AFC/NFC Championship in Review

Packers 21, Bears 14

JASON CLINKSCALES: Addressing the Jay Cutler dilemma isn’t something I prefer to do, so in reference, here is one of the better takes on it.

With that said, he wasn’t terribly effective before the MCL tear, so the true devastation of his injury is that after seeing how the Packers’ defense would play him as the game wore along, maybe… just maybe, Cutler would have found some holes opening up for his passes. What didn’t help Caleb Hanie (nor Cutler or Todd Collins) is that the only consistent offensive performer for the Bears was Matt Forte. Teams don’t win very often when the running back is the leading receiver. Forte had 160 all-purpose yards, but something’s off when he accounts for ten of the Bears’ 19 receptions. The lack of a deep threat, no matter who was the quarterback, has perpetually haunted this franchise.

Chicago made a valiant effort late in the second half, but it was not only aided by its own defense, but a complete freeze by Green Bay’s offense. An offense that looked as if it would drop 40 on this vaunted Bears defense sputtered in the second half. This should have been a blowout considering how Greg Jennings (eight catches for 130 yards) got the better of a tough Chicago secondary. Credit the Bears’ defense for solving a Packers’ rushing attack that ripped them to shreds in the first half, but Green Bay’s best chance of winning the Super Bowl is to feed the beast at wide receiver.

CHRIS PUMMER: I will add a few words on Cutler, because the point should be emphasized: You have to be an idiot broadcast the idea that he’s some kind of a wimp because of what happened Sunday.

Some of these critics have already backed off since it’s been revealed that Cutler did have a tear in his MCL, and that it was the coaching staff and trainers that yanked him from the game. Some others, pantsed by reality and their dumb asses exposed, have fallen back on stupid arguments about “body language” or that Culter should have “acted more hurt because he knew people would be watching.” Just to paraphrase there.

Bears GM Jerry Angelo made probably the most poignent statement on the matter of players and former players ripping Cutler when he said, “I thought they were a union. If that’s the way they unionize, they’ve got bigger issues than the ones they have with owners. I’m very disappointed. That to me is dirty pool.”

I’d have to agree, especially as someone who doesn’t think the NFL does nearly enough on the health care front for its players. Apparently a lot of players don’t really care about that stuff, at least as not as much as they care about grandstanding on a phony macho premise that a guy with an injury should just “tough it out.” Maybe that’s something to keep in mind when they whine about what an 18-game schedule would mean for their well-being.

But the game…

I can’t say anything was really a surprise here. Last week we talked about how the Bears are severely deficient in wide receivers, and a running back led them in catches this week. We talked about how the pass rush would be tougher for Cutler, and he was knocked out. And the Bears did not have the ground game to compensate.

Aaron Rodgers did have very few problems against the Bears’ Cover-2 defense, and Chicago was very slow to make adjustments as the Packers marched up and down the field for much of the first half. If Rodgers doesn’t play in a haze after a big head hit, Green Bay maybe scores a couple more times to put the game away earlier.

Considering you dance with what brought you in the playoff dance, it was pretty shocking to see Todd Collins in the game for the Bears after Cutler was initially yanked. They guy had no business on the roster, so why he was the No. 2 QB in front of Hanie is a mystery unless you chalk it up to the same stubbornness that makes this inflexible coaching staff slow to react to everything.

To me, the biggest question what happens to Lovie Smith and his staff. Smith still has a year left on his contract, and I’d be reluctant to say that the job done this year merits an extension beyond that.

The rest of the holes, like at wide receiver and offensive line, seem pretty obvious.

Steelers 24, Jets 19

JASON CLINKSCALES: Pittsburgh nearly blew it. Let’s lay that out there right now.

The Steelers didn’t garner a point in the second half after keeping the Jets’ defense on its heels throughout the first two quarters. They didn’t run the ball with the same effectiveness. Even when center Maurkice Pouncey went out in the first quarter, Rashard Mendenhall ran with reckless abandon as the offensive line clocked the Jets’ front seven silly. That completely changed in the second half. So how did they let New York back in the game?

They threw when they shouldn’t have. They stopped running hard. Ben Roethlisberger, who looked like Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton in the first half, played rather pedestrian.

As for the Jets, the offense was put in a bad position thanks to a defense that let them down in the first half. Pittsburgh dominated time of possession; in fact, I think the Steelers still have the ball. With that said, the lone questionable part of the offense was deciding to pass twice in their final decent drive in the fourth quarter. Maybe New York’s defense can guarantee a safety when turning the ball over to a stagnant offense as the Steelers had. However, passing on second and third downs put them in another bad way on fourth down. Even a rollout by Mark Sanchez on second down would have netted a touchdown.

Sure, it’s a moot point; the Steelers made their third Super Bowl in the last six years and eighth in franchise history. Green Bay won three games on the road to get to Dallas and has the team that matches up fairly well with Pittsburgh. However, if you’re placing bets or looking for a favorite for the Super Bowl, this is probably the most difficult season to latch onto either team. Both teams show maddening inconsistency, but can wow you with just one play late in the fourth quarter. In other words, don’t listen to Las Vegas.

CHRIS PUMMER: The Steelers’ remarkable run of postseason success is even more amazing to me when you consider the fact that they never seem interested in striking the early death blow to a foe. They never open things up when they could stretch a two-score lead to a three-score lead. If they can get a small lead and sit on it, they’re just happy with that.

Maybe it’s easy for me to dislike that because being sitting on a couch instead of standing on the sidelines means I’m not programed to be adverse to risk as an NFL head coach.

Still, in Roethlisberger, the Steelers have a quarterback with a big arm and plenty of mobility to make things happen. Rather than wait until he needs to convert a key third-down play near the end of a game to keep possession, I’d like to see the Steelers look for the soul-crushing TD-strike on 3rd-and-1 midway through the third quarter. Of the play-action killer on 2nd-and-5 early in the fourth. Whatever. Kick the other team while its down already.

Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense did give the Jets those matchup problems we predicted last week with Mendenhall brutalizing the Jets in the first half.  This is going to be a problem for the Packers in the Super Bowl, especially if Green Bay turns in the lackluster, non-aggressive performance that it did in the second half of the NFC Championship game.

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