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Real Super Bowl this Sunday

January 16, 2009
By B.J. LISKO, Salem News Sports Editor

I sincerely doubt anyone picked the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals to be the representatives in the NFC championship when the 2008 season began back in September. Similarly, I'm not so sure the Baltimore Ravens with a new head coach and rookie quarterback topped most people's lists either.

But that's exactly what we have, as three of the four remaining pro squads standing came almost out of nowhere to have a shot at Super Bowl stardom.

The Steelers are almost always on everyone's short list to get to the postseason. Their stock went even higher when New England quarterback Tom Brady bit the dust before the season began, leaving perhaps only the Colts as the projected road block. But the Colts are gone, too - victims of a one dimensional, and in many cases, one player show.

Baltimore is where it is on sheer determination. They're battered, beaten, and still clinging to life thanks to a veteran defense that refuses to quit and a rookie quarterback who does just barely enough to notch the team victories.

Sunday's Pittsburgh-Baltimore match-up is Round 3 of the rivalry that for the time being has replaced Steelers-Browns in the AFC North.

It should be a slugfest.

Pittsburgh finally seemed to find an offensive balance last week in a 35-24 win over San Diego. If the combined running attacks of Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore can net the team yards, it almost always pays dividends for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the passing attack.

If it doesn't, then it's on Roethlisberger to make plays happen to move the ball up field, which either leads to the promised land and especially the highlight reel, or to disastrous results.

This season, you can almost single handedly place the blame for every Steelers loss on Roethlisberger trying to do too much in lieu of taking a sack or simply throwing the ball away. Granted, poor blocking and a lack of a running game put him in that position, but with the league's No. 1 defense the Steelers were never not in a position to win.

Baltimore, of course, will be aiming to make the Steelers one dimensional, and hope that quarterback Joe Flacco can complete enough passes down the field to generate offensive scoring.

The NFC championship has cute story lines with Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb. It's great to see them both playing well given the circumstances both endured -Warner vs. Leinart, and McNabb vs. the entire city of Philadelphia.

But the real football game will be in Pittsburgh. Freezing temperatures. Smash-mouth defenses. True hatred for one another along with nothing but total respect. That's my Super Bowl, and I don't even care who wins. It will just be a pleasure to watch.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at bjlisko@salemnews.net

 
 

 

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