Due to the terrible St. Louis streets and weather, I didn’t get a chance to make my NFC/AFC Championship post in time. However, I am happy to report that I DID get both right (I’ve got proof of pregame projection over on one of my Twitter feeds to all non-believers) and I’m now up to 5-1 in the last two weeks of NFL Playoff guru-ing. Now with the Super Bowl two weeks off, I’ve got a bit of time before I start dissecting that, and I’ll be doing an appropriate two-week spread, starting here with 3 TRUTHS I learned yesterday:
THE MOST UNDERRATED QB IN THE WORLD: The tendency is to look where we think nobody else besides us is looking to find who is the most “underrated” or “slept on” player, when sometimes it’s right under your nose. Yeah, it may make you look better to have knowledge of what Matt Schaub or Ryan Fitzpatrick does outside the main spotlight, but the league’s most underrated QB played in prime time last night. Ben Roethlisberger is doing serious work in the middle of the biggest stage in the league, yearly, yet is looked past constantly. Perhaps it’s due to his off field headlines having larger print than his stat lines, or perhaps because gets outshined by his own teammates play on the other side of the ball. Whatever it is, I’m not fooled anymore and you shouldn’t be either. While he didn’t have his brightest statistical game yesterday (133 pass yards, 2 interceptions), his ability to keep plays alive and make timely plays that can’t be broken down into just stats. It’s a winner’s quality that matters the most, and he’s got it. He’s also ticketed his third trip to game’s biggest weekend in seven years, with a chance to bring home a 3rd title, which would make him tied for second all-time, with a certain Tom Brady, who is universally considered to be his superior & his era’s greatest winner. While I’m not ready to place him above Tom or Peyton yet, there can be some serious argument made about if there is any other signal caller worthy of the praise over Roethlisberger right now. Winning is what matters and he does that better than most anybody in the game right now.
“LEG”-ACY IN THE WORKS: Following the praise of the warrior-like qualities of the underrated Mr. Roethlisberger, let’s look at an ill-timed study in opposites also on display yesterday. With his team yet to reach the scoreboard and down at home headed into the 2nd half of the first (and only) big game of his career, Jay Cutler took snaps for one series, and then threw in the towel, or had it thrown in for him. Evidently this was due to a knee cartilage tear and he couldn’t go on. Curiously, he could still stand and smile on the sidelines though when Brian Urlacher, his backup’s backup Caleb Hanie and Earl Bennett played with everything they had to try to pull the Bears back into the game. I’m not here to question if the man got hurt or not, that happens. But I am here to question the man’s heart in general, as a player and as a man. You are an NFL quarterback and by default in the greatest leadership position in all of sports. So to leave a game such as the NFC Championship on anything less than a stretcher is inexcusable. Just by staying in the game alone he could have changed the approach the Packers defense took. His replacements Todd Collins and Hanie might as well-worn “SEND ALL COMERS” targets on their chests, because the Packers sent everything from Clay Matthews to old Wisconsin grandmothers to go all out blitz those two. The result was a 75-year-old Collins shattering into pieces after a few snaps and eventually Hanie throwing not one, but TWO game ending picks in one quarter.
The Bears mortgaged the farm to bring Cutler in to solve their longtime woes at QB and be a leader in such games as yesterday. The best he could offer was 80 yards in two quarters. So let’s rundown the Cutler 3 year scorecard: a summer long whining session to escape Denver, just to bring a two-year “era” in Chicago that started with a near 30 interception debut season, followed by a performance that should land him a lucrative endorsement deal with Charmin. In a familiar Chicago spirit, that’s change you CAN’T believe in.
SURVIVOR BOWL: A quick note that came to me while realizing who is in the Super Bowl yesterday. It is crazy how who the two Conference reps are who they are. This is an up and down NFL season, with the failures of the big name clubs taking the majority of the headlines for their failures. Now in the main event, there are two squads that have gone through more to end up in the Big Game than any other clubs that I can recall recently.
Pittsburgh started the season balancing between Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich, in pure survival mode, while awaiting Roethlisberger to make an uncertain return from a rape suspension. Also, they were coming off a terrible season of Super Bowl hangover and injury, while still being in the most brutal division in the NFL. Now they have beaten two of the two most physical teams in the Playoffs (besides themselves) in back-to-back weeks to be one step away from completing one of the greatest turnarounds ever, and try to take home their second Lombardi Trophy in three years.
In Green Bay, it seemed like there was a sniper camped out on the roof of Lambeau all year, with the run of injuries to key elements of their roster. There was no shortage of predictions that placed the Pack at the top of the NFC, and even in the Super Bowl. However, after injuries to running back Ryan Grant, of consecutive 1,200 yard season fame, and explosive tight end JerMichael Finley, they were running thin early. Later on, two concussions to Aaron Rodgers sent them reeling for real, basically contributing directly to losses against New England and a 3-0 shutout loss versus Detroit, of all teams Now, after stretches were they went 1-3 over two separate four-week stints, they are the first six seed to ever make the Super Bowl out of the NFC, and are momentum’s chosen children at the moment.