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…
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.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the only home team to win in the NFL’s Divisional Playoffs this weekend, taking out the San Diego Chargers with a 35-24 victory. Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers connected with Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson on a 41-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game to give the Chargers an early 7-0 lead. That would be the last time the Chargers had reason to cheer during the long road playoff game. Just 5 minutes later, Steelers return-man Santonio Holmes to a Mike Scifres punt 67 yards to pay-dirt to tie the game at 7. And although the Chargers took a 10-7 lead on a Nate Kaeding 42-yard field goal in the 2nd quarter, the Steelers took a 14-10 lead into halftime when Steelers running back Willie Parker scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with just 40 seconds left in the 1st half. That set off a run of 21 straight points for the Steelers who turned a 10-7 deficit into a 28-10 4th quarter lead. Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller on an 8-yard touchdown pass midway through the 3rd quarter and then Steelers Running Back Gary Russell extended the lead to 18 points with a 1-yard touchdown plunge right at the start of the 4th quarter. The Chargers had no answer for Willie Parker. Parker rushed the ball 27 times for 146 yards and 2 scores – the last of which sealed the victory with just 4 minutes left in the game. Roethlisberger was an efficient 17 of 26 for 181 yards and 1 touchdown. He did not throw an interception – good for a 98.4 passer rating.
Statistically speaking, Philip Rivers had a solid game on the road in a hostile environment for the Chargers. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns. He had 1 interception – good for a 105.4 passer rating. Only problem was, his team wasn’t on the field enough to keep the Chargers in the game – the Steelers won the time of possession battle 36:30 to 23:30 and the Chargers ran only 1 offensive play in the 3rd quarter.
Next up for the Steelers is a battle against the division-rival Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers defeated the Ravens twice during the 2008 regular season, but the Ravens played the Steelers well in both contests. Home field advantage should help the Steelers, and the Steelers defense hopes to pester rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who has played anything like a rookie quarterback during his 2008 inaugural campaign. It should be a fun, smash-mouth AFC Championship Game on Sunday in Pittsburgh – strap on your helmets tight, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride…
The Tennessee Titans defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-14 on Sunday to clinch the best record in the AFC. The Titans will have home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Titans had a balanced attack against a stingy Steelers defense. Kerry Collins was efficient – 20 for 29 for 216 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Chris Johnson rushed for 69 yards and 1 touchdown, while LenDale White rushed for 48 yards and 1 touchdown. Justin Gage led the Titans in receiving with 5 catches for 104 yards and a score. Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 26 of 40 passes for 331 yards and he threw 2 touchdown passes. “Gentle Ben” also threw 2 costly interceptions, however, including an interception that was returned by the Titans Michael Griffin 83 yards for a touchdown that sealed the victory for the Titans with only 18 seconds remaining. The Titans will presumably rest some key players next week in order to gear up, and stay healthy, for the all-important playoff run.
In a surprise upset, the Atlanta Falcons hung on for a 24-17 win over the Vikings in Minnesota. The Vikings could have clinched a 1st place finish in the NFC North and a playoff berth. The Vikings loss opens the door for the Chicago Bears. With a win over the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football tomorrow night, the Bears would move into a tie with the Vikings atop the NFC North. The Vikings would need to win at home next week against the New York Giants in order to secure the division win (they hold the tie-breaker against the Bears), but if the Vikings were to lose and the Bears were to defeat the Texans in Houston, the Bears would be crowned the NFC North kings. Stay tuned for 3 exciting games left to determine the NFC North winner.