Thoughts about the AFC and NFC Championship games:
PITTSBURGH 23, BALTIMORE 14
When a team plays at a high level on a consistent basis, it is easy to take for granted how good that team in. This just in: The Pittsburgh Steelers are really good.
They battled past the Ravens to get to another Super Bowl. And they looked good in the process.
Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was in complete control against a tough Ravens’ defense. The Steelers’ offense put 16 points on the board. They had some success running the ball, no small feat against the Ravens, and Big Ben made some big plays. He also knew when to cut his losses and avoid making the big mistake, preferring to let his defense protect field position.
In addition, Roethlisberger showed how tough he is by taking some fierce hits. He never seems to put up great stats, but Roethlisberger is a winner. He is in complete control of that offense. He plays hurt. He personifies a gritty Steelers’ team.
And let’s not forget that Roethlisberger gets a lot of help from a rugged Pittsburgh defense. Seriously, is there a better defense in the NFL? They held Ravens’ rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to 13 completions in 30 attempts for just 146 yards.
With Pittsburgh up 16-14 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens had the ball with a trip to the Super Bowl in the balance. Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu intercepted Flacco and returned it for the game-clinching touchdown. Polamalu was also huge in helping to stop Flacco on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches earlier in the game.
The Steelers more than showed they belong in the Super Bowl. In the process, they probably showed they are the team to beat.
ARIZONA 32, PHILADELPHIA 25
Great stories never get old in sports. That’s why it is hard to root against the Cardinals. Even diehard Eagles fans have to acknowledge that what the Cardinals have done in getting to their first Super Bowl is at least a really good story.
Was that really Kurt Warner engineering a 72 yard game-winning touchdown drive for the Cardinals? This was the same team that limped to a 9-7 record and got into the playoffs thanks in part by playing in a weak division.
Yet here they are in Super Bowl XLIII after an impressive performance against Philadelphia.
Warner, the former Arena Football League quarterback who once stocked grocery shelves to help pay the bills, wears a different uniform and has a different supporting cast than he did when he led the Greatest Show On Turf to a Super Bowl title with the Rams.
Warner has persevered and is playing really well. He has two big-time receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals have enough of a running game to usually keep a defense honest. And Arizona’s defense has been tough in the playoffs, save for a stretch in the second half when the Eagles overcame a 24-6 deficit.
No one player is usually responsible for a football team’s success. Such is the case with Warner and the Cardinals. It is also tough to say any one person represents the best story.
But in my opinion, it’s tough to find a better one for the Cardinals than Warner, the been-there, done that quarterback who gets another shot to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Deep down, I find it virtually impossible to root against this guy.
What stood out for you in the conference championship games? Thanks for reading and posting your thoughts.