Arizona continues its wild ride in the playoffs, while Pittsburgh makes a rookie QB look like a rookie.
By Jim Buzinski
Super Bowl 43 set: Congratulations to the Arizona Cardinals, who are about to win their first Super Bowl. I say that with confidence since I am picking the Pittsburgh Steelers to win. I am 3-7 picking winners in the playoffs and 2-8 vs. the spread, so the Cardinals can start making plans for a victory parade.
I think the Cardinals are one of the weakest teams to reach the Super Bowl, and the first one to lose four regular season games by 21 or more points. They are also only the second 9-7 team (along with the 1979 Los Angeles Rams) to make the Super Bowl. They got lucky in getting two home playoff games -- both against teams with better regular season records -- another reason the NFL needs to change the way it seeds its playoffs.
|Larry Fitzgerald looks studious off the field, but he's a total stud on it.|
The fun bunch: I watched both games at my good friend JP’s, proud papa of 2-month-old Hayden, along with Cyd, Jim Allen and LZ Granderson of ESPN.
Here is how it went – JP, a Titans fan, was still cursing the refs, the Ravens, the Titans and mankind in general for the previous week’s Titans’ playoff flameout. Jim Allen was wishing a major knee injury on any player that he perceived was hot-dogging (I think it was at about a half-dozen by day’s end). Cyd actually praised Peyton Manning at one point, making me believe that the real Cyd must have been kidnapped and replaced by a football-savvy space alien. LZ made a bunch of reasonable football points, save for his off-the-rails irrational rants against my man Peyton that sounded like something that one of those weird old ladies with 50 cats would say. LZ is a Lions fan, though, which means he is not used to watching quality football, so he gets easily confused. And young Hayden just drooled, drank his milk and fell asleep, kind of like me when I watch baseball.
Cardinals 32, Eagles 25: The NFC Title Game was a wild one, that saw the Cards jump to a 24-6 lead, then the Eagles score 19 points in a row to take a 25-24 lead. Arizona put together a clutch, 14-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that consumed 7:52 and gave the Cardinals the lead for good. The key play was the Cardinals converting a fourth-and-1 at midfield on a wide run by Tim Hightower. An Eagles defender had a shot to nail Hightower for a loss, but a great block by Arizona fullback Terrell Smith gave enough of a hole for Hightower to get past the first down sticks.
Can’t get it done: The Eagles are now 1-4 in the NFC Title Games in the Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb era and have lost three of them while being the favorite. They never seem totally ready for these big games and Sunday they fell so far behind that their rally only gave them a one-point lead. Their defense then failed to make a stop on the season’s most critical drive. Toss in a missed field goal and extra point by David Akers and it spelled another playoff disappointment. On his final drive, McNabb went 0 for his last 4 passes, prompting this spot-on observation from Philly Runner on our Discussion Board:
While McNabb is a decent QB that most teams would want, the thing he is not good at is coming from behind in a drive in the last two minutes of a playoff game to win it.
Like ‘em, hate ‘em: I am very happy that Arizona’s Edgerrin James has a chance at a Super Bowl title. I loved him as a Colt and Peyton Manning called him the best teammate he’s ever had (high praise). On the other hand, seeing Kurt Warner win a ring will make me puke. He’s the worst kind of religious fanatic, arrogantly shoving it in everyone’s face (watch this clip of him worrying that friends and family might go to hell). Warner is a sanctimonious ass and I hope he gets his clock cleaned by the Steelers.
Styling: Man, was Larry Fitzgerald looking good in his postgame interview on the NFL Network. A great suit, some awesome glasses, a killer smile and a humble demeanor. It’s hard not to be a fan of the guy.
Steelers 23, Ravens 14: The Steelers were the better team, though the Ravens came back from a 13-0 deficit to make it interesting. I fault the Ravens’ play calling that put the ball in the hands of rookie QB Joe Flacco at the expense of their running game. The Ravens threw eight of their first nine plays and had 30 passes and 25 runs; that ratio is not good for a team that excels at the run and has a vague concept of the forward pass. Flacco was awful, going 13 for 30 with three interceptions, but boo to his coaches for calling way too many first-down pass plays. This played into the strength of a Steelers defense that thrives on getting teams into second- and –third-and-long situations, where their creative zone blitz package can wreak havoc.
Helmet to helmet?: Late in the game, Ravens running back Willis McGahee was leveled by Pittsburgh’s Ryan Clark after catching a pass. McGahee fumbled and laid motionless on the field for a long time before being wheeled off on a cart (he apparently has a concussion and will be OK). There was a huge debate between Cyd, JP and LZ over whether Clark should have been flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, with LZ saying it was clean and the other two disagreeing. I felt Clark led with his shoulder and would not have flagged him.
Here is the NFL rule on helmet-to-helmet hits:
"Using any part of a player’s helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/hairline parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily; although such violent or unnecessary use of the helmet is impermissible against any opponent, game officials will give special attention in administering this rule to protect those players who are in virtually defenseless postures."
I think Clark’s hit was not against a defenseless player and was not an attempt to butt, spear or ram. He was making a legit tackle against a hard-charging runner and led with his shoulder, even though there was helmet-to-helmet contact. Check out the lively debate on this on Pro Football Talk.
Long after the game ended and as they were leaving JP’s, Cyd and LZ acted out the play. In their reenactment there was somehow no contact, so that was pretty useless in settling things. But at least we all left laughing.