In the fourth quarter, the Steel Curtain was more like a Satin Curtain. The vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers defence -- which had been its usual run stuffing, bone crunching, turnover forcing self for 50 minutes -- wilted when it counted.
Whoever decided that there should be a two-week break between the NFL's conference championship games and the Super Bowl can probably expect a shipment of flowers and chocolates from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After enduring their third no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners slugfest of the season against their arch-rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers will be spending most of this week soaking in ice tubs as they turn their attention to Super Bowl XLIII and the upstart Arizona Cardinals.
Al MICHAELS, the longtime play-by-play voice of Monday Night Football, and more recently Sunday Night Football, is fond of summing up the collective wisdom of NFL observers in three simple words: "Nobody knows anything."
Week in and week out, more points are being scored in the NFL than ever before. But that doesn't mean one of the game's oldest clichés -- that offence sells tickets while defence wins championships -- isn't still true. All the proof you need is in three of the four teams still standing.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles ranked first, second and third, respectively, in total defence during the regular season. In points allowed, they were first, third and fourth.
With only one week remaining in this most unusual of NFL seasons, it should come as no surprise that the playoff picture remains a blur. Only seven of the 12 teams that will compete for the Lombardi Trophy have been decided, and just four of those clubs have their seedings locked up.
The Giants and Titans will play at home as long they stay alive (or reach the Super Bowl). The Steelers will get next week off before hosting a second-round matchup. Meanwhile, the Colts, as the AFC's fifth seed, will travel to either San Diego or Denver to play a team that could have as many as four fewer wins.
Let's count the things Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco have in common. Both play quarterback. Both were selected in the first round of this year's draft. Both have birds on the sides of their helmets. Both have won 10 games this season. And both led their teams to wins of monumental importance on the road this past weekend.
At a sold-out Metrodome that was hoping to celebrate the Vikings' first division title in eight years, Ryan and his Atlanta Falcons spoiled the party. Atlanta's 24-17 win clinched a playoff berth that seemed eons away as the Falcons were sputtering to a 4-12 record last year in the aftermath of the Michael Vick debacle.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers end up winning the Super Bowl, their legions of Terrible Towel-waving fans will forever hold a special place in their hearts for the last three minutes of Sunday's battle of wills in Baltimore.
Trailing by a field goal in a game they had never led, the Steelers offence took possession at their own 8-yard line with 3:36 on the clock. Facing an inspired Ravens defence in front of a delirious sell-out crowd, the Steelers had gained all of 23 yards on their first five second-half drives, which produced two fumbles.
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