Packers, Steelers Worthy of NFL’s Biggest Stage

We’ve reached another Super Bowl, number XLV. (That’s 45 for those who don’t read Roman numeral). Several thoughts on the AFC and NFC Championship games, and initial thoughts on the Super Bowl:

First of all, we had a superb crowd at Hot Shots in Fenton for the second annual Gridiron Gala. Thanks to all who came out. We hope you had as good of a time watching the games with us as we did with you.

On the Packers-Bears game, we saw true black-and-blue division, solid, defensive football. The Packers had allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL (to Pittsburgh’s 232) with 240 against. So, it was no surprise that they allowed Chicago only 14. For those of us who expected Mike Martz would have a great plan to attack the Green Bay defense, we have to keep in mind that the Pack allowed the Bears merely three points in the final game of the regular season.

Jay Cutler was excoriated by other players on Twitter when he came out after the first series of the second half, but his teammates defended him relentlessly. And their point is well taken. The guy WAS sacked 57 times during the regular season and only missed a game because of a concussion. Bears trainers told him not to play in the second half, yet he went out and tried for a series. I’m not a Cutler fan, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Green Bay outgained the Bears 356-301, and the Packers called 25 running plays for 81 yards (Aaron Rodgers ran for 39 more), and outpassed Chicago 236-218. But the key, as it was most of this postseason, was the Packers’ defensive backfield. Against Philadelphia, Tramon Williams clinched the victory with an end-zone interception in the final minute. Williams tortured the Falcons, too, with one end-zone pick and another that he returned for a touchdown. On Sunday, it was rookie nickel corner Sam Shields, who had two interceptions, and nose tackle B.J. Raji, who dropped into coverage and returned a Caleb Hanie pass 18 yards for a touchdown.

At the end of the day, the Packers won because of their defense. With all due respect to Rodgers, the defense is the way they’ll have to win the Super Bowl. Since starting 4-3, Green Bay has allowed more than 17 points just three times in 12 games, and it’s gone 9-3 in those 12.

Pittsburgh played typical Steeler football in its 24-19 win over the Jets, aside from the fact that the defense allowed 17 points. They built up a 24-0 lead, and Ben Roethlisberger turned in his regular game: a win. Despite going just 10 of 19 for 133 with no TD’s and two interceptions (a passer rating of 35.5), Big Ben found a way to win. He ran for a score and, when his team needed him most, in the final three minutes with a five-point lead, he found Heath Miller for 14 yards on a second-and-9, and Antonio Brown for 14 yards on a third-and-6 with just under two minutes left.

The Jets made some plays on defense, but in crunch time, when they needed a stop, they couldn’t make one. When you’re built on defense, you have to get a stop to get the ball back. The Steelers are in the Super Bowl for the third time in six years. They understand how to win AFC Championship games. The Jets still haven’t figured that out.

On the first Sunday in February, former Rams first-round defensive tackle Ryan Pickett of the Packers will play in his second Super Bowl. His first was as a Rams rookie in 2001. Mizzou will be represented by defensive lineman Ziggy Hood. Last year it was Chase Daniel, so the Tigers have a mini-run going.

Mike Tomlin and Mike McCarthy are two of the best young coaches in the NFL. Tomlin is in his second Super Bowl in the last three years. He’s lost Willie Parker, Santonio Holmes, Joey Porter and Alan Faneca, and continues to roll. Even this year, the Steelers have lost their two starting tackles – Willie Colon during the offseason and Max Starks during the regular season – and still won. Amazing coaching.

McCarthy has six opening-day starters on IR: running back Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley, right tackle Mark Tauscher, safety Nick Collins and linebackers Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga. The head coaches and their staffs have both done magnificent jobs.

It’s the team of the ‘60s vs. the team of the ‘70s … for the last title of the 2000s. And, it’s the Packers trying to keep Pittsburgh from catching the Patriots with the most championships in the decade.