Super Bowl XLIII
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The Arizona Cardinals, champions of the NFC conference, will square off with the Pittsburgh Steelers, champions of the AFC conference, in Super Bowl XLIII (that would be 43) from Tampa on the first day of February, two weeks from yesterday. One game was settled in the 72 degree comfy confines of University of Phoenix stadium in Arizona. The other game was played in 22 degree weather at Heinz Field in Pennsylvania. But no matter the condition in which you prefer your football to be played, the feeling of reaching the Super Bowl feels the same.
NFC Title Game: Arizona 32, Philadelphia 25
The Cardinals were not even supposed to be in this game. After an improbable win over Atlanta in their first playoff game, and an even more improbable win at the Panthers in the conference semis, the Cardinals found themselves with home-field against the defensive inspired Eagles. Behind a frenzied red-clad crowd, they got the job done thanks to three first half touchdowns by wie receiver Larry Fitzgerald. They took a 24-6 lead into the half, but knew the visitors would play with their backs against the walls in the second session.
The Eagles would indeed mount a comeback, storming back in the 3rd and early 4th quarters. They took a 25-22 lead when quarterback Donovan McNabb hit receiver DeShaun Jackson on a long pass play for a score early in the 4th quarter. The Cardinals appeared to have run out of gas, and Philly had more overall experience in these big games. It looked like these beards on the Eagle sideline may not see the razor for another two weeks.
But veteran quarternack Kurt Warner led the Cardinal offense back down the field, eventually scoring a touchdown when he hit wr Tim Hightower on a short touchdown pass. The 7-point advantage held up, and the Cardinals are headed to their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
AFC Title Game: Pittsburgh 24, Baltimore 13
The defenses showed up, just like everyone was expecting. The Steeler defense, in the end, proved to be a little bit tougher than that from Baltimore, and now Coach Mike Tomlin and crew will be headed to Florida to meet the Cardinals from Arizona. This game was full of hard-hits, carted off players, and bloody noses.
The Steelers will be playing for their 6th NFL Championship when they meet the Cardinals, who will be playing for their first. Behind the leadership of a ferocious defense and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is now 7-2 in playoff games in just five NFL seasons, the Steelers clearly deserved the trip to Tampa.
The clinching score, fittingly, came on defense late in the game as Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu intercepted a Joe Flacco pass and took it 40 yards for a touchdown and a 23-14 lead with just over 4 minutes left in the game. Heinz Field celebrated wildly as the Steeler defense put the Ravens away on their final possession.
Roethlisberger went 16 of 33 for 255 yards and a touchdown in leading his team to the win. Most importantly, he did not turn the ball over. Ravens quarterback Flacco never seemed to settle in as he went 13 of 30 and was intercepted three times.
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