In one of the more exciting Super Bowl contests, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 to win an NFL record 6 Super Bowl Championships. Santonio Holmes was named the Super Bowl MVP after he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger with less than a minute to go in the game. Holmes had 9 catches for 131 yards, including the acrobatic, game-winning 6-yard touchdown catch that put the Steelers up for good.
Arizona Cardinals Quarterback Kurt Warner completed 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards, with 3 touchdown passes – good for a 112.3 passer rating. But his turnovers were the bigger story. With the Cardinals trailing 10-7 with 20 seconds left to go in the half, the Cardinals had the ball inside the Steelers 5-yard line. Instead of being ultra-cautious, Warner tried to force a pass into the end zone, and NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison intercepted the pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown that gave the Steelers a 17-7 halftime lead. If Warner doesn’t make that poor pass, worst-case the Cardinals kick a field goal and the game is tied at halftime. Instead, the Cardinals dug themselves a deeper hole and trailed by 10 points. Warner’s final turnover, a fumble, came at midfield as the Cardinals were driving in the waning seconds of the game. The fumble ended all hopes of a comeback for the Cardinals.
Cardinals stud wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald lived up to all the hype in the 4th quarter. He caught 2 touchdown passes, the last of which was a 64-yard pass play which put the Cardinals ahead for the 1st time in the game – 23-20. It also erased the 20-7 4th quarter deficit that the Cardinals faced with under 8 minutes to go in the game. Overall Fitzgerald finished with 7 catches for 127 yards, while Anquan Boldin finished with 8 catches for 84 yards.
You couldn’t ask for a better start to your NFL playoffs Sunday with the opening battle between 2 relentless teams. In the end – – the Arizona Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 on Sunday afternoon to win the NFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 in Tampa Bay, Florida. This is truly an historic game for the Arizona Cardinals organization. The Cardinals had never made it to the Super Bowl in franchise history and had not played in a conference championship game since 1948. Their 3 playoff victories this season already surpasses the total number of playoff victories recorded by the organization since playoffs began in 1933. The Cardinals are the first team to advance to a Super Bowl with only 9 wins in a regular season since the Rams did so back in 1979 (the Rams lost to the Steelers that year). With a total of 12 victories right now, it is the winning-est season for the Cardinals in franchise history.
It was an incredible game to watch as each team’s future Hall of Fame quarterback was at his best for “most” of the contest. First Arizona’s winning quarterback Kurt Warner – 21 of 28 for 279 yards and 4 touchdowns. Warner and the Cardinals exploded for 24 1st half points to take a commanding 24-6 halftime lead. Warner connected with stud wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on touchdown passes of 9 yards, 62 yards and 1 yard to set an NFC Championship Game record. The Cardinals looked like they knew exactly what the Eagles defense was going to do each and every play, and they took advantage of it. But then came the 2nd half. The Cardinals and Warner seemed to play a little bit stiff and the offense couldn’t generate anything consistent. That ineptitude allowed the Eagles to claw their way back into the game.
Second, Philadelphia’s losing quarterback Donovan McNabb – 28 of 47 for 375 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception. The Eagles offense looked bewildered in the 1st half. The Eagles managed only 2 field goals in the 1st half and found themselves trailing the Cardinals 24-6 at halftime. But then came the 2nd half. McNabb and the eagles scored 19 unanswered points in the 3rd and 4th quarters and found themselves with a 25-24 lead with just under 11 minutes to play in the game. McNabb hit Brent Celek with 2 touchdown passes in the 3rd quarter, but after the 2nd one, the Eagles David Akers missed the PAT which kept the score at 24-19. Some analysts questioned whether Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid should have gone for the 2-point conversion at this point to cut the Cardinals lead to 3 points. But since the Eagles had not gone for a 2-point conversion once during the regular season (Reid and his staff is known for not “chasing that point all game long” if you don’t make the 2-point conversion), it was not surprising that Reid sent out Akers for the extra point attempt. After McNabb connected with DeSean Jackson on an acrobatic 62-yard touchdown pass in which Jackson had to tip the ball in the air a few times before he corralled it in for the score, the Eagles were forced to go for 2 points to try to push the lead from 1 point to 2 points. The McNabb pass to Brian Westbrook failed and were stuck at 25-24.
Up until this point, the Cardinals offense had practically nothing to show for itself in the 2nd half. The Cardinals gained only 9 yards in the 3rd quarter, and had its only drive in the 4th quarter stall once they got into Steelers territory. With 10:45 left, the Cardinals now found themselves trailing for the 1st time in the game, with their backs up against the wall. But they found a way to come through in the clutch. Warner orchestrated a 14-play, 72-yard drive that took almost 8 minutes off the clock. The Cardinals converted an all-important 4th and 1 at midfield, which kept the drive alive for the Cardinals. Just a few plays later, Warner connected with Tim Hightower on a 9-yard screen pass and run which gave the Cardinals a 5-point lead. Warner’s 2-point conversion pass to Ben Patrick upped the lead to 7 points and the rest was history. Warner has now probably earned himself a spot in the Hall of Fame. Warner has played in 3 NFC Championship Games, and he has won all 3. Warner was the NFL’s MVP twice in 1999 and 2001 and each year he led his team to the Super Bowl. And now he finds himself back in the big game 8 years later.
On the other side of the ball, McNabb, Reid and the Eagles must be sorely disappointed. Five NFC Championship Games in the last 8 years, and only one trip to the Super Bowl. It doesn’t get any worse than that (except maybe for the 4 straight Super Bowl losses suffered by the Buffalo Bills from 1989 through 1991).
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. Whisenhunt is also taking his team to the Super Bowl in only his 2nd year as Head Coach. Either way, we will have a bright, new head coach earn his 1st Super Bowl win, and that is good for football. May the best team win…
Coming into this year’s playoffs, the Arizona Cardinals had won 2 playoff games in franchise history. After Saturday, the Cardinals had doubled their win total and find themselves hosting the NFC Championship Game on Sunday in Phoenix. How did it happen?
The Cardinals defense has stepped up as of late, and were able to shut down the Atlanta Falcons’ rushing attack in last week’s 30-24 wild card win. And the Cardinals defense showed up big once again on Saturday, forcing 5 Jake Delhomme interceptions and one Delhomme fumble. Although Delhomme has been known to have “off nights” (including a 3-interception game against Tampa Bay and a 4-interception game against the lowly Raiders during the 2008 regular season), none came close to how poorly he played in front of the hometown crowd on Saturday night.
After the Panthers scored on a 9-yard rushing touchdown by Jonathan Stewart on the game’s opening drive, the Cardinals rattled off 33 unanswered points to take control of the game. Kurt Warner threw 2 touchdown passes in the 1st half – 1 to Tim Hightower and 1 to Larry Fitzgerald, Neil Rackers kicked 2 field goals and Edgerrin James added a 4-yard rushing touchdown to give the Cardinals a 27-7 halftime lead. The Cardinals didn’t look back, adding 2 more Neil Rackers field goals in the 2nd half to increase the lead to 33-7. A late Delhomme touchdown pass to Steve Smith just wasn’t enough to will the Panthers back to victory.
Delhomme finished the day an atrocious 17 of 34 for 205 yards. He had 5 interceptions, 1 fumble and 1 touchdown pass, good for a 39.1 passer rating. Because of the turnovers, the Panthers could never get the running game going after the initial drive. DeAngelo Williams finished the game with 12 carries for 63 yards. Jonathan Stewart only had 2 other rushing attempts after he his 9-yard touchdown run. Steve Smith only touched the ball twice – once on a 35-yard pass play and once on the touchdown pass with just 50 seconds left in the game. All in all, Delhomme cost the Panthers the game.
The Cardinals offense was up to the task. The offensive line gave Kurt warner plenty of time to pass the ball – and as we all know, if Warner has time to throw, he will eat you alive. Warner completed 21 of 32 passes for 220 yards. He had 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, good for a 93.2 passer rating. Larry Fitzgerald led the Cardinals receiving corp with 8 catches for a whopping 166 yards, including 1 touchdown reception. The Cardinals aerial attack opened up the door for the running game. Edgerrin James rushed the ball 20 times for 57 yards and 1 touchdown, while Tim Hightower rushed for 76 yards on 17 carries.
The Arizona Cardinals will now host the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. In the only meeting between the 2 teams in 2008, the Eagles crushed the Cardinals 48-20 in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day. Although the teams are different now, the Eagles will likely be favored on the road come Sunday afternoon. Will the Eagles or Cardinals make it 3 in a row – stay tuned football fans…
Donovan McNabb redeemed himself on Thanksgiving Day with an incredible performance. McNabb rewarded head coach Andy Reid who had benched McNabb at halftime of last week’s loss after a slew of turnovers. The Eagles took a 24-7 halftime lead, scored at least 10 points in each quarter and cruised to a 28-point win over the NFC West-leading Cardinals. The Cardinals are not in danger of missing the playoffs in the atrocious NFC West, but their chances of over-taking the New York Giants for home field advantage are all but gone now.
McNabb completed 27 of 39 passes for over 300 yards passing. McNabb threw 4 touchdowns and did not throw an interception – good for a 121.7 passer rating. Eagles running back Brian Westbrook rushed for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns and also caught 4 passes for 20 yards and 2 touchdowns. 4 touchdowns on the day made a LOT of Westbrook fantasy football owners very happy.
On the Cards side, Kurt Warner completed only 21 of 39 passes for only 235 yards. Warner did throw 3 touchdowns passes, but he threw 3 costly interceptions.