Here are six quick-hit observations on the Steelers’ 23-13 win over the Ravens in the AFC Championship.
1. My thoughts go out to Willis McGahee.
McGahee took a hell of a pop from Steelers’ defensive back Ryan Clark and appeared to be knocked out before he even hit the ground. It looked like Clark was trying to turn his body to level a shoulder hit on McGahee, but clearly caught him with his helmet first. Not that it was intentional, but Clark should have been flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Regardless, McGahee was carted off the field on a stretcher and my thoughts go out to him. Word is he was talking and moving his legs, which is a positive sign. This is just one of the many examples of how nasty the game of football is. Hopefully both McGahee and Clark (who was also shaken up on the play) return to full health and no permanent damage was suffered by the collision.
2. Joe Flacco’s inexperience was bound to catch up with him.
Flacco was perfect the last two weeks because he didn’t turn the ball over and allowed his running game and defense to win games. But all rookies (even good ones like Flacco) are bound to make mistakes and the young signal caller certainly did tonight. He threw three interceptions, with the one to Troy Polomalu in the fourth quarter being the most damaging. It looked like offensive coordinator Cam Cameron didn’t want to handcuff Flacco and allowed him to throw down field, which wasn’t the problem. At some point, you’re going to have to take cracks down field in order to get the Steelers’ defense on their heels. But clearly Flacco rushed some of his throws and tried to force the action when it wasn’t there. His performance Sunday reminded me a lot of Ben Roethlisberger’s play in the 2005 AFC Championship Game against the Patriots. Big Ben (who was a rookie at the time) tried to make plays happen by throwing down field and New England ate him alive. The next season Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory and just like Big Ben did, Flacco will learn from this performance and continue to develop. He’s got a bright future.
3. Let Big Ben do his thing.
Ben Roethlisberger has to scare the beajesus out of his teammates, coaches and fans with the way he plays the game. He hangs onto the ball way too long and sometimes it costs his team dearly because he takes sacks and turns the ball over. But with the way he escapes the pocket and the grasp of would-be tacklers to find receivers that have shaken loose in the secondary, you have to let him play his game. Does he take unnecessary sacks? Without a doubt. Should he be more careful with the football? Yes. But how many times does he keep plays and drives alive by waiting those extra seconds? No coach should recommend that their quarterback play the way he does, but it clearly works for Big Ben and once again, he’s led the Steelers to another Super Bowl despite lining up behind the weakest offensive line of his career.
4. How does Troy Polomalu do it?
Granted, Joe Flacco threw the ball right to him, but Polomalu’s pivotal interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter was yet another example of how good the safety is. How does he always seem to be in the right place at the right time? Well the fact that he never takes plays off has a lot to do with it, but he also has some of the best instincts in the game. Sure, he’ll whiff on plays at times, but even the best defenders miss tackles in the open field. Polomalu consistently is one of the best playmakers in the game and what was great about his pick tonight wasn’t the actual interception, but the return. The play never stopped for him and thanks to a bevy of blocks, he was able to find open space and reach the end zone to turn the game on its head.
5. Way to bounce back, Limas Sweed.
Sweed went from goat to quiet hero over the course of this game. His drop at the end of the second half was a killer because not only was it right in his bread basket, but he was also all alone and would have walked into the end zone. Granted, he should have never had the opportunity to drop the pass because the Steelers got a gift from the officials after a phantom roughing the kicker call on the Ravens, but back to the topic on hand…. Sweed’s drop (his second in as many weeks) was awful, but he made one of the better plays of the game when he turned into a defender late in the third quarter by knocking the ball loose on a pass play in the end zone when it looked like Frank Walker was going to come down with a huge interception. Thanks to Sweed’s play, the Steelers salvaged the drive with a 46-yard Jeff Reed field goal to go up 16-7 with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter. It was a play that will go largely unnoticed (especially compared to his easy drop), but Sweed deserves credit for not disappearing after his embarrassing drop.
6. Cardinals vs. Steelers? I like it.
A lot of football fans consider the Cardinals one of the worst teams to ever make the postseason and will no doubt refer to Arizona as one of the worst teams to ever play in a Super Bowl. But with the way the Cardinals’ offense is clicking, an Arizona-Pittsburgh matchup is intriguing. Some will write this game off as an easy win for the Steelers because their defense will get pressure on Kurt Warner and shut the Cards’ dynamic passing game down. But if we’ve learned anything from this postseason it’s that the Cardinals come to play.
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Posted in: NFL
Tags: AFC Championship Game, Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Kurt Warner vs. Steelers, Limas Sweed, Limas Sweed's drop vs. Ravens, NFL Championship Games, Pittsburgh Steelers, Ryan Clark, Ryan Clark's hit on Willis McGahee, Steelers beat Ravens, Steelers beat Ravens to head to Super Bowl, Steelers-Ravens AFC Championship Game recap, Super Bowl XLIII Cardinals vs. Steelers, Troy Polomalu, Troy Polomalu's interception vs. Ravens, Willis McGahee