The Super Bowl is set, and after Sunday's games I found myself contemplating what I learned about the teams and the players from the AFC/NFC Championship games. What did I learn about the two remaining teams? What did I learn about the players ? What did I learn about the coaches who were there Sunday? Let's find out.
Rodgers game saving tackle.
Compared to the NFC Division matchup against Atlanta, Rodgers showed he is, indeed, human. Who knows why he had so much trouble Sunday. He looked brilliant on the first drive and celebrated with a little mini-belt. Perhaps the helmet-to-helmet hit by Peppers rang his bell pretty good. Whatever the case, Rodgers made some errors and looked pedestrian at best, ending the day with only 17 completions and two interceptions. He did rush for one TD, but he did show his humanity, and if it weren't for this TD-saving tackle, the Bears may well be in the Super Bowl. Do you think he watched Big Ben's TD-saving tackle against the Colts in the 2006 playoffs?
Mendenhall had his way in the first half.
Rashard Mendenhall made the Jets look like the 7-9 team no one wanted in the playoffs. Mendenhall ran for a majority of his 121 yards in the first half, and it looked like the Steelers were going to walk to Dallas with the Jets trailing far behind. Mendenhall just ran right over the Jets a few times, and I know it had to take something out of the men in green. They probably felt like they lost their identity. But then...
There's no doubt that Rex Ryan loves to talk. He doesn't care how he says it; he just wants to get his point across. One thing I've learned about Rex this year—his players listen. They listened the week of their wild-card game against the Colts, and the Jets won, holding Peyton Manning to just 225 yards and a TD. They definitely listened the following week when they manhandled the Patriots and confused Tom Brady (which doesn't happen often). And they listened at halftime, when Ryan reminded his team what their identity was. The Jets came out after halftime and were ready to play. But the score wasn't 0-0, and the Jets just couldn't surmount the point deficit.
This is a good football team, as Rex will tell you week in and week out. He believes in his guys, and they believe in themselves. The only problem is that the Jets can't expect the same results every year.
The Jets won't have the Patriots in the playoffs to motivate them next year, and Rex won't know how to get his team up for the division game. They will lose—at home, to a team they should beat. Rex is a great motivator and a good defensive coach. I'm just not sure he can be someone who can play from the top. He needs to be the underdog. Next year, the Jets will win the division and have some success. And Rex will have to dig for some motivating factor. His opponent in the divisional round will not give it to him. Rex and his team will go home a week earlier because of it.
I've watched all three of the Packers' playoff games, and Shields was a contributor each week. He is electric in the defensive backfield, and he has great hands. Tramon Williams is pretty good, too, and I look forward to seeing what this duo does against the Steelers' receivers. Williams seemed to struggle as a punt returner Sunday. Maybe it was the cold weather or maybe it was something else, but he seemed to have trouble with the football. Shields is athletic and a former receiver. McCarthy should give him an opportunity to make some plays on special teams. He may give the Packers a spark in another facet of the game. Pittsburgh better watch out for this guy, no matter where he is on the field.
Brian Urlacher loves to play football. He had as much fun as he could on Sunday, even though his offense played like crap in the first half. Urlacher's interception of Aaron Rodgers in the red zone was a smart play by a smart player. He had 10 tackles in that game, and was a constant source of frustration for Rodgers and both Packers' running backs. He helped keep his team in the game.
Urlacher has also been noted as an adamant defender of Jay Cutler. When asked about Cutler's toughness in the post-game press conference, Urlacher said, "Jay was hurt. I don't question his toughness. He's tough as hell. He's one of the toughest guys on our football team. He doesn't b**ch. He doesn't complain when he gets hit. He goes out there and plays his ***off every Sunday. He practices every single day. So, no, we don't question his toughness."
Obviously, Urlacher is passionate about his QB. He really must love the game.
After Cutler left the game in the third quarter, I watched his demeanor on the sidelines. He looked like he was about to cry, which makes me believe he truly was injured and wanted to be on the field. The reaction from his NFL brethren, both active and retired, is appalling.
However, Cutler needs to get a personal PR person. Someone needs to take this young man by the arm and show him how to hold himself. It's okay for a quarterback to be bothered by a bad play. I want him to want to be the best. I want him to put his full effort into each game, including his mind and his spirit. It's Cutler's spirit that seems to be missing. Maybe he needs to attend a leadership seminar. He has to do something, or he will never keep a home in the NFL.
Unless he wins a Super Bowl, and then all is forgiven.
It was just one play call, but it shows Tomlin's juevos really are big. To call a pass on a 3rd-and-6 with around 1:30 left in the game was gutsy. And just what I want from my coach if I'm a player, an owner or a fan. He put the ball in his playmakers' hands, and they delivered. Tomlin believes in his game plan and his players. This Steelers team is fun to watch, and they'll be fun to watch in the Super Bowl.
Which leaves my last lesson learned from the championship games from the weekend...
Aaron Rodgers is hot, even after a cold game against the Bears. He is an elite quarterback and should be back in the Super Bowl in a couple of years. He has a corps of receivers who can burn a defense in a moment's notice. I expect both teams to put up some points, despite the stellar defenses they'll be playing against. I'm only left with my gut here, and my gut says...
Packers win 34-23.
It's going to be a great game either way. Enjoy.