January 19, 2009
By Donald Starver
For the seventh time, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing in the Super Bowl. Only the Dallas Cowboys, with 8 Super Bowl appearances, have been there more often. But with a win, the Steelers will stand alone with 6 Super Bowl victories, the most in NFL history.
Like the highways in Pittsburgh, the road to Super Bowl XLIII was full of potholes. The biggest pothole was the Baltimore Ravens.
After beating the Ravens twice in the regular season, the Steelers had the unenviable task of trying to beat them for a third time. The Ravens were a team on a roll, and beating them was not going to be easy.
We predicted before the game that the team that avoided turnovers was likely to win the game. This proved to be true. Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco was the first rookie quarterback to win 2 playoff games, but the AFC Championship proved to be too large a stage for the promising freshman. Flacco threw 3 interceptions, and ended up with a quarterback rating of 18.2 (no, that’s not a typo). Flacco was also sacked three times.
The Ravens also had 3 fumbles during the game, but they only lost one of those. Likewise, the Steelers had 2 fumbles and lost one. Thus, the fumbles basically canceled one another out. But the interceptions proved to be the deciding factor in the game.
As everyone expected, this was a defensive struggle which pitted the top two defenses in the NFL. The Ravens proved to be very difficult to run on, as they held Willie Parker to just 47 yards on 24 carries. That’s an average of only 2 yards per carry.
Fortunately, the Steelers’ defense proved to be just as stingy. The Steelers held the Ravens to only 198 net yards from scrimmage.
The Steelers probably should have had several more scores. A touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes was called back when the Ravens issued a challenge. Later in the game, Ben Roethlisberger threw a sure touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Limas Sweed. Sweed, as has become his pattern, got great separation from his defender, but then dropped a pass that was right in his hands. To make matters worse, Sweed was so embarassed because he dropped the pass that he faked an injury after the play. The faux injury cost the Steelers a timeout. The lack of that timeout prevented the Steelers from stopping the clock to bring in the field goal unit at the end of the quarter. Hopefully, Sweed has learned that personal pride can cost his team dearly.
After allowing the Ravens to stick around far too long, the Steelers finally pulled away and won the game 23-14.
The final nail in the Ravens’ coffin was an interception by Troy Polamalu that he returned for a touchdown. That was one of many great plays in the game by Polamalu.
There were several scares in the game. The Steelers lost wide receiver Hines Ward early in the game with a knee injury. Ward is scheduled to have an MRI tomorrow. The Ravens saw running back Willis McGahee carted off on a stretcher after a vicious hit by Steelers’ safety Ryan Clark. Clark knocked himself silly on the play as well, but he was able to leave the field under his own power (although he was extremely wobbly while doing so).
It should be noted that the Steelers have given up fewer than 100 total yards rushing in their two playoff games COMBINED. That’s some pretty stingy defense.
So now the Steelers move on to Tampa to take on the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. That’s right, the Arizona Cardinals. It must be snowing in Hell.
The Cardinals (also known as the Steelers West) defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 in the NFC Championship game to move on to their first Super Bowl. The obvious Pittsburgh connections on that Cardinals team adds several storylines that are going to be beat to death by the media over the next two weeks. You know, Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm were candidates for the position that ultimately went to Mike Tomlin. Larry Fitzgerald went to Pitt. Several (most?) Cardinal players used to play for the Steelers. Blah blah blah. Yeah, I’m sick of hearing it already.
On to the Super Bowl.
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