Gerry Dulac's Two-Minute Drill: AFC Championship vs. Ravens
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It wasn't just the 40-yard interception return for a TD that wrapped up the trip to Super Bowl XLIII, though that was a nice highlight. It was a number of big plays by the All-Pro safety, who outplayed his big-play counterpart, Baltimore's Ed Reed. It was a big stop on fourth-and-1 at the Steelers' 34 in which he dived over the line to stop QB Joe Flacco, setting up the first TD. It was an 8-yard loss when Flacco tried to run a bootleg. And it was a big pass break-up on third down in the third quarter -- all part of holding Flacco to an 18.2 passer rating.
A quick look at the top performances from yesterday's victory:
1. HOLMES TO THE RESCUE AGAIN. Just as he did last week against the San Diego Chargers, when he returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown, WR Santonio Holmes made the big play that gave the Steelers a 13-0 lead -- a 65-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on what seemed like a harmless third-and-9 play. But, when CB Fabian Washington slipped, Holmes ran around him at the 47, cut across the field and used an escort by TE Heath Miller and WR Nate Washington to beat Ed Reed to the pylon. Holmes punctuated the play by leaping from the 2, ball-first, into the end zone.
2. DON'T TOY WITH TROY. In a game in which he made so many big plays, Polamalu's interception -- one of three against Joe Flacco -- and 40-yard return for touchdown produced the final points and finally ended the Ravens' comeback attempt.
3. LIMAS SWEED'S DROP. It might have been a more comfortable finish if Sweed, the team's No. 2 pick, didn't drop a pass when he was wide open at the Ravens' 10, costing the team a 50-yard TD. Practice-watchers will record just another daily drop for the rookie.
4. TWO PASS INTERFERENCES, TWO TDS. That's how the Ravens scored both touchdowns -- getting a call on CB Bryant McFadden at the Steelers' 3 and another on CB Ike Taylor in the end zone, each resulting in a touchdown run by Willis McGahee.
5. NOT-SO-SPECIAL TEAMS. A 46-yard punt return by Jim Leonhard, who had a 45-yard return in the previous meeting, set up the Ravens' first TD. And a shanked punt by Mitch Berger led to the other. After being near-flawless all season, the mistakes by the unit nearly proved costly.
6: That's the number of sacks in 3 playoff games by OLB LaMarr Woodley, who had 2 more against the Ravens. Woodley had 2 sacks last year against the Jaguars and 2 more last week against the Chargers. Somebody put Kurt Warner on alert.
The Steelers kept wasting scoring opportunities -- or, at the very least, additional points -- with dropped passes. But it was a pass they didn't drop that cost them an opportunity to kick a field goal at the end of the half. On second-and-10 at the Ravens' 21, with 16 seconds remaining, Roethlisberger dumped a pass to RB Mewelde Moore, who tried to run with the ball instead of going down. The clock expired before Roethlisberger could spike the ball. "He wanted to score; that's his heart," Roethlisberger said.
"Maybe the best player I've ever been around. He makes big plays all the time. He's so humbled and grounded, which is so surprising to see a player like that in this business. -- Brett Keisel on Troy Polamalu
The Steelers are 5-1 in Super Bowl appearances and will be trying to become the first team to win six Lombardi trophies. The Cardinals beat the Steelers in their most recent meeting -- 21-14 in 2007.
It was starting to get a little hairy in the fourth with the Ravens trailing, 16-7, but the Steelers were contributing to the suspense with questionable plays. On third-and-1 from their own 36, after a 7-yard run by Willie Parker, the offense went empty-set (no running back) on an incomplete pass -- a curious decision for a team trying to protect a lead. That was followed by a shanked 21-yard punt by Mitch Berger to the Ravens' 42, setting up a TD drive that allowed the Ravens to cut the lead to 16-14 with 9:29 left.
First Published January 19, 2009 1:49 am