Morning Links: Playoff Roundup, Steelers and Packers Head To The Super Bowl

Steve O Speak

The Packers Head To Their 5th Super Bowl: The Packers drove down and scored on their first drive, on the arm of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay continued to keep the pressure up with another touchdown drive, and they looked firmly in control through three quarters. In the 4th quarter though they needed their defense to come up with big plays to win the game.

It was the most unlikely of scenarios, as the Bears were down to their 3rd string emergency quarterback, Caleb Hanie. Starter Jay Cutler got injured in a first half, where he was constantly under pressure. He did try to play the 2nd half, but it was apparent that he didn’t look or feel alright. Veteran backup Todd Collins replaced him, but he was no more effective and he too got banged up against the Packers defense. That meant that everything rested on the shoulders of a 3rd year undrafted rookie free agent out of Colorado State. And due to the rules of inactive players, by putting Hanie in the Bears ensured they couldn’t turn back to Cutler or Collins no matter what happened.

While he was the unlikeliest of heroes Hanie answered the call for the Bears. Completing a crucial 2nd and 13 pass from the 33 yard line, that went 32 yards and set up a one yard touchdown run. Despite the Packers having everything go right up until that point, the Bears were just one score away from tying the game. You could see the momentum switch at that point, as the Bears defense allowed just 17 offensive yards in three 4th quarter drives (not counting the kneel down at the end of the game), the Bears did have 30 yards in penalties, but even with two free first downs the Packers couldn’t move the ball. Hanie wasn’t perfect though, as he threw a costly pick 6 with six minutes to go. The young quarterback rebounded though, as on the Bears ensuing drive he completed four straight passes to go 60 yards in a 1:20, and put the Bears back within one score.

Hanie would lead one more drive for the Bears, and he got them down deep into Packers territory, but threw a decisive interception on a 4th and 5 play from the 29 yard line. While some people may question Hanie on that last drive, the real questions should be directed at HC Lovie Smith and OC Mike Martz. Facing a 3rd and 3, they called a timeout, switching away from a run that looked like it was going to work, for an end around play that lost two yards. That put Hanie in a bad situation and further away from the first down. Not to take away from the Packers defense, but that timeout just didn’t make sense as it allowed Green Bay some time to think and come up with the big play. The result could have been the same regardless, but there is no doubt that it didn’t help Hanie’s odds of converting the 4th down.

The Packers will now head to Dallas to take on the Steelers, and while they’ve been impressive for the majority of the postseason, they will need to answer why they were so bad in the 4th quarter yesterday.

Pittsburgh Survives A New York Comeback Attempt: It really was the tale of two halves, as the Steelers jumped out to a 24-0 lead, and the Jets answered with 19 straight points, 16 of which came in the 2nd half. In the first half the Steelers were able to run and throw at will, and their defense completely had the Jets number.

The 2nd half belonged to the Jets as they moved the ball pretty effectively against the Steelers defense. Mark Sanchez looked very poised and in control in the 2nd half and hit on the throws that he was throwing incomplete in the first half. Although the Steelers still stopped the run, Shonn Greene had some nice gains on crucial plays for the Jets, setting up 3rd and short situations, and making things easier for the offense. On defense the Jets finally had an answer for the Steelers running game, and came up with some big sacks against Roethlisberger as well. A crucial interception on a broken play, kept the Steelers from scoring and putting the game out of reach. After being stopped on a 4th and goal at the one yard line, the Jets defense showed blitz and a bad snap led to a safety.

While the Jets dominated the majority of the 2nd half a few little victories were the difference in this game for the Steelers. While the 4th and goal stop was wasted with safety, and ensuing drive in which the Jets scored, the Steelers defense made them fight for every yard each drive. Combined the two drives for the Jets took over twelve and a half minutes, which resulted in 9 points (2 of which weren’t the fault of the defense). That 4th and goal stop was crucial as it forced the Jets to ‘regain’ the yards they already had and waste more time off the clock. And while the Pittsburgh offense was ineffective for much of the 2nd half, Roethlisberger came up big when it mattered. He completed two big first down passes, that ensured that the Jets would never get the ball back, and sent the Steelers to their 8th Super Bowl.

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