhunt saw this as a snub by the Steelers, and he decided to leave to take the Arizona Cardinals Head Coach position. Fellow long-time Steelers assistant Russ Grimm also left the Steelers and is now Whisenhunt’s top assistant in Arizona. In taking the Steelers to a Super Bowl appearance in just his 2nd year, Tomlin is doing something that Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher couldn’t do for the Steelers organization.

    It should be an interesting match-up in 2 weeks in Tampa. The Steelers are currently favored by 6-7 points on most boards, but the Cardinals have been winning despite being the underdog in 2 of their 3 playoff games. Will that streak continue? Only time will tell.

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