Congrats to the Green Bay Packers for their championship win last night. If the Steelers were going to lose, better to the Packers than some of the other NFC choices. That, though, is little consolation.
That it would be a close, hard-fought game was never in doubt. It wasn't one of those Super Bowls where the crowd lost interest by half time. It went down to the middle of the fourth quarter before the Steelers irrevocably sealed their own fate. It wasn't until the Packers scored their final field goal that I completely lost faith; however, I did announce to the crowd at the party I was attending that the Steelers probably would never overcome the 14 point lead the Packers racked up in the first quarter. That, unfortunately, proved all too profound.
I took no pleasure in being right about that or my two main pre-game predictions: If the Steelers held the Packers to 17, they would win; and that the defense that actually scored points would win the game. As those who know me can attest, I am no authority on sports. Of course there are those who might point out that if you put a monkey in front of a keyboard, eventually he will type a word. My prognostication about this game, however, was more than "monkey" luck. It was based on an appreciation for the defenses involved and the Steelers struggling offense.
This was always going to be a close game. It was a bit more high scoring than I anticipated, but close nonetheless. It was much closer than even the final six-point margin indicates. In fact, in terms of stats, the Steelers outplayed the Packers in nearly every category except passing yards (40-yd advantage Packers) and turnovers (Steelers, 3 and Packers, zip). Steelers controlled the ball for 33 minutes to the Packers 26 minutes. They gained more yards than the Packers, too: 387 to 338. The Packers suffered more penalty yards. Of course there was that 15-yd face-mask penalty against the Packers that was a bad call (about the only example of a lapse in officiating the entire game).
The Steelers stood up well; it was just those damn turnovers -- one of which the Packers defense ran in for a TD. Subtract that and the point after from the final equation and the Steelers win by 1. Alas, turnovers cost Pittsburgh the game. Would've, should've, could've....
The turnovers not withstanding, the Steelers played a pretty solid game on both sides of the ball. Offensively the Steelers had a couple of drives that were going somewhere, that didn't end in a turnover, that failed nonetheless. Lost opportunities. Almost flawless in his coaching decisions, Tomlin, I thought, made one gaffe when he had Suisham try for a 52-yd field goal rather than punting the ball away. Suisham has a reputation for not hitting the mark in big, important games. Hoping for him to hit a 52 yarder in the Super Bowl was pure fantasy. He missed it by a mile, providing Green Bay with excellent field position. Luckily, the mistake didn't cost the Steelers any points.
I'm sure you will find it hard to fathom, but I was wrong in two of my pregame predictions. I thought the Steelers offensive line (composed primarily of second and third stringers) wasn't going to be up to the task of moving the Packer defense out of the way. Boy was I wrong. They did a fine job of creating holes and run blocking. I also thought Big Ben would be sacked as many as six times. I think the final tally was two. A real testament to the tenacity and heart of the offensive core.
Once again, Polamalu wasn't much of a factor. I'm not sure if it was by design or if indeed he is still suffering from injuries; but he spent most of the game running around in the secondary to no real effect. Was his storied intuition dulled in some way? Was he tasked to some specific role in the secondary? Or did injury keep him from blitzing the quarterback and harassing receivers? This is a team that needs him to make big, game-changing defensive plays and that didn't happen throughout the playoffs.
Now it's on to the 2011 season!