Final Thoughts: Anthony & John wrap-up Super Bowl XLV

Super Bowl MVP and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers celebrates alongside teammate Clay Matthews after winning Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on February 6, 2011. The Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 to win. UPI/Brian Kersey

On most “morning afters,” Anthony and I will discuss the big game over Skype as we go about our work day. Since this is the Super Bowl, we thought we’d have a quick conversation in our usual barstool debate format. Super Bowl XLV was extra special for me, a die-hard Packer fan, while Anthony was rooting for the Packers for…ahem…other reasons.

JP: On Friday I wrote a piece entitled “As a Packer fan, here’s what I’m worried about…” and listed (1) Mike McCarthy’s conservative playcalling, (2) not being able to stop Rashard Mendenhall, (3) the Packers not playing a clean game, (4) that the O-line wouldn’t be able to protect Aaron Rodgers, (5) that the Green Bay receivers wouldn’t be able to hold onto the ball and (6) that the Packers wouldn’t be able to bring down Big Ben as the six biggest things I was worried about heading into the game. Whew, that was a long sentence. Anyway, of those concerns, the biggest issue was the 4-6 drops by the Green Bay receivers, and even they made enough plays to make up for it. Jordy Nelson came back after a drop with a big first down catch and run in the second half, while James Jones made a couple of nice grabs on the Packers’ two fourth quarter scoring drives to make up for his awful drop in the third quarter. Mendenhall was running well (4.5 ypc), but he only got 14 carries when he should have had 20 – and his fumble (and subsequent Rodgers-to-Jennings TD) in the fourth quarter completely changed the game. The O-line played well, McCarthy didn’t retreat into his turtle shell when the Packers had the lead, and GB got enough pressure on Big Ben to rattle him a little – Nick Collins’ interception return TD was obviously a huge play in the first half. The special teams dodged a bullet when they recovered Tramon Williams’ first quarter fumble and on the whole played a reasonably clean game. Well enough to win, anyway. You wrote in your wrap-up that you didn’t think it was a very well-played game. The Steelers made some serious mistakes, but I thought the Packers played a pretty good game.

AS: Outside of the drops I would agree with you, John. If it weren’t for the drops and a few passes that were off the mark in the third quarter, Aaron Rodgers played a near-perfect game. Some will say that the Steelers didn’t pressure him, but they did. He was just that good. Most of his passes were accurate and he did a great job of standing in the pocket and setting his feet. On the other side, there were a handful of passes that Big Ben short-armed in the first half because he didn’t set his feet properly. There was a huge difference in the play of the two quarterbacks and that reflected in the final score. Big Ben put together a nice second quarter when Dom Capers was scrambling to adjust to the injuries of Charles Woodson and Sam Shields, but Roethlisberger came up short in the end. Think about it: the Packers were without two of their top three corners for nearly two and a half quarters and Big Ben produced a 77.4 QB Rating. That’s weak. As a Packer fan how nervous were you when Woodson went down? I thought they might have been it for Green Bay.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson (21) defends against Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace in the third quarter during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on February 6, 2011. UPI/Brian Kersey

JP: I was nervous about the Woodson injury. I saw the Cardinals shred the Packer pass defense in last year’s playoffs and that was with Woodson in the lineup. I thought the Green Bay offense really needed to come out and put some points up on the board to help the defense because there’s no way that the D was going to hold the Steelers to 10 points or less in the final two quarters without Woodson and probably Shields. Shields came back and played ok. It helped that the Steelers were without Emmanuel Sanders, but Woodson is obviously the bigger loss. I didn’t think Big Ben played very well. From the two picks to his spotty throws on that final drive – he just wasn’t sharp. The Packers stopped blitzing for the most part and hung back, forcing Roethlisberger to find the open man and make a good throw and he didn’t make them pay. Clay Matthews stopped rushing the passer and basically acted as a spy, so Big Ben wasn’t able to make any plays late with his legs. Though he did have that nice run at the end of the first quarter after tweaking his knee, which was impressive. In the end Aaron Rodgers was the much better QB, which is funny considering all the talk about Big Ben’s legacy had he won a third Super Bowl. It’s funny – Roethlisberger played pretty poorly in his first SB (123 yards, 2 INT), and played well in his second in the win over the Cardinals two years ago. Last night, I think most people would agree that he just wasn’t sharp. Do you think all the talk about his offseason behavior (and redemption) had a psychological effect? That’s a lot of pressure to put on oneself.

AS: I don’t know, that’s a good question. It certainly could have had an effect on him, although I thought the entire Pittsburgh team just came out flat. Like you said, Big Ben wasn’t very sharp and it showed on the first drive. I thought Bruce Arians made a mistake when he decided to take a shot deep when the Steelers were backed up to their 7-yard line late in the first quarter. The Packers had just scored to take a 7-0 lead, but Mendenhall had just ripped Green Bay’s front seven for 24 yards on two carries in the previous drive. The vertical passing game was the Steelers’ bread and butter all season but I felt in that situation, it would have paid off if Arians were more conservative. Could you imagine what a long scoring drive could have done for the Steelers in that situation? They could have controlled the tempo of the game and instead, Big Ben’s arm gets hit, Nick Collins has an incredible return and Green Bay takes a 14-0 lead. That was huge. From Arians’ decision to throw in that situation, to Mike Tomlin’s call to try a 52-yard attempt in the third quarter with a weak field goal kicker to Dick LeBeau’s strategy in the first quarter, I thought Pittsburgh’s coaching staff had a bad night. What did you think of McCarthy and Capers’ overall performance? I thought both were outstanding.

Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins celebrates his 37-yard interception run back for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first quarter during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on February 6, 2011. UPI/Brian Kersey

JP: The Packer defense struggled on the Steelers’ final drive of the first half due to the injuries to Woodson and Shields, but was otherwise solid. There wasn’t much pressure on Roethlisberger, but Howard Green did get to him on that long pass that was intercepted by Collins. They gave up 25 points and the run defense looked bad at times, but on the whole, Capers called a good game, especially late. McCarthy stayed aggressive throughout and didn’t bother trying to run the ball too much, which has been an issue all year. He knew he had the hottest QB in the league, and he let him do his thing. Starks was effective enough (he actually averaged 4.7 ypc, which was more than Mendenhall’s 4.5) and was at least a threat that the Steelers had to account for. I really wanted Green Bay to punch it in on that field goal drive and put the game away, but that’s been a problem all year, and the defense has been up to the task this season. It’s funny – Rodgers took a lot of flack two years ago for not winning games in the fourth quarter, but he had a few potential game-winning drives that year that the defense squandered. This year, they’ve been able to close the door on those final drives and Rodgers is your Super Bowl MVP. Which leads me to a question I’ve been asking you throughout this season – as a Falcons fan, would you trade Matt Ryan for Aaron Rodgers now?!? Also, where do you think Rodgers stands in terms of QB play at this point? Is he up there with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and where does he stand in relation to Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger? I thought it was funny that Brady was just announced as the first unanimous MVP when 2010 will be remembered as the season of Aaron Rodgers.

AS: Matty Ice will win one next year – you’ll see. You’ll see! As of this morning, yes I would trade Matt Ryan for Aaron Rodgers. But I hope that those two quarterbacks will become what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been for years and a new rivalry is born. Brady has three Super Bowl wins, is a two-time Super Bowl winner and a two-time NFL MVP. I think he’s still in a league of his own, but Rodgers is now in the same company as Big Ben, Peyton and Brees. When a quarterback can consistently put up great numbers and wins a Super Bowl, he almost becomes untouchable. There’s an obvious difference between Rodgers and Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. All three of those quarterbacks have Super Bowl rings but clearly they’re not in the same class. The same cannot be said for Big Ben, Peyton, Brees and now Rodgers. Those guys are elite. Eli Manning was viewed differently when he won a Super Bowl, although he’s a classic example of how things can change in just a matter of years. People are starting to wonder about his abilities again. Anyway, there’s no doubt Rodgers cemented his status among the elite quarterbacks in this game. And I think because of him and Ted Thompson’s ability to build rosters, the Packers could turn into a dynasty. It’s way too early to start that talk of course, but that’s how good I think this team is. Everyone knows they weren’t a typical No. 6 seed and they proved it by winning three-straight road playoff games and then beating a team in the Super Bowl that had won two championships in the last six years.

JP: Do you think Brett Favre was rooting for his old teammates still on the Packer roster or was he hoping that Rodgers and Green Bay wouldn’t win a title without him?

AS: I don’t know Favre personally, so it’s unfair for me to say that he would be the type of guy that would openly root for his former teammates to lose without him. That said, this is the same guy who made it personal with Ted Thompson when he was the one that put Thompson in a bad spot two years ago. I’ve never bought into this idea that Thompson chose Rodgers over Favre. Twice the Packers welcomed Favre back with open arms and twice Brett said he would stay retired. It wasn’t until after Thompson (who must think about what’s best for the Packers, remember, and not one player) decided to commit to Rodgers that Favre said, “Hey, hey! I’m back!” He retired his way out of Green Bay and then said that he wanted to stick it to Thompson. Give me a break. So getting back to your question, I wouldn’t be surprised if Favre truly wanted the Packers to fail without him. It’s no secret that he has a gigantic ego, so would anyone be shocked if he wanted Green Bay to go down in flames? What’s your take being a former Favre backer?

JP: You don’t know Favre personally? I thought you were big texting buddies. Hmm. Favre used to be my favorite player but I absolutely loathed him over the last two years after he retired his way to the Vikings so he could stick it to his old team. I didn’t have a problem with him when he played for the Jets, but it’s clear that it wasn’t just about playing football over the last two years. He wanted to play against the Packers and prove that they made a mistake (which they didn’t). I celebrated when his season went down in flames and for the Packers to win the Super Bowl in the same year, it’s been something of a dream come true. As for Favre, I can’t see him rooting for the Packers last night. A Green Bay win would be the ultimate culmination of Thompson’s decision to hand the reins to Rodgers. In fact, it’s probably a disservice to Rodgers to even be talking about Favre after his performance this postseason, though it will be interesting to see how Favre is able to resurrect his image with Packer fans in Wisconsin. Will time heal all wounds? We’ll see. So I read in your wrap-up that you didn’t find the game to be very entertaining…I can’t speak objectively, but it was high scoring and close for much of the second half. Have we gotten a little spoiled with the exciting Super Bowls of recent years?

Green Bay Packers linebacker Bishop Desmond is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers center Doug Legursky after Desmond picked up a fumble in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on February 6, 2011. Looking on are Green Bay Packers safety Charlie Peprah and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Packers won 31-25. UPI/Jon Soohoo

AS: Like I wrote in my recap, I felt like somebody hyped up this movie for two weeks and I was left thinking, “That was it?” I thought it was one of the best matchups of any Super Bowl in recent memory, but that was not a good game. Like you said, it was high-scoring and close throughout but it was choppy and filled with mistakes. From the Packers’ 67 drops to the Steelers’ 19 turnovers, the game wasn’t highly executed. And that, in no way, means that I think the Packers weren’t deserving of victory or that the Steelers lost more than Green Bay won. On the contrary: I’m glad to see that the Steelers lost considering they didn’t deserve to win based on how they played. I’m glad to see that Rodgers won the MVP because he was clearly the best player on the field. I’m glad to see that the coaching staff that made better decisions and adjustments won and the staff that didn’t lost. But in the end, yeah, I thought it was a lousy game. The ironic thing is that the Super Bowl used to be viewed as a joke. The conference championship games were always usually better than the Super Bowl, but recently the title game has been great. To answer your question, yes, I think we’ve been spoiled. I wanted and expected more.

JP: Like I said, I’m not objective being a die-hard Packer fan, but I find it surprising that someone would describe the game as “lousy.” The drops and penalties hurt, but those happen in many/most regular season NFL games as well. It was high scoring and tight, and the Steelers had a chance to win the game on the final drive of the game, so in my book it was at least decent. As a Packer fan, it was obviously great especially given all that the franchise went through over the last few years (transitioning from Favre to Rodgers, Favre beating the Packers twice last season) and even this year, with all the injuries. Beating the Bears in the NFC Championship Game was just icing on the cake. Rodgers is getting a ton of credit right now, but it’s well deserved. And I feel great about how the franchise is positioned going forward.

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