Monday, January 19, 2009
Remember the hypothetical years ago that asked what would happen first; a Black President of the United States or the Cardinals in the Super Bowl?
I guess we may have to get a ruling on who wins based on technicalities, but wait no longer Cardinals fans. All 4,000 of you who were there when the team played at Sun Devil Stadium, and the no-doubt millions who have joined you since have great reason to celebrate. You have won the NFC.
Meanwhile, a perfect demonstration on home field advantage and the bye week being important were on display in Pittsburgh where the war of attrition finally took down the Ravens. The Steelers used both of those old playoff truths and combined them with “rookie QB’s cannot win in the playoffs” to finally take down Rookie Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens with a solid nightcap to Championship Sunday.
So, who are the two coaches who will meet in Super Bowl 43? Mike Tomlin and Ken Whisenhunt meet in 2 weeks after being hired at virtually the same time 24 months ago as largely anonymous hires when Bill Cowher stepped down and Dennis Green was fired. Whisenhunt was actually interviewed by the Steelers for their opening before they decided to hire Tomlin. Mike Tomlin gets the Steelers job after 1 year as a coordinator, and is the 3rd consecutive coach who is in his 30’s to get the job in Pittsburgh.
The biggest story of the weekend has to be the return of Kurt Warner to the Super Bowl. What is crazier than a guy coming out of absolutely nowhere to take his team to the Super Bowl? How about a guy doing it twice? He comes out of the grocery store and take the Rams to the top of the league – then disappears to the scrap heap, and somehow emerges again to take the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl at the age of 37? Really? Is this happening?
Regardless, 4 has become 2. A very unlikely pairing in Tampa. Here are some observations from the Championship Sunday:
NFC Championship Game – Philadelphia at Arizona:
• With 1 game yet to play, Larry Fitzgerald already holds the NFL Record for most receiving yards in one playoff run. His 420 yards beat out the 409 Jerry Rice had in 1988. Rice had his in 3 games, and Fitzgerald beat his mark in 3 games as well. Now, with that 4th game to come, Larry can put it out of reach. His performances the last two weeks – especially when Anquan Boldin has not been healthy – have been amazing. I certainly thought that Philadelphia, having seen what happened in Charlotte, would make someone other than #11 beat them. But, it was quite clear that is easier said than done. I know Pittsburgh will try to figure something out, but is he just too good to game-plan against? I am starting to wonder.
• What happened to David Akers yesterday? As far as money kickers go, he is right there at the top of my list. But, yesterday, nothing went right for the Eagles kicker, and perhaps they lost the game because of him. A missed FG, a missed X-pt, and a kick out of bounds was not very money in a really big spot. When you go 45-45 on extra points in the season, you should not be a candidate to shank one at a crucial spot.
• The final drive the Eagles had, down 7 and facing a 4th and 10, came down to one play. It looked like the throw was there to Kevin Curtis and it looked like the Receiver was ready to make the catch until Rod Hood ran up the back of his leg. I thought a pretty clear Pass Interference. You certainly hate to see a game decided on a call, but you also hate to see the game decided on a non-call. I think that was a pretty large non-call.
• I hope you enjoyed the flashback to the big Cardinals-Eagles rivalry from 1947 and 1948. It could just be me, but that sure doesn’t look like the same sport they are playing, does it?
• How do you judge Donovan McNabb’s day? He was very shaky early, then engineered a very impressive rally, and then with the game on the line again, had some very poor throws late in the game. In the playoffs, there are rare opportunities for home run passes, and McNabb missed quite a few chances for points during the game. It seems that the Eagles should have had more points than they did. The Eagles defense betrayed them on Sunday, but I think #5 has had better moments in big spots, too. Now, 1-4 in Championship Games and 0-1 in Super Bowls has Donovan with a pretty large burden on his back when it comes to his legacy and his ability to win the big games. Surely a tough fate for a guy who threw for 375, but I just thought plays were there all day for him.
• Lost plenty of respect for Anquan Boldin during the biggest drive in Cardinals history. His petulant fit with Todd Haley with 5:30 to go in the game instead of staying on point is another example of the new NFL. In this new league, if a player thinks he is right and the coach is wrong, he then feels compelled to show up the coach and rant and rave regardless of how it looks and how many millions see it. But of course, he is another WR diva starring in their own movie, who is also the pride of the Florida triangle (Miami, Florida, or Florida State) where respect for authority is an elective. Sorry behavior indeed. But, in the new NFL, there are plenty to excuse this petulance.
• I think the Cardinals got better when they did this .
• Have you ever seen a more beautiful play than the Arrington throw back to Warner who tossed a 62 yard strike to Larry Fitz? Absolute poetry in motion. Certainly had any student of Whisenhunt thinking back to Super Bowl 40 when Antwaan Randle El hit Hines Ward deep on the only WR TD Pass in Super Bowl history. Whisenhunt was the play caller that day, and it would seem he has a good feel for when to call the trick play, no?
AFC Championship Game – Baltimore at Pittsburgh:
• I think if these two teams played each-other every week, I would most likely be a regular viewer. It is rare to find defenses that are as good as they claim to be, but Baltimore and Pittsburgh are really that good. They hit, they run, they hit, they scheme, and then they hit. What physically punishing defenses! Love it.
• In the last two months, I think we all know that Santonio Holmes is a big play Wide Receiver. He hurt the Cowboys. He hurt the Ravens. He hurt the Chargers. And he hurt the Ravens again. I am not sure Ben Roethlisberger is a prolific passer when it comes to QB ratings and completion percentage, but he sure has a knack for a big play in a big spot. He also has the knack for winning playoff games, and with a 7-2 playoff record at this point of his career, it would seem that his critics have a lot of evidence working against them.
• I love the media getting carried away. And they are guilty of getting carried away with Joe Flacco. Is he a rookie? Yes. Was he the QB of a team that won in the playoffs? Yes. But, did he have much to do with the win? No. The stats don’t lie. 3 games, 33 completions on 75 passes. 437 yards in 3 games (145 yards per game) and 1 Touchdown. So, if playoff wins are the sole decider on which QB is better than the next, Joe Flacco has 2 playoff wins already. But, the Ravens passing game had almost nothing to do with it. And his pass to Polamalu ended the game. Promising kid, but let’s simmer down.
• Troy Polamalu may be my favorite player in the NFL. Watching Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, Adrian Wilson, and Polamalu play safety is such a pleasure. The complete disregard for their bodies and the ability to fly around the field is just amazing. The big plays they make, the momentum that they can change with one moment, the leadership for their teams. And to think that just 3 years ago, I took the wild stand that Roy Williams is not in this class , despite what Sporting News claimed, and was opened up to ridicule from the Cowboys fans….
• Le’Ron McClain was clearly not healthy, and therefore Willis McGahee took center stage in his best “remember me?” Edgerrin James impression. Willis looked pretty salty for most of the night until the huge collision he sustained with Ryan Clark’s helmet. McGahee’s health is still a concern this morning for everyone but the music guy at Heinz Field who wants to roll another CCR tune.
• Limas Sweed needs to learn how to catch, it would appear. Downfield blocks,
however, do not seem to be an area of weakness.
• MVP of the AFC Championship game? Ravens Specialist Darren Stone. Former Cowboys special teams player who was actually with the Cowboys for about 9 days this October, committed an absolute killer of a personal foul when he threw Anthony Madison to the ground about 15 yards out of bounds on a punt return with under 7 minutes to go in the 4th Quarter and the Ravens down 16-14. If he did nothing, the Ravens get the ball at the 40 after the return. But, because of Stone’s stupidity, it cost the Ravens 26 yards, and they took over at their own 14. They never made it back to the 40, because Polamalu picked off the pass a few plays later and the game was over. Not saying the Ravens were going to win, but taking over at your 40 when all you need is a FG is not impossible.
• Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, and Bart Scott are all unrestricted free agents. Don’t think Suggs and Scott are going to be offered the moon?
Well, we are down to 2 teams, 13 days, and a trip to Tampa in our NFL Season. 2008, a year where many people learned why you don’t gamble. There is no predicting the NFL this year.