Larry Fitzgerald Scores against Carolina (NFL.com)
I know it’s 2009 but this is the 2008 NFL Football Season so that is what I am calling the playoffs.
If someone told me four weeks ago we would be seeing the Philadelphia Eagles versus the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship I would have them committed to an insane asylum.
Defense and turnovers win championships and that is certainly what happened in this weekends’ playoff matchups. The Ravens, Cardinals, Eagles, and Steelers all played great defense and generated turnovers that ultimately lead to their taking the next step in the playoffs and a right to play for an entry into Super Bowl XLIII.
Now putting my New England Patriots’ hat on for a moment, I am thrilled we won’t be seeing a Manning in the Super Bowl. I don’t really root for any teams in the playoffs when the Patriots don’t make it I just root against the teams I least want to see in the Super Bowl. The Chargers and Eagles get kudos for knocking off the two teams I least wanted to see.
I still find it a bit whacky to see the Eagles and Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. The Eagles looked awful for a long stretch this year and only made the playoffs because the circus act in Dallas imploded. And the Cardinals? They didn’t look like they could win a game on the road or run the ball late in the season. They’ve done both in these playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens over Tennessee Titans, 13-10
This was a game dominated by the defenses. Three turnovers by Titans, two in scoring position, were the difference in this game. I won’t say the Titans outplayed the Ravens because the Ravens earned their turnovers, but if the Titans had scored even field goals instead of giving the ball back to the Ravens, the outcome would likely have been different. After two touchdowns in the first quarter, there wasn’t another score until the fourth quarter.
Both defensive lines played phenomenal games. Unlike their last meeting, Tennessee’s defensive front throttled the Ravens running game. The Ravens did give up a good chunk of running yards in the first half, but two turnovers thwarted Tennessee’s scoring opportunities. Tennessee was badly hampered when their best offensive player, running back Chris Johnson, was injured in the second quarter and never returned to the game. Tennessee also clearly missed Kevin Mawae at center. Haolti Ngata got great penetration most of the game, particularly in the first and fourth quarters.
Probably the most damaging blow to Tennessee, other than injuries, was an interception by Kerry Collins in the second quarter around the Baltimore 32 yard line after having driven from their 1 yard line. That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game.
For Tennessee this was a huge blow after the great season they had and having home field advantage throughout the playoffs. After blowing out the Steelers at home late in the season I really thought we would be seeing them in the Super Bowl. They certainly looked like Super Bowl contenders. But it wasn’t to be.
MVP: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens
Arizona Cardinals over Carolina Panthers, 33-13
I was stunned by this game. After seeing the Cardinals get blown out by the Jets, Eagles, and Patriots and losing badly at home to Giants, I did not believe they could beat the Panthers in Carolina. Of course six turnovers, 5 interceptions and a fumble by quarterback Jake Delhomme, was the difference in the game.
But the Cardinals offense didn’t rest on their heels. They once again established a running game to ago along with their passing attack and turned those turnovers into points. Larry Fitzgerald had another stellar game with 8 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown. And the defense, like last week, did a great job shutting down the running attack.
The Cardinals have played like a legitimate playoff team and if they continue to perform at this level and do not revert back to their late season swoon, the sky is the limit for this team. It just depends on which team shows up.
MVP: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Philadelphia Eagles over New York Giants, 23-11
I don’t know if it was the wind or not but neither Eli Manning nor Donovan McNabb had a particularly good day. Both were mostly inaccurate with their passes and neither team really established much on offense. The Giants were able to run the ball at times but their inability to do much in the passing game really hurt them. The offenses and the quarterbacks looked average not like to teams meeting in the playoffs.
The defenses did play well and this game came down to turnovers and defense. The Eagles’ defense played just a little better than the Giants’ and McNabb played just a little better than Eli and made a few good throws when the Eagles really needed it. To me the key play in the game was Asante Samuels interception of Eli Manning in the first quarter, giving the Eagles the ball near the goal line and an easy touchdown. Even though it was early in the game and only a 7-3 lead, scores were hard to come by and this gave the Eagles a leg up. Also impressive were two fourth down stops by the Eagles in the fourth quarter.
MVP: Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
Pittsburgh Steelers over San Diego Chargers, 35-24
The Pittsburgh Steelers, leading 14-10 at halftime, controlled the ball nearly the entire third quarter going up 21-10. They just wore out the Chargers defense and the game was all but over after that. The Chargers did a good job of putting up a few scores late in the game but the Steelers were playing loose on defense just chewing up the clock.
This was an extremely impressive effort by the Steelers offensive line. Their defense also played extremely well, holding Darren Sproles, last week’s superstar, to only 15 yards rushing. Most of San Diego’s offensive output came in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were mostly playing prevent defense and the Chargers were scrambling to catch up.
Running back Willie Parker ended up with 146 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, while Big Ben had an efficient, mistake free afternoon at quarterback. He did miss a few deep throws down the field, but he hit a few as well, including one that ended up netting a touchdown after a pass interference call in the end zone.
If the Steelers can continue to play lights out defense, run the ball well, while Ben makes plays with his arm down the field, they will be tough to beat. But they face a nasty defensive team in the Ravens next week, which will be another slugfest.
MVP: Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Offensive Player of the Week: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Defensive Player of the Week: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens
Offensive Lineman of the Week: Jeff Hartwig, C, Pittsburgh Steelers
Special Teams Player of the Week: Santonio Holmes, KR, Pittsburgh Steelers