What I want to know is this: how many times are teams going to let the Steelers slip by? A desperation hurl into the end zone won them the Super Bowl against the Cardinals. A desperation throw down the sideline got them to the NFC championships this year. And another desperation third down play is sending them to the Super Bowl again. Is it luck? Is it skill? Is both? Is it other teams just not stopping them? I don’t know, but I find it wearying. However, the real big storyline to come out of the Championship round of this year’s Playoffs, did Jay Cutler quit? After sustaining a knee injury at some point during the game, he left early in the third and now is at the center of controversy firestorm. Should he have continued to play, even though the medical staff and trainers told him not to? Even if he didn’t, did he give up on this team by sulking on the sidelines the rest of the game? Whatever may actually have happened, the perception that he gave up may dog Cutler for a long time to come. Well, Madden was 50-50 for the championships, so let’s see how it all came out:
New York vs. Pittsburgh - Jets 10, Steelers 3: The defenses were stifling this weekend, and none more so than Pittsburgh’s. The Jets were able to rally too little too late, and the Steelers D kept shut them down on a crucial fourth and goal. The Jets found their offense too late in the game, and their D couldn’t contain Big Ben long enough to help their team win. As he does, Roethlisberger continued to find ways to extend plays and convert third downs, and in so doing sealed the Jets’ fate. Big Ben ended the game 10 of 19 for 133 yards and 2 INTs, which is about the performance predicted by Madden 11. Mendenhall, again like our Madden sim, had a huge game with 121 yards and a TD. Meanwhile, Sanchez and the entire Jets offense struggled to get anything going in the first half, which was really their undoing. Sanchez eventually ended the game 20 of 33 with 2 TDs, and the Jets running game struggled until late with Greene able to get 52 yards on the ground, while L.T. could only amass 19 and missed a chance to score a crucial TD. I’ll give this to the Steelers, they find a way to win, and it’s their defense that helps make that possible. Will it be enough against the Packers; we’ll see in two weeks.
Just for fun I played our sims this week in the snow, and apparently that wreaked havoc on this particular game. I can’t remember the last time a Madden sim was such a sloppy mess. Players were dropping passes, QB’s were slipping and making in accurate throws, offenses had a hard time getting any traction; it was ugly. The first quarter was fairly uneventful. The Steelers opened with an unstoppable drive, most of it coming through the ground game, but the Jets were able to hold on the goal line forcing the Steelers to settle for a field goal. The Jets then put together their own sustained drive which ended the first, and they opened the second with a 49 yard field goal that missed. However, on their next series, the Steelers turned the ball over after a Roethlisberger interception, and the Jets were able to drive the short field to get a TD on a one yard run by Tomlinson. The third quarter was just a sloppy, frustrating mess. Three key passes were dropped by Jets players on third down, and Roethlisberger over threw a couple of wide open receivers. The Steelers continued to dominate the ground game, but their drives consistently ground to a halt just outside of scoring range. In the fourth, Pittsburgh tried a 45 yard field goal, but missed, and the Jets got a few yards back the other way before settling for a 22 yard field goal of their own. And that was that. A sloppy, messy game in the snow ended with a tough Jets win over the Steelers. I can only assume that both teams will play better than they did in our sim, so who knows how this one may really turn out. Sanchez ended the day with 6 of 20 for 91 yards. Roethlisberger didn’t do any better, completing only 5 of 17 for a meager 47 yards and 1 INT (like that’s going to happen). Interestingly enough, the Steelers ground game was really working for them, so I don’t know why they didn’t go to it more considering their problems through the air. Mendenhall was getting around 5 yards a carry and had 87 yards on the day. Tomlinson had a tougher time against the Steeler defense, but was able to amass 38 yards and a TD. The Jets also had five sacks against Roethlisberger, which could indeed be a key to success against the Steelers on Sunday.
Packers 21, Chicago 14:
Credit the Bears defense for keeping them in this one until the final quarter. Early on it looked as though Rodgers and the Packers offense would have their way with the Bears D, but Urlacher and the rest of the crew buckled down and held Green Bay to just their two offensive TDs. Unfortunately, the Packers D did the same to the Bears offense, befuddling Jay Cutler (who eventually left the game with a knee injury) and creating turnovers of their own, one of which led to seven key points and the other ended all hope for the Bears. Rodgers ended the day with 17 of 30 for 244 yards and 2 INTs (one which he prevented from being returned for a TD, which as it turned out, was a pretty key play). Starks found room to get 74 yards on the ground and got a rushing TD, as did Rodgers. Meanwhile, Cutler struggled early, missing some big passes before being injured. He ended the day 6 of 14 for 80 yards and an INT. Third stringer Hanie helped spark the offense, but he also turned the ball over going 13 of 20 for 153 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs. Forte had 70 yards on the ground and another 90 through the air. It was a brutal, defensive battle that was worthy of this great rivalry, it’s just too bad it may be over shadowed by the question of whether or not Cutler quit. So can the Packers D stymie Big Ben. More importantly, will Rodgers and the offense find their groove again against a new Steel Curtain? We’ll find out in two weeks.
Green Bay vs. Chicago - Packers 38, Bears 14:
This is a game that could potentially upstage the Super Bowl. It’s a classic rivalry between two storied franchises played outside in the elements (how cool would a snowy Packers/Bears game be?) Things got off to a fast start as Chicago turned the ball over on a Cutler interception. Rodgers quickly turned that into points on a 11 yard pass to Hall. The Bears recovered just fine on their next series, taking up the rest of the quarter with a long drive that ended with a TD early in the second. Green Bay came right back as they drove the field for a 16 yard TD to Jones. However, the seesaw battle continued as the Bears were unstoppable once again with a drive that ended with a 15 yard TD pass to Olsen. With time running out in the half, the Packers were able to get into field goal range for 3 more points just before the half ended. The opened the second half with the ball, and they once again drove down the field, this time utilizing the ground game, and got a TD with a one yard rush by Starks. It looked as though Chicago would respond in kind as their next drive got off to a good start, but it was quickly ended with an INT that was returned for a TD. Going into the fourth, the Bears put together another solid looking drive, but for the third time of the day, Cutler didn’t see the coverage correctly and was intercepted. The Bears D kept the Packers from turning that into points, but the final nail in the coffin came on the next possession for the Bears. Once again a solid looking drive ended in disaster as Forte put the ball on the ground and the Packers recovered it. Rodgers ended the game with a 37 yard TD pass to Jennings, and thus ended the hopes of Chicago reaching the Super Bowl. Rodgers ended the day with 18 of 27 for 256 yards and 3 TDs. Cutler could have had a stellar day as well, if it wasn’t for the turnovers. He went 17 of 30 for 257 yards, 2 TDs and 3 very costly INTs. The ground game worked when it needed to for Green Bay, with Jackson getting 38 yards and Starks another 13 plus a TD. Since they were playing from behind in the second half, the Bears never really did get their ground game going. Jones ended the day with 102 yards receiving and a TD for the Packers, and Bennett was the main target for the Bears with 121 yards receiving. Turnovers, they’re costly and despite his solid play recently, Cutler is prone to throw them, so we’ll see what happens on Sunday.