I don't even know how to begin describing this game. There were so many momentum shifts, great plays and horrific calls by an inept officiating crew. Let's begin with a post-game quote by Adrian Wilson, who has been with the Cardinals for his entire 8-year career.
"Amazing..." said a speechless, tearful Wilson. "We worked so hard... God is good..."
Like the Pro Bowl safety, I also had tears in my eyes. I had the Cardinals for five units, and I knew I'd get major flak from all the Eagles fans around Philly if I didn't get this game right. During the week, when I told everyone I had the Cardinals, people looked at me as if I were crazy. No one - whether you're talking about casual fans or media members - gave Arizona much of a chance. In fact, ESPN.com ran a story a week ago by Gene Wojciechowski, who wrote, "But the Arizona Cardinals over the Philadelphia Eagles in next Sunday's NFC Championship Game? Put it this way: Tim Tebow and the Philippians have a better chance of strip clubbing with Pacman Jones."
Well, congratulations to all the underrated players, Ken Whisenhunt and his coaching staff, owner Bill "The Bow Tie" Bidwill and a franchise that will be making its first Super Bowl appearance ever.
Unless you want to count public and media perception, the first bad omen for the Eagles occurred a few seconds prior to kickoff, when the ball fell off the tee just as David Akers was about to send it away. Considering that the game was indoors, there was no explanation for this. Eagles fans were more bewildered when Kurt Warner and the Arizona offense marched down the field 80 yards on their great defense and scored on a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown.
On Philadelphia's next possession, FOX put up a dubious stat that read that teams scoring first were 2-6 in the playoffs. So, of course, Philadelphia set the record for a second-half comeback in a championship game, erasing a 24-6 deficit and establishing a 25-24 lead. The Eagles out-gained a reeling Cardinals squad in the third quarter by a 165-5 margin.
But just as Arizona looked like it would not only lose straight up, but blow the +3.5 cover, Kurt Warner commanded the offense to a 14-play touchdown drive spanning 7:52 of the fourth quarter. Warner, possibly saving me a date with a razor blade, was 5-of-5 on the drive for 56 yards and the winning score to Tim Hightower.
Warner was brilliant all afternoon, finishing 21-of-28 for 279 yards and four touchdowns. His second incompletion of the entire game came with 1:20 remaining in the first half. At that point, he was 11-of-13 for 158 yards and three scores.
With that in mind, Larry Fitzgerald was the key player of this game. Continuously making key catch after key catch, Fitzgerald garnered nine receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns. Anquan Boldin managed four grabs for 34 yards.
Once again, Arizona had the better running game. Edgerrin James rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries, while Hightower chipped in with 33 yards. Brian Westbrook, meanwhile, had just 45 yards on the ground.
Though Donovan McNabb finished with 375 yards, three touchdowns and a pick, he didn't play well. He missed a number of wide-open receivers downfield. And on the final drive, his passes were repeatedly thrown behind his targeted wideouts.
Eagles backup tight end Brent Celek somehow grabbed 10 balls for 83 yards and two touchdowns. DeSean Jackson had six receptions, 92 yards and a juggling 62-yard score. Kevin Curtis, meanwhile, paced the team in receiving yardage (4 catches, 122 yards).
I mentioned the awful officiating earlier. The most glaring error occurred on a second-quarter kickoff by the Eagles. The referees claimed the ball went out of bounds, when it was clearly evident that it was nowhere near the white chalk. Instead of giving the Cardinals the ball (they recovered it at the Philadelphia 35), official Walt Anderson awarded the Eagles possession. Arizona tried challenging it, but Anderson, perhaps scared that his 5-unit bet on the Eagles wouldn't cash, claimed that the play wasn't reviewable.
First of all, why isn't this reviewable? There's no reason for it not to be. Roger Goodell needs to stop suspending everyone in the league and change this rule. Second, when you're refereeing a championship game like this, you can't screw up easy calls like that. If a play isn't reviewable, you have to talk about it with the other zebras and get the call right.
Steelers 23, Ravens 14
For such a hard-hitting game that went on for four hours, it's remarkable that the turning point of this contest didn't even take place on the field.
With the score 16-14 in Pittsburgh's favor with about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Baltimore's defense forced the Steelers into a punt. They took the return back to their own 40, meaning Matt Stover needed about 25 more yards for a good shot at a game-winning field goal. Instead, Ravens third-string safety Daren Stone committed a really foolish unnecessary hit out of bounds, pushing the team back to its own 14. A few plays later, Joe Flacco forced a pass which was picked off for a touchdown by Troy Polamalu.
It was kind of surprising that the Ravens were even in the game, given how poorly Joe Flacco was playing. Flacco finished 13-of-30 for 141 yards and three picks that led to 10 Pittsburgh points. At halftime, Flacco was 3-of-14 for 39 yards and a pick. Because of his errant throws and poor decision-making, Baltimore didn't achieve a first down until three-and-a-half minutes into the second quarter.
With Flacco's 13 completions, no Baltimore player had more than three receptions. Ray Rice (43 yards), Derrick Mason (41) and Todd Heap (26) all had three. Willis McGahee, who left the game on a brutal, helmet-to-helmet hit by Ryan Clark in the fourth quarter, rushed for 60 yards and two scores on 20 carries. To McGahee's chagrin, the ambulance made a stop at Applebee's on the way to the hospital.
As for the Steelers, Willie Parker did not cut through Baltimore's defense like Chris Johnson did last week, despite what some people predicted. Parker couldn't even gain two yards per carry, as he managed just 47 rushing yards on 24 attempts.
Ben Roethlisberger didn't have the prettiest stats - 16-of-33, 255 yards, one touchdown - but he once again got the job done when it mattered most. Roethlisberger helped the team convert 7-of-18 third downs. Baltimore was just 3-of-13 on third-down conversions.
As mentioned earlier, this contest lasted four hours. It actually felt like two separate games; there were just so many injury and measuring stoppages. Forum member Phil Elliott said it best: