Pittsburgh over Baltimore 31-24
Well, this game certainly went the way I expected. From the get-go you could tell these teams do not like each other. On the first drive of the game Hines Ward went after Ed Reed on a run play trying to block the safety. It was a great block, if only he didn’t block him into the ground viciously after the whistle blew earning him a unsportsmanlike conduct. This truly was a gridiron scuffle on the field, chippy as a game can get without seeing guys ejected. Ike Taylor also decided to head but TJ Housmenzadeh after a play, but there was no call there. It was truly a great game by two hard nosed teams that went down to the final 2 minutes and was won in the trenches with a clutch late sack on Joe Flacco on Baltimore’s final offensive possession. Baltimore is 0-4 in post-season play when their opponent scores 20 or more points, and after today they go to 0-5 as Pittsburgh beat the Ravens 31-24 on a defensive stop. Defense ruled this game, even if the score doesn’t reflect it. The turnover battle was absolutely key to the game. Baltimore dominated in the first half, getting themselves 2 turnovers and scoring a touchdown on both to lead 21-7 at the half. The first turnover was a strip sack on Big Ben by who else but Terrell Suggs of which every player on the field thought it was an incomplete pass except for Cory Redding who picked it up and ran into the endzone. The second turnover was a Mendenhall fumble recovered by Ed Reed to give Baltimore another short field inside the Pittsburgh 30 yard line. At the start of the third quarter it seemed like the teams decided to switch jerseys. Baltimore became completely innate in the 3rd quarter amassing a putrid -4 offensive yards and began to turn it over to the Pittsburgh defense. The Steelers quickly got two turnovers, both courtesy of safety Ryan Clark. Clark forced a rare fumble by Ray Rice, giving Big Ben a short field to get a TD to Heath Miller. Then Clark intercepts Flacco on an over thrown ball to give the Steelers yet another short field, allowing them to tie the game at 21. The game was unfolding just as I expected, both teams were getting turnovers… what I didn’t expect was how efficiently both teams were after the turnover. At these point, all four turnovers in the game amounted to touchdowns. Another indication of how evenly matched these two heavyweights are. Then the Ravens killed themselves. First step to losing to the Steelers, allow them to win the paramount turnover battle with an inexcusable botched snap. This turnover didn’t lead to a turnover, but it still garner 3 points on a field goal try. The Ravens defense remained clutch, forcing a 3 and out and continuing to harass Roethlisberger. It looked like the tides would turn back into the Ravens favor as Ladarius Webb ran back a punt for a touchdown to take the lead. Step two to losing to the Steelers, commit foolish holding penalties to take a touchdown off the board. They were still left with good field position, but could only tie the game at 24 with a field goal. Step three to losing to the Steelers, stop doing what was working on defense. All of a sudden, after very effectively rushing Big Ben (6 sacks), they stop blitzing and bring only three on the rush. What did this equate to? A deep ball to Antonio Brown for 58 yards, setting them up at the Baltimore 4 yard line for a Mendenhall touchdown run. The score was then 31-24, but the Ravens still had a chance. After a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the touchdown, the Ravens got great field position at the Steeler 48 yard line. Step four on losing to the Steelers, drop passes. It was 4th and 18 after a clutch sack by Ziggy Hood, and TJ Housmanzadeh was wide open and outright dropped the ball past the first down marker. He clinched the game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and this epic battle of defenses. The defenses set up their offenses for short fields, inflating the scores. Don’t let the final score fool you, this was yet another Ravens Steelers defensive brawl where the turnover battle determined the game.
Packers Dominate Falcons 48-21
The Packers dominated in absolutely every phase of the game. Aaron Rodgers completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns before being rested in the fourth quarter. He also ran for 13 yards and a touchdown while eluding nearly every sack attempt by the Atlanta Falcons. Rodgers focused on Chris Owens, the Falcons replacement nickel back, and saw a lot of success. The Falcons played the wrong team, not only are the Packers better at every position save running back, but they are very limited in the secondary which plays right into the Packers’ strength. The game started with a would be huge pass play to Greg Jennings as the Falcons forced a fumble. Atlanta took advantage of the turnover and scored on an intimidating Michael Turner touchdown run. The Packers came back right away with an 8 minute touchdown drive. On the ensuing kick-off, Eric Weems took the ball 102 yards for a NFL post-season record touchdown return to put the home team up 14-7. Rodgers drove his team back down the field again, capped by a Kuhn touchdown run behind lead blocker BJ Raji. From there it was downhill for the Falcons, they began turning the ball over. Ryan threw two picks on two promising drives, one was brought back for six. Ryan then botched a snap and Green Bay recovered, proving that Matt Ryan is still not ready for the big games. As Rodgers kept running up the score, the Falcons were forced to abandon the run and put the game on Ryan’s shoulders. He was not up to the task, throwing two picks on bad decisions, and couldn’t handle the pass rush of the Packers. It is not yet time for the Atlanta Falcons, they need another viable running back to pair with Turner and another receiving weapon to compliment White. Tony Gonzalez lost about 2-3 steps this season, he should retire this off-season without winning a playoff game in his Hall of Fame career. As for my predictions, Ryan again threw for under 200 yards against the Packers and White had another pedestrian receiving total at 57, though he did get a touchdown. I predicted about half the total points scored in this game, but really… who expected 48 points from Green Bay?
Post will be updated as games finish…