Steelers, Cardinals win championship games to advance to Super Bowl XLIII

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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals have won their respective conference championship games to advance to Super Bowl XLIII, the championship game of the National Football League. The game is scheduled to take place on February 1 in Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium. The Steelers were the American Football Conference champion, defeating the Baltimore Ravens by a score of 23 to 14. Meanwhile, the Cardinals became the National Football Conference champions by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 32 to 25.

AFC

  1 2 3 4 Total
Baltimore Ravens 0 7 0 7 14
Pittsburgh Steelers 6 7 3 0 23
Joe Flacco, rookie quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens.
Image: 1msulax.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was the first rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL to help lead his team to two straight playoff victories, defeating the number 3 seeded Miami Dolphins to win the Wild Card round, and the number 1 seeded Tennessee Titans in the divisional round. They came in to the game against a number 2 seeded Steelers team that had already defeated them twice during the regular season. Early in the game the Steelers defense dominated the field, forcing him to only complete 3 out of 14 pass attempts and end the half with a lowly 9.8 quarterback rating and his team losing 13 to 7. By the beginning of the second half, snow was beginning to fall. Early in the third quarter, Flacco threw a 16 yard pass to wide receiver Derrick Mason, only to be sacked by safety Troy Polamalu for an 8-yard loss on the next play, forcing a punt for the Ravens. The Steelers were held on their next possession, forcing another punt. After the Ravens got the ball back, Flacco led the team down the field in what ended as a 58-yard touchdown drive to put the team up 16 to 14. However, near the end of the game, Flacco threw an errant pass intended for Mason that was intercepted by Polamalu and returned for a 40-yard defensive touchdown. This made the score 23 to 14, and essentially knocked the Ravens out of the game.

With 3:19 remaining in the game and the Ravens in possession of the ball for one last chance, a passing play was called. Flacco dropped back into a throwing position, and threw a short pass to running back Willis McGahee, who caught the ball and turned upfield. Going full speed up the field, Steelers safety Ryan Clark collided with McGahee, also running at full speed. The two made helmet-to-helmet-contact, knocking both players to the ground and knocking the ball out of the hands of McGahee. Ray Rice, another running back, commented "It was tough to watch. He’s like a brother to me." Clark was helped off of the field by the Steelers medical staff, but McGahee remained down on the field with movement in only his legs and arms. He told team doctors that he had significant pain in his neck, and was taken off the field on a cart and taken to a nearby hospital. It is unknown how severe the injuries are at this time.

After the game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement "I’m not going to sit here and say Joe played a certain way. Joe went out there and competed and battled and fought and tried to find a way to win the football game. So I certainly have no complaints about that." Flacco completed only 17 out of 30 pass attempts for 141 yards passing. He was also sacked 3 times and threw 3 interceptions. "I’m not blaming it on any rookie-wall stuff. I don’t believe in any of that stuff," said Flacco.

NFC

  1 2 3 4 Total
Philadelphia Eagles 3 3 13 6 25
Arizona Cardinals 7 17 0 0 32
Kurt Warner, quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.
Image: John Trainor.

In the NFC championship, the Arizona Cardinals had not made it to a Super Bowl in the past 60 years. They were matched up against the high-powered offense of the Philadelphia Eagles, who were the number 6 seed in the NFC. The Cardinals were the number 4 seed, defeating the number 5 seeded Atlanta Falcons on Wild Card weekend, and the number 2 seeded Carolina Panthers in the NFC Divisional playoff round. The Cardinals were led by quarterback Kurt Warner, who became the second quarterback in NFL history to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl, the other being the St. Louis Rams. During the first half, the Cardinals quickly took the lead. By halftime, their lead was extended to 18 points in what looked like an easy win for the team. However, in the third quarter, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb threw three touchdown passes, two of them being to tight end Brent Celek. After kicker David Akers missed an extra point attempt after the third touchdown pass, the score was 25 to 24 in favor of the Eagles. After the Cardinals received the ball, they drove up the field. With just under 3 minutes remaining in the game, Kurt Warner completed a game-winning touchdown pass to running back Tim Hightower, making the score 32 to 25,. and sealing the game for the Cardinals.

Kurt Warner completed 21 passes out of 28 pass attempts, for a total of 279 passing yards. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught three touchdown passes of 9, 62, and 1 yard, building on his record-breaking playoff performance of 23 catches, 419 yards, and 5 receiving touchdowns over 3 games. "It really set in when I saw the confetti. I always dreamed of being in the confetti. This is beyond my wildest dreams," said Cardinals linebacker Bertrand Berry after the game. On the other side, Donovan McNabb remarked on not making it to the Super Bowl again. "You never want anything to end. It’s tough when you’re that close to making it to the Super Bowl," he commented.


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