Archive for February, 2009

Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

Kudos to Arizona for playing such a competitive game.  They played Pittsburgh tougher than a lot of folks thought they would.  Still, I think Pittsburgh came really close to gifting this game to the Cardinals.
Pittsburgh was fortunate to win despite having nine plays inside the Arizona 5 yard line and netting only six points on two field goals.  I also don’t like that the Steelers finally got tired of the passes out the flats and came up in defense, leaving Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald open in the second half.  You can have your cake, but you can’t also eat it.  If you don’t want to get burned by Boldin or (especially!) Fitzgerald then defend them and let the Cardinals have the flats.
I also think the MVP should have gone to James Harrison.  His interception return for a touchdown was a 14 point swing there, which was the difference in the game.  Without it, the score could just as easily have been Pittsburgh 20, Arizona 30.  Sure Santonio Holmes had a good day and made a spactacular catch in the last minute of the game to put the Steelers on top, but he’s paid to make those catches.  His contribution was made in the final minute on the go ahead touchdown and so garners the attention.  Fitzgerald actually had the better statistical game.  Why not give it to him?  Ben Roethlisberger was the man making plays on the Pittsburgh offense – his INT was one of those pops at the line that becomes a centerfield fly ball the middle linebacker just has to sit under to catch.
Some may say the penalties really hurt the Cardinals.  I think the worst of it was on Pittsburgh’s 3rd quarter scoring drive, which only netted three points after six attempts at the end zone from inside the 5 yard line.  The Steelers demonstrated their own lack of discipline in the fourth quarter when they absolutely should have been putting the hammer down on Arizona.  And then, as I stated above, they got tired of getting dink-n-dunked by the swing and flat routes, came up, and got burned.
Pittsburgh’s offense stepped up to the plate at the end though, something I wasn’t sure was going to happen.  And the defense got to cap it off with a sack of Kurt Warner and forced fumble in the final seconds.
Pittsburgh wins one for the other hand and makes a strong case for being in that elite echelon with New England.  I suspect the team will still be strong next year and back in the post season despite their tough division.
Arizona has some really good coaching and their performance in the Super Bowl will give them some leverage when it comes time to getting and keeping free agents.  Still, they’re in a division that gave the crown to the Cardinals because nobody else stepped up to the plate.  The Seattle Seahawk look to have had a really off year.  And I think the San Francisco 49ers are ascendant.  (The St Louis Rams will continue to be terrible for the foreseeable future.)  In the past six years, only Seattle returned to the post season after losing in the Super Bowl.  Arizona should enjoy the run the made while they can and prepare to make another one all over again next year.

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Some quick words on the conference championship round before the Super Bowl kicks off.
Baltimore 14, Pittsburgh 23
This was such a fun game to watch.  Defense, defense, defense.  The defenses dictated the game.  Brutal hitting and so few opportunities upon which to capitalize.  Pittsburgh missed more opportunities (Limas Sweed’s drop down the left sideline comes to mind) but they were the better overall team and were able to overcome what must have been an exhausted Baltimore defense.  Joe Flacco had the sort of game a rookie quarterback will have against the Steelers D.  If he matures as a quarterback, this could be a powerful rivalry moving forward.
There is no tougher team in football right now than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Philadelphia 25, Arizona 32
As I stated HERE, I think Arizona outcoached Carolina and suggested that the same might happen in the Philadelphia game.  Well, that came to pass.  The Cardinals scored on every possession in the first half but one and put three TDs on the board on three of their four scoring drives.  The Eagles, however, stalled on Arizona’s half of the field and only netted two figgies on three attempts.
The Eagles made a great halftime adjustment and came out hot in the 3rd quarter.  After fumbling on their opening drive, Philly held Arizona to -4 net yards.  The Eagles maintained possession of the football for 12:25 in the 3rd while racking up 13 points on two TDs (and a missed PAT, ugh).  They finally went up 25-24 in the fourth with another TD, missing the two point conversion.
Arizona was able to answer with a 7:42 drive culminating in a TD and a successful two point conversion.  Three minutes should have been enough for Donovan McNabb to make something happen.  But he looked inconsistent on this final drive and Arizona was able to hold on for the win.
I honestly believe that Arizona used their experiences earlier in the year against both Carolina and Philadelphia to draw up competitive gameplans against them in the playoffs.  Philly at least made a solid halftime adjustment and made a game of it in the second half.  But I have to wonder if Arizona finally caught on in the 4th quarter.
If Arizona’s coaching staff is largely responsible for this miraculous run they’re on, their familiarity with the Pittsburgh organization (head coach Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl LX Pittsburgh team and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm was Pittsburgh’s offensive line coach) could prove a problem for the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

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