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Pittsburgh Steelers versus Baltimore Ravens

I’m sure that there are a lot of clichés you can use to make the Baltimore Ravens feel better, but they lost this game. This is not a game that the Pittsburgh Steelers won. The Pittsburgh Steelers played a disastrous first half of football. When your star player, Ben Roethlisberger, gives up a sack fumble deep in the field, you can’t expect to win. When your star running back, Rashard Mendenhall, coughs up the football, you can’t expect to win. The Baltimore Ravens turned each one of these turnovers into touchdowns. The Baltimore Ravens took a 21-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. There’s no way that the Baltimore Ravens should lose the game with this type of suffocating defense. No way. The only way that the Baltimore Ravens could lose this game would be if the offense turns the ball over. The Baltimore Ravens offense does exactly this. They turn the ball over not once, not twice but three times in the second half. Joe Flacco, who has been crowned many times over the last three years as the second coming of Joe Montana, proved that he is not ready. There are certain mistakes that you simply cannot make in a playoff game. His first down throw into double coverage was simply a bad decision, resulting in an interception. I simply cannot explain the fumbled snap which turns into another Ravens turnover. That simply cannot happen in the NFL. While everyone will focus on the two huge dropped passes by the Ravens wide receivers (Boldin drops a TD and Houshmanszadeh drops a first down ball on a 4th and 15 with a minute to go), I would like to focus on the first down throw to Todd Heap who is open over the middle. It is first and 10 at midfield. There is approximately 1 min. to go in the game. The Ravens have no timeouts. The Ravens are down by seven points and they need a touchdown. They only have 50 yards to go. They have Pro Bowl receivers and a Pro Bowl tight end. This is a ball that Joe Flacco needs to put directly on the receiver and he overthrows the receiver by 2-3 yards! This can’t happen if you want to win in the playoffs. The quarterback is the leader of the team. The quarterback has to lead the team through adversity. In my opinion, Joe Flacco let his team down.

Now contrast Joe Flacco’s performance to Ben Roethlisberger’s. I’m not sure if Big Ben made a major mistake in the second half. He was calm under pressure, able to find the open receiver. He took advantage of every opportunity that the Ravens gave to him. The Ravens defense really played well (Terrell Suggs had a monster game!). They only gave up a total of 263 total yards. Big Ben was sacked six times, yet somehow he made enough plays to win. Ben was the difference between winning and losing this game. Ben Roethlisberger carried his team to victory. Joe Flacco did not.

Green Bay Packers versus Atlanta Falcons

I really thought that Atlanta had a good opportunity to win this game. I thought if they were able to control the clock and make Aaron Rodgers drive the length of the field, the Atlanta Falcons had a good opportunity to win. Now, looking back at the game, I think that Eric Weems‘ 102 yard kickoff return actually hurt the Atlanta Falcons. Let’s look at that sequence of events again. The Green Bay Packers just completed a 13 play 81 yard drive. The Falcons defense must’ve been winded. The drive took almost 8 minutes. The Falcons defense needed a breather. They needed the Falcon offense to take a 4 or 5  minutes off the clock. Yet, Eric Weems explodes for 102 yards and takes only 14 seconds off the clock. The Green Bay Packers now take the ball on a 10 play 92 yard drive that eats up almost 6 minutes off the clock. The Packers score another touchdown. To me, this was a turning point in the game. These two extremely long drives allow Aaron Rodgers to get into a groove that very few quarterbacks ever see. Aaron Rodgers proved why he should be talked about, along with Tom Brady, for league MVP. He played a perfect game.

In my opinion, as in the case of Joe Flacco, when the Atlanta Falcons needed Matt Ryan to show up big, he failed. Two plays late in the second quarter killed the Atlanta Falcons’ opportunity to steal the momentum and get back into this game. The game is 14-14. The Atlanta Falcons are driving down the field. They’re deep in Packers’ territory. Michael Jenkins beats Tremont Williams on a double move. He is easily 5 yards behind Williams. Matt Ryan needs to throw a smoking hot laser shot to Jenkins. The ball has to get to Jenkins before Jenkins runs out of the back of the end zone and before the safety can rotate over the top. Finally, the ball has to get there before Williams can get underneath it. Instead of throwing the ball on a rope, Matt Ryan lofts it, which gives Williams an opportunity to get back into the play. Tremont makes an interception and kills a big Atlanta drive. Huge play. The Green Bay Packers take the ball down the length of the field and score a touchdown. On the very next possession, the Atlanta Falcons are desperate. Time is running out in the second quarter and momentum is clearly wearing a yellow and green jersey. If the Falcons kick a field goal, it will be approximately 53 yards. The Falcons are looking to make another 5-10 yards to make a field goal a little easier. They call a sprint out throw to the left. Matt Ryan, a right-handed quarterback, has to make an extremely difficult throw as he is moving to his left. He is a hair late with the throw to the outside. Anyone who plays Madden football knows that throws the outside are difficult under the best of circumstances. They’re nearly impossible to complete if you throw the ball late. The ball almost always gets intercepted. Tremont Williams undercuts the receiver, intercepts the ball and runs for a touchdown. For all practical purposes, the game is over. The Falcons are a very good team who happened to play a red-hot quarterback at the wrong time.

The Packers are looking more and more like the team to beat in the NFC.