And so after a relatively anti-climactic pair of games this weekend, the Xtra-Large Superbowl in Detroit is set: Pittsburgh versus Seattle. The sixth seed from the AFC will meet the top seed from the NFC. All seeding aside, these are the two teams that played the best football in the playoffs. Both offenses are hot, and both defenses are capable of shutting down their opponent. It should be a great Superbowl…then again, when isn’t it? Yea!
Pittsburgh 34, at Denver 17
The Steelers came out looking like the better team and playing like the better team on this day. They also got a couple of breaks as well that helped them along the way, as they move onto the Superbowl after their third straight road win in the playoffs.
Denver had a chance to draw first blood in this game, but as was the case last week, Shanahan was hoping the running game would do the job so he wouldn’t have to rely on his quarterback. The Broncos were able to get a couple of first downs, but the drive would not end up with any points. Pittsburgh’s opening drive would result in some points, as they would enjoy the first two breaks of the day, perhaps an indication that destiny would be on their side. Facing third and three,
Ben Roethlisberger (275 yards, 2 TD, rushing TD) would be pressured and three weakly to the right, in the direction of Hines Ward (59 yards, TD). Champ Bailey stepped in front of the pass and seemed poised to go the distance (or at least get chased down at the one yard line again), but somehow Ward got a hand mixed in, and the ball went into the air where Ward came down with it and got enough yards for the first down before getting drilled. Two plays later, Willie Parker was tackled for a loss and fumbled the ball on the play. Denver recovered, but Pittsburgh challenged the play, hoping the officials would rule that Parker’s arm was down before the ball came loose. They won the challenge, and the drive continued. Jeff Reed would connect from 47 yards out to open up the scoring.
Three plays into Denver’s second possession of the game, Jake Plummer (223 yards, TD, 2 int) was sacked and fumbled the ball away, continuing the good fortunes for the visiting side. Roethlisberger would work quickly and 5 plays and 39 yards later Cedrick Wilson (92 yards, TD) took in a 12 yard pass from Big Ben to extend the Steeler lead at the start of the second quarter. The Broncos would settle down on offense and respond to that score, Plummer guiding the home team into the red zone. But the drive would then stall, and Jason Elam was called upon to get Denver’s first points of the game, his 23 yard boot was true.
The next Pittsburgh possession was much of the same, as they continued to have their way with the Denver defense, at least thru the air. An 80 yard drive chewed up seven and a half minutes, Jerome Bettis (39 yards, TD) rumbling in from 3 yards out with under two minutes left in the half. The Steelers would continue to pile it on, intercepting Plummer on Denver’s opening play of the ensuing drive. Bettis would get in the endzone again from 12 yards out, but an illegal formation call on the play brought nullified the score. No matter, Roethlisberger would connect with Ward from 17 yards out and it was the Steelers on this day that added 14 points to their score in the final two minutes of the half.
Opening up the second half, Pittsburgh had the ball and they were content to chew up the clock. Willie Parker would again have the ball knocked loose four plays into the drive, but fate was again on the Steelers side as the ball rolled harmlessly out of bounds. Though the drive didn’t result in any points, nearly 6 minutes of time ticked away. Denver would be unable to get a first down on their first try, but the Bronco defense would return the favor, giving their offense a chance to get something going. And this time they would. Plummer would find success in the air with Rod Smith (61 yards) and later hooked up with Ashley Lelie (68 yards, TD) on a 30 yard score that gave the home faithful something to cheer about. But the Steelers would not let the crowd noise affect them, responding with a 8 play 47 yard drive that resulted in Reed connecting again, this time from 42 yards out.
Needing a spark, Denver’s special teams clicked, Charlie Adams taking the kickoff back 47 yards. Alas, Plummer’s first pass of the drive was picked off, momentum lost. Again, Denver would respond on defense, forcing the three and out, once again it was up to the offense and they would also respond. Plummer would direct Denver on a 7 play 85 yard drive that was capped off with Mike Anderson (36 yards, TD) scoring from 3 yards out, closing the Steeler lead to 10 points.
With time running out, Pittsburgh’s offense would again be unable to get a first down and with just over 6 minutes to play, it would be up to Plummer to stage a comeback if Denver was to make the big game. Pittsburgh’s defense would be heard, forcing Denver to go for it on fourth down, then sacking Plummer deep in Bronco territory. This time, Bettis would hold onto the ball for dear life and on third and goal from the four, Roethlisberger would call his own number, his touchdown run putting the exclamation point on one of his best games this season.
At Seattle 34, Carolina 14
In the nightcap, the Seahawks were able to do something Carolina’s previous opponents could not: contain Steve Smith. Carolina had the ball first and it was apparent from the start that Seattle’s defense had come to play. Three and out gave the ball to the Seahawk offense. The home side was able to get a couple first downs, but Carolina’s defense was also up to the task, stuffing Seattle on a third and one forcing a punt. Carolina would again struggle on offense, forced into another three and out.
Seattle would then draw first blood, Seneca Wallace would make a tremendous no look over the shoulder catch, good for 28 yards putting Seattle on the Carolina 17 yard line . Matt Hasselbeck (219 yards, 2 TD) would then find a wide open Jerramy Stevens (66 yards, TD) for the games first scoring play. Three plays later, Jake Delhomme (196 yards, TD, 3 int) was intercepted putting the Seahawks in great shape to score again. The Panthers D would keep the ball out of the end zone, Josh Brown forced to add three points from 24 yards out.
Delhomme would be picked off again on the next drive, a good return starting the Seattle offense on the 17 yard line of their opponent. Shaun Alexander (132 yards, 2 TD) would take over from there, carrying the ball three times, scoring from a yard out. The Panthers would hold onto the ball on their ensuing possession, but a punt would put the Seahawk offense right back on the field. This time, it was Carolina’s turn to force a three and out, forcing a punt that Steve Smith (33 yards, return TD) would return 59 yards for a score.
Those would prove to be the only points the visitors would score in the opening half. The Seahawks would respond to that score, Hasselbeck leading the team on a 10 play 57 yard drive that would result in Brown tacking on another three points, this time from 39 yards out. Carolina would again sputter on offense, sending their weary defense back once again. Hasselbeck would work the two minute drill to perfection, but Brown would misfire from 49 yards out, keeping the score 20-7 at the half.
The home side would then look to put the game out of reach on the opening drive of the second half, and they effectively would. After 8 plays and 65 yards worth of work, Darrell Jackson (75 yards, TD) was good on a nice 20 yard hitch play. Carolina would continue to struggle on offense, and Seattle would then be content to chew up some clock, neither team able to put up any more points in the third quarter.
The game was slipping away from Carolina, and midway thru the fourth Alexander would set off the Seattle celebration, scoring from a yard out. Carolina would pad some of their stats on the ensuing drive, Drew Carter (88 yards, TD) scoring on a 47 yard pass play, but the day belonged to Seattle. They held Carolina to 36 yards on the ground, and kept Steve Smith from scoring an offensive touchdown, earning themselves a trip to the Motor City.