Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Un-Super Review
By Ben Valentine

Sometimes you can be right and be completely wrong at the same time. In a nutshell, that’s how I feel overall about Super Bowl XL. That goes for the game, the commercials and my predictions.

I said going in I thought it would be an offensive display. You know, offensive as in “tons of points” rather than “who can look worse on the national stage with penalties and drops.” There was little to no ebb and flow in the game. The Seahawks got the closest to rhythm on offense, but killed themselves with penalties, drops and poor clock management. The Steelers only managed to look in sync in the stretch from the very end of the second quarter to the mid third, when Ben Roethlisberger let the Seahawks back into the game with his second INT.

A quick mention before I delve into the game; the commercials were a poor crop this year. Whoever came up with those Pepsi commercials should be fired for wasting the talents of Jay Mohr and Jackie Chan with that mess. I only laughed hard once all night and the identity of that winning commercial is located deeper in the review. (Got to keep the non football fans reading right?) Now, on to the game itself.

First to Steelers’ part in this; their defense played a little better than expected. However there will be no high praise from me. They were fortunate not to be down by more in the first half and did not play all that well in the second half either. The defense was susceptible to the pass in the first half and surrendered 64 yards on ten carries to Shaun Alexander in the second half. For you non-math whizzes out there, that’s 6.4 yards a carry! Fortunately for the Steel crew, Mike Holmgren apparently forgot he had the reigning NFL MVP in his backfield. They got the big stop in the middle of the fourth quarter as I figured they would, but let’s be fair here. If not for a gift offensive pass interference call, holding call and some very inopportune drops by Jeremy Stevens, the Seahawks easily could have put up 21 or more points on the board.

The Steelers offense uneven at best. I would tend to chalk a lot of Pittsburgh’s problems up to the two week break, evidenced by two false start penalties on their first drive, when the majority of crowd was on their side. Roethlisberger struggled, especially since Seattle didn’t generate much of a rush against him and lost key players on defense to injury. I won’t call him downright awful as some have, just mediocre. Yes he threw two bad picks, but the play he made at the end of the first half on 3rd and forever salvaged a first half where his team was completely outplayed. And without question, Roethlisberger was the only Steeler who could be counted on in short yardage circumstances. As for Willie Parker, he did what I expected; nothing much for every carry except the one. He is the prototype home run back, he’s liable to break a big run off once or twice a game while going for a yard or two the rest of the game. Hines Ward was the best player in a game where no one stood out. He did catch a TD but also dropped one as well.

On the other hand, Bill Cowher deserves all the credit for sticking for what got him to the game. The Steelers loved to run trick plays during the season, and they continued with their “Randle- Dazz- El”. Frankly, I’m not sure if the Seahawks were badly fooled on the pass, since it seems like everyone and their cousin knew it was coming the moment Randle El got it on the end around. But what should be remembered about the play was the pass itself; without question it was the best thrown ball of the night. That, more than anything else was the reason the play worked. Steelers’ receivers had gotten behind the Seattle secondary a couple of times prior but Roethlisberger had under thrown them for picks. Randle El made a perfect pass, and it was the play which won the Steelers the game.

On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks can only wonder “what if”? Offensively, they had many chances but could not capitalize. Sometimes it happens. But the most frustrating line of the night for any Seattle fan should be this one: 20 carries, 95 yards. Mike Holmgren did an absolutely terrible job coaching in this game and while the clock management hurt, nothing was worse than taking his best weapon out of the game. The MVP should have gotten the ball at least 25 times in the game, probably closer to 30. Remember, the Seahawks were not far behind most of the game. What was the excuse in the 1st half, only giving Alexander 10 carries? Or when the team got in the red zone in the third and early fourth quarter? Alexander was going well at that point. There’s nothing wrong with putting the ball in Matt Hasselbeck’s hands… unless you’ve got one of the top offensive players in the league at running back.

This just in, Jeremy Stevens just dropped another pass. I think the girl from the Michelob Light commercial can take hits better. Without question the worst performance of the night, and the best commercial, all in one neat and tidy paragraph.

The defense, much like Pittsburgh, struggled. As I mentioned earlier, both of Roethlisberger’s picks came when he under threw receivers who had gotten behind the Seattle secondary. The former should have at least gone for a big gain and the latter should have been a TD. There is also no excuse for surrendering the 3rd and 26 they gave up late in the second. The problem for Seattle was, as expected, they could not generate much heat with their front four. The Steelers were the best line they faced all season and it showed.

This game will also be marred by downright awful officiating. The offensive pass interference call against Darrell Jackson was ticky-tack at best. The defender didn’t even appear affected by the move. In my years of watching football, I can’t remember seeing that ever called. The holding call in the early fourth against Shawn Locklear was a judgment call, but was again questionable. I’m not even sure what to say about Hasselbeck picking up a 15 yard penalty for taking out a blocker while tackling the man with the ball. Were the officials even watching the play?

Ironically, the play I thought the refs got right was the Roethlisberger TD. For all the complaints about it, no one I watched the game with could see enough evidence to overturn it. Still, much like the postseason, the officiating was poor. It’s hard to blame the officials for a team’s loss when the team played as awful as Seattle did, but they certainly didn’t help matters. Let’s put it this way; had the calls gone as badly in the other direction, I feel the score could have easily been reversed.

A memorable Super Bowl? Sure, if you’re a Steelers or Seahawks fan. Or Jerome Bettis apparently. Again credit Cowher for not using the Bus much in this one; though he did seem to start to get sentimental with him in third quarter for a few plays. Good thing for the Steelers that ship sailed quickly.

However, while I was sick of the media love for him, I have no problem with Bettis or the fact he won his ring. He didn’t deserve the attention he got, but on the reverse side, the fact he was overweight or more of a team mascot than a player should not detract from him getting it. It’s better to win one when you’re past your prime than not win one at all; just ask John Elway, or if you want the other direction, Dan Marino.

So that’s it football fans. 2005-06 is finished. It wasn’t a great game, but the worst either. The storylines of this year can now fade away as thoughts drift towards spring drafts and summer camps. To quote an NFL network commercial from a few years back:

Today we’re all undefeated.

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