Steelers Advance to AFC Championship Game

By defeating the San Diego Chargers 35-24 last evening at Heinz Field.  Obviously it is always great to get a playoff win, but what I found particularly heartening was that the offensive line played what was probably their best game all season.  In related news, the Steelers had great balance on offense including success in the running game.  If that was a trend and not a fluke, it will  be tough for Baltimore or the NFC winner to beat them.

There were a few key plays in this game.  Momentum turned when San Diego was able to get only a field goal late in the 1st half after Tomlin’s gamble to call for a fake punt did not work, and then the Steelers were able to get a touchdown on their clock drive.  Then they came out in the 3rd quarter and held the ball for all but an incredible 17 seconds.  Two big plays where the punt that hit Eric Weddle in the top of the head that the Steelers recovered, and in the 4th quarter leading 28-17 the 3rd down completion to Hines Ward that was nearly intercepted but instead kept the drive alive leading to the clinching touchdown.

Up next are the Baltimore Ravens who will be hoping the 3rd time is the charm after two narrow losses to the Steelers in the regular season.  Obviously, the disputed TD to Santonio Holmes that won the game in Baltimore a month ago will be scrutinized this week.  The Ravens quite frankly did not play their best in Tennessee Saturday evening, but they won anyway because the Titans could not get out of their own way.  To be sure, some of that was great ball-hawking by the Ravens defense, but some of that was also self-inflicted.  I like the Steelers chances if they can do what the Dolphins and Titans failed to do; avoid turnovers.

In the NFC, wow!  Did anyone see Philadelphia @ Arizona as being the Championship Game match-up 2 weeks ago??  I doubt it.  The Cardinals, as Steve Mariucci said on the NFL Network’s wrap-up show Sunday night, remind a bit of the run the Colts got on two seasons ago.  All of a sudden, after not having one for 4 months, the Cardinals have a defense.  A shut down defense, a ball hawking defense.  Also, after keeping Edgerrin James in witness protection all regular season, Whisenhunt as unleased a running game at a very useful time.  Conventional wisdom seems to be behind the Eagles, but do not discount Arizona getting this home win (their first NFL/NFC Championship Game since the merger in 1970) and advancing to the Super Bowl.

Of course, the Eagles are not to be taken lightly either.  Remarkably, they beat the Giants despite Brian Westbrook being a non-factor.  They did it because Eli Manning had a terrible game.  Whether that was because of the absense of Plaxico Burress, the Eagles great defense, the windy Meadowlands weather, or a combination of all of those.  It should make for a fun game Sunday afternoon.  The Eagles are playing with house money in that they were darned lucky to even make the playoffs, and the Cardinals are playing with house money in that they’ve already won two games they were “supposed” to lose.

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