NFL Championship Game Reviews

Green Bay over Chicago. The Packers came out smoking hot scoring on their first drive then survived a late charge by the Bears to advance to the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers was almost flawless in the first half. He quickly lead the Packers down the field with pin point passes, on the intermediate pass routes, then scored the first touchdown on a boot leg run. This drive served notice that the Packers were the better team and the Bears would have to play their best game to beat them. It took a little steam out of boisterous Bears home crowd. Rodgers biggest play was his game saving arm tackle on Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher after he threw an interception in the third quarter. It was the second best post season tackle since Ben Rotherlisberger tackle on a Colts defensive back a few years ago in a divisional playoff game. If Rodgers does make the tackle Urlacher scores, and the momentum quickly shifts to the Bears. The star in this game was the Packers defense, which has been the Packers backbone all year even in losses. They controlled the Bears running game. They sacked and beat up Bears quarterback Jay Cutler numerous occasions in the first half causing him to emotionally and physically (pending MRI results) check out. Their unsung players continued to make key plays. Nose tackle B.J Raji’s interception was one of the biggest play. He did a nice job reading dropping back and reading the quarterbacks eyes, catching it and scampering in the end. Although he almost became famous for the wrong reason when he held out the ball prematurely like Leon Lett did one Super Bowl long ago. Cornerback Sam Shields had two interceptions none bigger than the last one clinching the game. He was targeted often because he’s rookie, but he was prepared and made a terrific play undercutting the pass route. The Packers special team’s deserves credit by containing dangerous Bears return man Devin Hester. I had a feeling the Bears offense would never score in the game probably so did Packers. They took their foot off the gas offensively and the defense was caught off guard by third string quarterback Caleb Hanie. They had no tape on him and were not aware that he could make escape the rush with his feet which he often did to avoid sacks. It is very difficult to win three straight road games during the rest of the season, and the Packers deserve high praise for that accomplishment in the playoffs. A two week rest should help them in the Super Bowl.

The Bears offensive troubles resurfaced at the worst time. It is true that the Packers have one the best defenses in the league but after playing the Packers twice, that they would know what to expect and make adjustments. They never did. Their offense line woe’s popped up again and they were ineffective the entire first half. They could not run the ball or protect Jay Cutler. Their wide outs could not create space for Cutler to throw too. And on top of everything Cutler was cold as the winter snow prior to his exit often throwing the ball short. He will take a lot of the criticism for his play, his coming out of the game without any obvious injury (which has been diagnosed as sprain MCL), and for his sideline demeanor of just sitting on bench expression less for the second half. Bear fans will never let live that down for not playing through his injury. His back up Todd Collins who has been in the league for almost two decades was worse than Culter and probably played himself out the league with his putrid performance. He played like scared baby wildebeest in den of hungry lions. Cutler will take most of the heat but Collins deserves some too. Lovie Smith made a great move inserting little known Caleb Hanie. He provided a spark and almost became an instant Chicago legend when he led the Bears for two scores and in position to tie the game late. Hanie just made two costly mistakes, but he showed promise with his mobility and his pocket presence. The Bears on offense just do not have enough players that scare defenses. The Bears defense kept them in the game buy outplaying the Packers potent offense in the second half, but Brian Urlacher will probably have nightmares the entire off season for not being able to shake Aaron Rodgers after his interception.

Pittsburgh edging New York Jets. The Steelers raced out to a 24-0 lead and hung on the defeat Jets. The Steelers who were the fresher team emotionally and physically came out on fire marching down the field, eating most of the first quarter clock and scoring the opening touchdown. This also froze the Jets offense that did not seem to who did not warm up until the second half. Rarshard Mendehall was the offensive star of this game running for over one hundred yards against a Jets defense that has been stingy against the run and scoring a touchdown. A lot of credit goes to the Steelers offensive line did a commendable job despite being beat up and losing pro bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in the first quarter. Ben Roethilisberger was not spectacular but was more than efficient. He is clutch, he makes plays. None were bigger than the two pass down conversions in the games waning moments. One to his go too guy Health Miller and the other to rookie Antonio Smith. Both times they were not the primary receiver but Roethilsberger slid around in the pocket until they the receivers flashed open. These plays were large because they kept the ball out the Jets hands in the final seconds. The main stars in this game was the Steelers defense. They gave up yards, mostly in the second half but they stopped the run, which they always do and got after Mark Sanchez, often hitting him. One of the biggest plays was made by Cornerback Ike Taylor. He blitzed off the corner hitting Mark Sanchez from the blind side caused a fumble that was picked up by William Gay provided the Steelers with a seemingly insurmountable 24 point lead. They needed every bit of that lead. Their offense sputtered almost the entire second half and their defense seemed to tire at the end, but their goal line stand prior to the safety was huge. They probably felt at 24-0 the game was over. They underestimated the Jets and it almost cost them. That won’t happen in the Super Bowl against the Packers.

The Jets looked flat for most the first half. It appeared that all the emotional energy they spent winning against the Colts and Patriots finally caught up to them. There offensive line which has been their strength was getting whipped at the line of scrimmage. They seem to stiffen up being on the sideline so long in the first quarter. In hindsight Rex Ryan might have taken the ball instead of deferring which he’s been doing all year. Their defensive which has been stupendous throughout the playoffs where was pushed around the entire first half. They gave up chunks of yardage to the Steelers running attack. Their secondary had a couple of picks, but there was a key drop by Drew Coleman in the third quarter that could have flipped the game over to Jets after the Jets had scored their first touchdown. The Jets made a valiant effort getting back in the game. Mark Sanchez continued his solid playoff play. His task was even tougher after they got down 24-0 and could not afford to run their normal run first offense. His long pass Santonio Holmes to start the 3rd quarter comeback was a thing of beauty. The Jets just did not execute when in the red zone. When they failed to score with first and goal with seven minutes to play proved to be the difference in the game. Their defense could not get the key stop at the end to give their offense another chance. Its’ a tough to lose after making such a terrific comeback, but the Jets were climbing up hill all game long. They just ran out gas. Their goal next year besides winning the Super Bowl might be made easier to if they can win the division and get a bye. That way they won’t have to expend so much energy just to get to the championship game.