Vic Carucci reports from the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh. Check NFL.com later for his complete column.
Before kickoff Sunday, many of the hundreds of writers at Heinz Field felt a bit envious about what they had just watched on the press-box televisions.
“I hope our game is that exciting,” was the common refrain after the Cardinals’ nail-biting, 32-25 victory over the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.
The sparks didn’t fly quite as much in the Steelers’ 23-14 victory over the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, but these teams did what they usually do when they get together: They played a tight game dominated by defenses and vicious hits.
A frightening moment occurred with 3:29 left on the clock when Ravens RB Willis McGahee was blasted in the helmet by the shoulder of Steelers S Ryan Clark, forcing a fumble that Pittsburgh recovered. The stadium was quiet as McGahee remained on his back for several minutes before being lifted onto a stretcher and carted to the locker room. Shortly thereafter, the press-box announcer informed us that McGahee “has movement in his arms and legs, but he has significant neck pain.”
Earlier in the game, Baltimore CB Corey Ivy took a hard shot on a block by Pittsburgh WR Limas Sweed that looked every bit as hard as the one McGahee received. But Ivy was able to return to the game.
In the end, the Steelers’ defense was able to make bigger plays. Ravens QB Joe Flacco had, once again, mostly performed with greater poise than one would expect from a rookie in a game of this magnitude. But Pittsburgh managed to intercept three of Flacco’s passes, with Troy Polamalu returning the second for the clinching touchdown.
Congratulations to the Steelers for upholding the remarkable tradition of success that has defined their franchise for 30 years. In two weeks in Tampa, they will have a chance to become the first team to win six Super Bowls. Think about how amazing that is.
Give Baltimore credit for getting this far as a No. 6 seed, with a rookie quarterback and first-year coach John Harbaugh. And give the team credit for not running out of gas, which would have been so easy to do. The fact that the Ravens were playing their 18th consecutive game — thanks to their bye week being shifted from Week 10 to Week 2 because Hurricane Ike struck Houston (the original Week 2 opponent) — never caught up with them.
Although the Steelers are preparing for the Super Bowl, you can bet that they, like the Ravens, will be counting the days until these teams meet again.