NFL 2008-2009 Title Games Recap

On Monday, January 19th, 2009, we acknowledge a fallen civil rights leader.

On Tuesday, January 20th, we say good bye to one President and swear in his successor, in a moment that would make Dr. King proud.

Yet this is Sunday, January 18th. Today is about football.

Are the events of today more significant of those in coming days? No.

Yet they do matter. History matters.

Before getting to the games, some NFL history must be acknowledged.

The Coaching Carousel has led to some shocking developments.

The Detroit Lions began the season and ended it with a 16 game losing streak. So a change in the coaching staff was no surprise. However, a pair of other changes were shocking.

After 14 years, the Denver Broncos fired Mike Shanahan. The team began 8-5, but collapsed in their final 3 games to miss ther playoffs. The team that knocked them out, the San Diego Chargers, began 4-8, ran the table, won a playoff game, and somehow still have Norvelous Norv Turner as their head coach.

The Chargers won their playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. That playoff game was the final game for Coach Tony Dungy.

Tony Dungy retired. This is a loss for football. If there was a finer man to coach a team, I cannot think of that man off the top of my head.

Tony Dungy did not yell or scream. He treated his players like adults. Some people thought he was too “soft,” or too “nice” to be a head coach. They were wrong.

As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Tony Dungy embodies Dr. King’s vision. Coach Dungy may or may not have waited longer than other men for his head coaching opportunity due to the color of his skin. Yet what he did with that opportunity is what truly matters.

He got his opportunity from Dennis Green. He was going to make sure other black men got their chances. Thanks to Tony Dungy, the NFL got to see the coaching acumen of Lovie Smith and Herm Edwards. Just this week, two more coaches with ties to Dungy will be getting their chance, Jim Caldwell and Raheem Morris.

Yet while Tony Dungy did help other minority coaches get hired, he did something equally important in the world of football. He won games. Lots of them. For 6 straight years, the Colts went at least 12-4. In back to back seasons the Colts won their first 9 games. This year they won their last 9 regular season games.

Tony Dungy is a devout Christian, and he wants to spend his time helping young black men stay on the straight and narrow.

It is impossible to mention Tony Dungy without mentioning the tragic death of his teenage son. The young man took his own life. The entire NFL family grieved for Tony Dungy, one of the most beloved men in football. His book about his Christian faith is an inspiring read.

Yet again, today is about football. Everything truly does come full circle. Tony Dungy took a losing laughingstock of a franchise in Tampa Bay and turned the Buccaneers into winners. For his reward, he was fired. His replacement was Jon Gruden, who was just fired himself this week and replaced with Morris.

Jon Gruden took the Raiders from the basement to 3 straight division championships. He then left the Raiders for the Buccaneers. The following year the Buccaneers thrashed the Raiders in the Super Bowl. In a strange irony, The Raiders knocked the Buccaneers out of the playoff race this year. The 9-3 Buccaneers collapsed, lost their final 4 games, including at home to the Raiders, and missed the playoffs at 9-7. The Buccaneers also fired General Manager Bruce Allen, who also left the Raiders to come to Tampa Bay.

Yet if there is one thing we have learned from football, it is that Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, truly is behind every conspiracy. Rumors have it that in the 1980 season, Davis hired a cropduster to seed the clouds to make it rain in San Diego, which would slow down Air Coryell and the Chargers.

Yet when Gruden bolted the Raiders for the Buccaneers and then won that Super Bowl, Davis planned an elaborate revenge. He deliberately hired and fired Lane Kiffin, knowing Kiffin would take a college head coaching job. He knew that Kiffin would hire his father Monte Kiffin to run the defense. Monte was the long time defensive coordinator of the Buccaneers. By having him leave, the demoralized defense would collapse, knocking the Bucs out of the playoffs and costing Gruden his job. Al Davis should be on the phone with Allen and Gruden right now.

Yet 28 teams can worry about the draft in April. Today is about the remaining 4 teams.

NFC Title Game: Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles–Both of these teams are feel good stories this year. The Cardinals might be the feel good story of the past half of a century. Neither of these teams has ever won a Super Bowl, and the Cardinals have never been to one. This year saw the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants and 13-3 and the Carolina Panthers at 12-4 slug it out in Week 17. They were on a collision course for the rematch in the NFC Title Game. This was until neither of these teams even got there.

Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid are in their 5fth NFC Title Game. Their first one came during the 1999 season, when the Eagles led at halftime only to fall to the eventual Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams. The Rams had the Greatest Show on Turf, led by Kurt Warner. Warner is now leading the Greatest Show in the Desert, the Cardinals. Arizona and Philadelphia both thrashed two teams on the road with better records than theirs. The 9-6-1 Eagles now play the 9-7 Cardinals for all the marbles. A few weeks ago in Philadelphia the Eagles thrashed the Cardinals by 28 points. Yet this rematch is in Arizona.

The Cardinals took over at their own 20 and went right to work. The first key play came on 3rd and 1 from the 29. Both of these teams are pass happy, and face difficulty on 3rd and 1 running the ball up the middle for the conversion. On this 3rd and 1, Warner threw for 19 yards to Larry Fitzgerald to the Arizona 48. From the Philadelphia 40, back to back runs of 16 and 12 yards by Edgerrin James had the Cardinals at the Philadelphia 12. Warner hit Fitzgerald for the 9 yard touchdown pass to put the Cardinals up 7-0 5 1/2 minutes into the game.

Neil Rackers kicked the ball out of bounds, setting up the Eagles for the first time at their own 40. McNabb scrambled for 21 yards to the Arizona 39. On 3rd and 6 from the 35, McNabb hit Bryan Westbrook for 7 yards and a first down. On 3rd and 4 from the 22, a false start and an incompletion led to a 44 yard field goal by David Akers to pull the Eagles to within 7-3 after the first quarter.

After an Arizona punt, the Eagles faced 3rd and 10 at their own 33. McNabb threw a pass into triple coverage that was batted up in the air and intercepted by Francisco at the Arizona 42. Yet Francisco was stripped of the ball on the return, and Big John Runyan recovered the fumble at the Philadelphia 25. Although the Eagles lost a net 8 yards on the play, the exchange of turnovers made it an automatic first down again. McNabb hit Hank Baskett for 14 yards, and Westbrook added another 14 on the gorund to get to the Arizona 47. The drive reached the Arizona 29, but this time Akers missed on a 47 yard field goal. AKers had his NFL record 19 consecutive playoff field goals snapped.

Ken Whisenhunt then went into his bag of tricks. WHisenhunt is a Bill Cowher disciple, and that includes gadget plays. Warner lateraled to JJ Arrington. Arrington tossed it back to Warner. Warner took the flea flicker and went deep to Fitzgerald for the 62 yard touchdown bomb and a 14-3 Cardinals lead.  Warner was leveld on the play, resulting in a late hit call. Nevertheless, he released the ball just in time.

The Eagles took over at their own 20 and continued to move the ball well. On 3rd and 1 from the 29, the Eagles decided to pass. McNabb was sacked, but a defensive holding penalty kept the drive alive. McNabb then hit Curtis for a 47 yard gain down to the Arizona 19. The drive again bogged down in the red zone, but David Akers nailed his second field goal to get the Eagles to within 14-6.

The Cardinals took over at their own 27, and James quickly ripped off a 22 yard gain. A 16 yard pass to Arrington followed by a 12 yarder to Pope had the Cardinals at the Eagles 14. Warner then hit Steve Breaston for 10 yards down to the 4. After a defensive pass interference call, Warner hit Fitzgerald for the one yard touchdown pass. Their 3rd hookup together had the Cardinals up 21-6.

Controversy ensued on the ensuing kickoff. The Cardinals recovered it for the equivalent of an onsides kick. However, it was ruled that a Philadelphisa player touched it while he was out of bounds. The play was not reviewable, something the league should look at in the future. Nevertheless, the Eagles punted.

The Cardinals took over at their own 16 with 90 seconds left in the half. The concept of playing it safe is not Whisenhunt’s style. He wanted the knockout blow. As for knockouts, the normally disciplined and blitz happy Jim Johnson defense made critical mistakes in the first half. A short completion was followed by another personal foul late hit on Warner. This moved the ball to the Arizona 36, giving the Cardinals more room for their wide open offense.Warner then threw a pass that should have been intercepted by Brian Dawkins. Dawkins bobbled it, and Anquon Boldin appeared to catch it, get back up, and run for a 32 yard gain. However, on further review, the play was ruled an incomplete pass.

On 3rd and 15 from the 31, Warner hit Urban for 18 yards and a 1st down. Warner hit Fitzgerald for 14 more yards. With 52 seconds left in the half, the Cardinals faced 2nd and 10 from the Philly 37. Warner was sacked back at the 44, out of field goal range. Neither side took a timeout, but with 11 seconds left, on 3rd and 17, Warner hit Boldin for 13 yards. This prevented the Eagles from getting the ball back, and on the last play of half, Rackers drilled a 49 yard field goal. Both teams had moved the ball, and despite Warner taking heavy hits and McNabb having fabulous protection, it was the Cardinals leading 24-6 at intermission.

The Eagles began the second half at their own 39 in a game where neither kicker was burying kickoffs deep. On 3rd and 8 from the Arizona 47, McNabb was sacked for a 10 yard loss, resulting in a fumble. Arizona took over at the Philadelphia 43 with a chance to turn out the lights. The defense held, and the Eagles took over at their own 10. McNabb then led a 13 play, 90 yard drive that took 6 minutes. On 3rd and 3 from the 17, McNabb hit Brent Celek for 7 yards. On 3rd and 2 from the 32, McNabb again hit Celek for 7 yards. On 3rd and 18 from the 31, McNabb went deep and the miracle prayer was answered. A 50 yard bomb to Curtis had the Eagles at the Arizona 19. After a 10 yard McNabb run, McNabb hit Celek for the 6 yard touchdown to get the Eagles to within 24-13.

This time it was Akers that kicked the kickoff out of bounds. The Cardinals started at the 35 instead of the 40 due to a defensive running into the kicker penalty on the prior extra point. Yet the Cardinals went backwards and punted. The Eagles again took over at their own 39, and a 14 yard pass to Curtis had the Eagles again at the Arizona 47. On 3rd and 6 from the 43, McNabb hit Jackson for 9 yards. A couple plays later, McNabb went deep to Celek, who broke a tackle and scored on the 31 yard pass play. Somehow, Akers missed the extra point, hooking it wide. Yet the Eagles had scored 2x in just over 3 minutes to pull within 24-19 after three quarters.

The Cardinals took over at their own 20, and on 3rd and 3 from the 27, Warner hit James for 16 yards. The drive stalled after that and the Cardinals punted again. The Eagles took over on their own 14 with 13 minutes remaining in the game. McNabb hit Buckhalter for 12 yards and Avant for 9 more. From the Philadelphia 38, McNabb rolled out, and with nobody near him, fired a 62 yard bomb to Jackson for the go ahead touchdown. Due to the earlier missed extra point, the Eagles had to go for the 2 point conversion. It failed but 19 points in 8 1/2 minutes turned a 24-6 deficit into a 25-24 Eagles lead with 10:45 left.

The Cardinals took over at their own 28. In the second half the Eagles had touchdowns on all 3 possessions and the Cardinals had netted 29 total yards and only one first down. The Eagles were rolling and the Cardinals were reeling. Yet they still had a champion in Warner, and champions get the job done. Warner hit Fitzgerald for a 15 yard gain. On 3rd and 2 from midfield, Hightower picked up only one yard.

On 4th and 1, with 8 minutes left, Whisenhunt decided to go for it. His defense needed the rest, and the offense needed the spark. With everything on the line, Hightower went around the end for 6 yards. Warner hit Fitzgerald for an 18 yard gain to the Philadelphia 23. On 3rd and 1 from the 14, Hightower picked up 5 yards. On 3rd and goal from the 8, the entire season for both teams came down to one play. Warner came through, hitting Hightower for the touchdown, Warner’s 4th touchdown pass on the day. The 2 point conversion to Patrick had the Cardinals up by 7 points. The drive ate up 14 plays and 8 minutes, leaving 3 minutes remaining and the Eagles with one timeout.

The Eagles took over at their own 20. On 3rd and 1 from the 29, McNabb hit Celek for 5 yards. McNabb then hit Westbrook for a 19 yard gain to the Arizona 47. They got no further, and 4 incomplete passes later, the Cardinals had the ball on downs. With 1:57 left, they tried to run out the clock. On 3rd and 1 form the Philly 44, Hightower lost a yard. The Cardinals punted, and the Eagles took over with 9 seconds remaining at their own 7 yard line. Needing 93 yards on one play, the Eagles fell short by about 90 yards.

On a side note, my friend brought his 2 year old toddler here just qas the game was ending. For the first time in history, my apartment had 2 Erics and 3 Daniels in it. My roommate is a Cardinals fan, and he had to run into his room to celebrate the greatest moment in his life without scaring the boy. Wer turned down the sound and put the Berenstein Bears on the small tv.

We are all Jewish, and the Cardinals really are the Jews of the NFL. They have wandered from place to place without a homeland, eventually wandering in the Desert for years. Yet while the Jews had Moses, it was a devout Christian and former grocery checkout clerk that led the Cardinals from the Desert to the promised land of Tampa Bay Florida. Yet it was the Catholic Bishops who reigned on this day, as Cardinals everywhere celebrated.

The Philadelphia press may print nonsense about McNabb and Reid doing badly when it counted, but they played a good game, and McNabb led a heroic comeback. Kurt Warner just had one last glorious drive in him, and it was just enough. Yes, the Cardinals…the Cardinals…are going to the Super Bowl. 32-25 Cardinals

AFC Title Game–Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers–These division rivals hate each others guts. With the NFC expected to be a shootout, the AFC is expected to be a defensive bonelock. The Ravens won it all in the 2000 season, while the Steelers won it all after the 2005 season. The Ravens still have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed keying a nasty defense, while the Steelers have the closest thing since the 1970s of the Steel Curtain. On offense Pittsburgh has 2nd year Coach Mike Tomlin and 4th year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens have rookies at Coach and quarterback in John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco. These are no rookies.

Early in the season, these teams went to overtime before Pittsburgh won 23-20 at home. The rematch very late in the season featured a controversial touchdown at the end of the game that gave the Steelers a brutal 13-9 win in Baltimore. The Ravens have been thirsting for revenge.

Pittsburgh took over at their own 34. On 2nd and 12 at the 32, Ben Roethlisberger went deep to Hines Ward for a 45 yard gain to the Baltimore 23. The drive bogged down at the 16, and a 33 yard Josh Reed field goal had the Steelers up 3-0 in a game where points were expected to come at a premium. Midway through the opening quarter, Flacco was intercepted by Deshard Townsend. The Steelers started at the Baltimore 35. From the 24, an apparent touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes was ruled down at the one yard line. Mike Tomlin challenged the call, but regretted doing so. Not only was the play not ruled a touchdown, it was ruled an incomplete pass. The Steelers settled for another field goal and a 6-0 lead after the first quarter.

On the second play of the second quarter, the Steelers faced 3rd and 9 at their own 35. Big Ben somehow avoided a sack, and completed a pass to Santonio Holmes just as he was going down. Holmes avoided the tacklers, picked up some great blocks, cut across the entire field, and leapt to stretch the ball just beyond the cone at the pileon. The 65 yard touchdown put the Steelers up 13-0.

Pittsburgh was in total control of the game when Leonhard returned a punt 45 yards, setting up the Ravens at the Pittsburgh 17 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the half. After a defensive pass interference penalty, Willis McGahee ran it in from 3 yards out to pull the Ravens within 13-7. After an exchange of punts, the Steelers took over at midfield with one minute left in the half. Big Ben went deep to a wide open Limas Sweed, who dropped it. The perfectly thrown ball simply bounced off his fingertips. On 4th and 10 the Steelers punted, a roughing the punter penalty gave them second life. From the Baltimore 21, the Steelers tried to get closer. A completed pass to the 9 did not allow time for a spike, and the Steelers wasted an opportunity without getting a field goal attempt.

(A brief irrelevant tangent is to inform everyone that thanks to my close friend now having a 2 year old toddler, I am thankful for multiple televisions. The game remained on the big screen, but my LCD monitor was used to play clips of “The Wiggles.” Such is the life of male bonding in the 21st century.)

Midway through the third quarter the Steelers took over at their own 20. On 3rd and 6 from the 24, Roethlisberger hit Davis for a 20 yard gain to the 44. On the next play Big Ben was sacked for a 14 yard loss. Yet on 2nd and 24 from their 30, Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for a 30 yard gain to the Pittsburgh 40. The drive reached the 29, where Reed nailed his 3rd field goal of the game. The 46 yarder had the Steelers up 16-7 after an 11 play, 5 1/2 minute drive as the game went to the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh converted on a 3rd and 8 at their own 14 on their next drive, but on 3rd and 1 at their own 37, a pass was broken up by Ray Lewis. A 21 yard shank punt had the Ravens in business at the Pittsburgh 42. On 2nd and 17, Flacco completed passes of 14 and 11 yards to Derrick Mason.  A pass to the end zone resulted in defensive pass interference. McGahee ran it in, and with 9 1/2 minutes left, the Ravens were within 16-14. The Steelers took over at their own 41, lost 7 yards, and punted. The Ravens had the ball with a chance to take lead at their own 14 with 7 minutes left.

This game came down to one play. With 4 1/2 minutes left, facing 3rd and 13 at their own 29, Flacco went back to pass and was intercepted by Troy Palomalu. Palomalu, bobbed, weaved, and danced around everybody to reach the end zone. The interception for a touchdown had the Steelers back up by 9 points. A scary point in the game came one minute later when McGahee got leveled on a helmet to helmet hit. He lay motionless on the ground for over 15 minutes, and was carried out on a stretcher. As both teams kneeled and prayed, a classy Pittsburgh crowd cheered when he was wheeled off. To add even more insult to the horrible situation, McGahee fumbled on the play. Pittsburgh recovered the ball, ending any final threat.

McGahee is being kept overnight for observation, but he was reported to be ok. The teams may have bitter hatred, but on both sides there are deep levels of respect. The Ravens rode a rookie quarterback and coach along with their stellar defense to one game shy of the big dance. Yet one play by the Pittsburgh defense was just enough. The Steelers will be attempting to be the first team to win 6 rings. 23-14 Steelers

For those looking for a storyline, it will be about the coaches. Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Tomlin both were both Pittsburgh assistants under Bill Cowher. This will be the “Jaw Bowl,” or “Mandible Bowl.” Whisenhunt wanted the Pittsburgh job when Cowher retired, but he was passed over in favor of Tomlin. Russ Grimm also wanted the job, but he was also passed over. As a Pittsburgh assistant, he joined Whisenhunt in Arizona as an assistant there. So there will be an element of payback.

As for the players, Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show in the Desert will be bringing their offense against a typical Pittsburgh team that relies on hard nosed running and stout defense.

In a very classy gesture, when accepting the conference championship trophy, Roethlisberger thanked our troops stationed overseas. As for the Cardinals, they lost a true hero of their own when Pat Tillman lost his life in Afghanistan. He should and will be prominently mentioned over the next couple of weeks.

The Cardinals are going to their first Super Bowl, leaving only the Lions, Texans, Jaguars, Browns, and Saints still hoping to reach the prize game. All except the expansion Texans, yet to have a winning season or make the playoffs, have made it at least to a conference title game, one game away.

On Sunday, February 1st, 2009, in Tampa, Florida, The Arizona Cardinals take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

Ballgame! On!

eric

6 Responses to “NFL 2008-2009 Title Games Recap”

  1. Wow. The Cardinals – THE CARDINALS – are going to the Super Bowl. If the Lions make it next year, then the apocalypse is surely on it’s way.

    I’m rooting for the Cards. What a great story. James finally getting a ring (well, a real one) after all those futile playoff choke teams he played for in Indy, Warner turning around yet another historic loser and taking them to the Big Game, the Cards finally going all the way… wow. What a great year for the NFL.

    JMJ

  2. […] here: NFL 2008-2009 Title Games Recap | THE TYGRRRR EXPRESS arizona, cardinals, christian, dungy, eagles, game, over-at-their, philadelphia, pittsburgh, […]

  3. Toma says:

    Well conference champs are decided. Both games where tough, tight and well played. NFL play-off football is the the cream of the sports world.

    First trip to the big party for the Cards and they deserve it. Warner was solid, Larry F. is unbelievable. I think they will tear the curtain.

    Big Ben got hit in the back but looked to be ok at games end.

    Willis MaGahee needs our prayers. I checked ESPN before posting this and nothing new was reported. Hope he is ok.

    Have a good week every body.

    Toma

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