Super Bowl GameBlog – 2.5.06
The Final Verdict: Now I understand why the Fred Swearingen call on the “Immaculate Reception” haunts John Madden’s very soul more than thirty years later.
Now I understand why Dan Jenkins wanted to quit writing about professional football after witnessing the officiating in Super Bowl XIII.
Now I understand what it is like to watch the team you care about go through so much in a season, overcome so many obstacles, get to the world’s biggest stage, only to have their dreams upended. Not by their opponents, but by a part-time beer-league flunkie referee and his eight stooges.
Now I understand that in the hands of the NFL’s current referees, the integrity of professional football will be called into question. I understand this because I am one of the people who will call it into question.
When asked about officiating in the National Football League, and what would need to happen for real and sweeping reform to take place, I’ve always said that having the wrong team win the Super Bowl would be about the worst, most graphic thing that could happen…the NFL’s “Code Black".
Now we get to find out if that’s the case. Journalists and talking heads are already blasting Bill Leavy and his goon crew, and it’s only going to get worse. We shall see if the Seahawks get anything more than another meaningless apology out of this, or if they will be seen years from now as the heroes who fell on the grenade which caused the NFL to hire full-time referees, begin far more severe physical and rules training for their officials, and bring far more severe disciplinary action when those officials err to this degree.
Were that the case, it would almost be worth it. But if Mike Pereira worms his way out of this one on Total Access, if Leavy is fined half a game check or let off dead-solid free…the NFL will have far more serious issues to deal with than the upcoming status of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
It will, instead, be fighting for its very integrity. And the fans will go away if they cannot possibly believe that everything is being done to insure fair competition.
Right now, I want nothing more than for Bill Leavy to feel the same measure of pain that he has caused every Seahawks fan. But in the long run, what I need from this – what we all need from this - is for Paul Tagliabue to wake up to the ticking bomb in his kitchen, and do something about it.
If he doesn’t, he’ll be singing, "Nobody’s Fault But Mine” sooner than he could possibly imagine.
Fourth Quarter: The Seahawk drive that began with 2:41 left in the third quarter was where things began to get very, very interesting. Seattle began from their own 2-yard line after Peter Warrick let a Chris Gardocki punt go by him for some reason, and they took charge from the start of this march.
It’s just too bad they weren’t allowed to finish it fairly.
Hasselbeck was surgical on the drive until the 11th play from the PIT 19, when Sean Locklear was called for holding on an 18-yard pass to Jerramy Stevens, which would have put the Seahawks one yard from a touchdown that would have put them in the lead. Replay showed no hold from Locklear, but we had learned at this point that actual penalties would have no bearing whatsoever on what would actually be called. The ball was moved back to the PIT 39. Two plays later, Hasselbeck threw an interception to CB Ike Taylor, and was called for an absolutely ludicrous low block when all he was doing was trying to tackle the man with the ball.
At this point, it was almost humorous.
On Pittsburgh’s next drive, Roethlisberger pitched the ball to Willie Parker. Parker handed the ball off to Randle El, who threw a 43-yard TD pass to Hines Ward. When the play went back to the right before the TD pass, Roethlisberger threw a block which looked very close to the knees. Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10.
Them, on Seattle’s next drive, Hasselbeck ran 18 yards from his own 16 to the Seattle 34. He was touched by linebacker Larry Foote as he was going down and lost the ball after he hit the ground. Nonetheless, the play was called a fumble, and Leavy appeared to be very, VERY quick in his “Not down by contact” ruling. Holmgren challenged the call, and perhaps this one was just too obvious - Leavy reversed it.
From then on, the result was academic. America got what it wanted.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10.
Third Quarter: Second play of PIT's first drive, and Fast Willie Parker choogles 75 yards for a TD. I only half-saw it, because I was busy trying to think of ways I could describe the officiating in the first half without getting fired. This is the longest rushing play in Super Bowl history. Pittsburgh 14, Seattle 3.
The...uhhh...coronation of Jerome Bettis is certainly going along to plan, isn't it? My, how very neat and orderly.
(I have to note that I'm typing up the second half from my notes after the game, and thinking what I think now makes it somewhat difficult to discuss actual game action. If the subsequent writing is a bit stilted, please understand.)
After a Josh Brown 50-yard miss, PIT began driving the ball down the field with 11:40 left in the third quarter from their own 40. Roethlisberger throws a little dinky out pass to Cedrick Wilson which was picked off by Kelly Herndon at the SEA 4-yard line. Herndon returned the ball 76 yards to the PIT 20 - the longest interception return in Super Bowl History, surpassing Willie Brown's 75-yarder in Super Bowl XI.
At 6:45, Jerramy Stevens caught a 16-yard TD in front of Polamalu to make the game 14-10, Pittsburgh. Seemingly, Seattle had seen the momentum shift back in their favor. This was validated by the subsequent Steeler drive, another 3-and-out. The fourth quarter would begin with this score...and so much drama yet to come.
Second quarter: Warrick's punt return for 34 yards to the PIT 46. Special teams in Seattle's favor so far - who woulda thunk it?
Hasselbeck emplying quick rollouts and play action to brilliantly offset PIT's defenseive sets. Only one sack for PIT in the first half. First drive of the quarter ends for Seattle with an incomplete pass to Jerramy Stevens from the PIT 47 - this looked very much like a fumble.
PIT's fourth drive is marked, at first, by Seattle's continued ability to get good pressure with four - I said this would be the key to a Seattle victory before the game. Seattle doesn't have to employ the blitz and get out of their game. PIT's first first down comes with 11:09 left in second quarter - Roethlisberger to Randle El for an 8-yarder at the PIT 30. Next play, Hines Ward takes a reverse left end for 18 yards.
Momentum shift? Not so bleedin' fast, as Mick might say...Michael Boulware picks off Big Ben on the nest play, jumping impossibly high over Randle El at the SEA 17.
Pittsburgh's next drive is where things got really interesting. Remember - all we've been hearing all week is how great and accurate Bill Leavy's officiating crew is...this is, quite frankly, a bald-faced lie. Seattle should be up 10-0 at halftime, and it's Leavy's fault they aren't. Pittsburgh takes the ball on an impressive 11-play, 59-yard drive. The last three plays of the drive went like this - Bettis up the middle for 2 to the SEA 1, Bettis for no gain...then, on 3rd and goal from the 1, Roethlisberger ran left and came just short of the end zone. Or, at least that's what everyone not named Bill Leavy thought. Leavy called a touchdown, and ruled on review that there was not conclusive evidence to overturn the call.
Once again, an officiating crew uses inconclusivity (is that a word???) to save its collective butt, and the wrong team scores, in the biggest game of the year.
I LOVE THIS GAME!!!
Pittsburgh 7, Seattle 3.
Seattle seemed affected by the call on their next drive - they were able to move the ball, but Hasselbeck rolled off 35 secods from :48 to :13 at the PIT 40. Alexander then ran to the 36, and Josh Brown missed a 54-yarder to essentially end the half. Holmgren was Van Goghing Leavy coming off the field, and he had every right to.
Halftime: Pittsburgh 7, Seattle 3.
What It Should Be: Seattle 10, Pittsburgh 3.
First Quarter: Seattle calls tails, wins, and receives. 3:27 - Jeff Reed kicks off to Scobey. Scobey 15 yds to the 18.
First SEA drive: Two quick passes to Jackson. Hannam blocking great at the line - obviously accounting for the LBs. Alexander running well to start - 8-yarder. Drive ends with a Hass over throw to Jackson and a Locklear declined holding call on a Haggins sack. First PIT drive starts with a false start on TE Heath Miller, then a run to Packer that goes nowhere, a screen to Parker that goes nowhere, a false start on T Max Starks, and a Roethlisberger scramble.
The Steelers just got the first taste of the defense they - and America - have been underrating.
Seattle's second drive was punctuated by Hass' 110-yard pass to D. Jackson to the PIT 45. Seattle got as far as the PIT 23 in an 18-yard pass from Hass to Jackson, but a holding call on Chris Gray pushed the ball back to the SEA 49. Rouen then had to punt.
PIT went run, run and inc. pass to Ward. Second 3-and-out.
Warrick punt return to the SEA 49 on next play . Seattle's driving down the field, and Hasselbeck throws a 16-yard touchdown to Jackson with 2:08 left in the first quarter. Jackson was called for off. pass interference on a pushoff which looked pretty legal to me...this was a bad call. Seattle has to settle for a Josh Brown 49-yard FG with 27 seconds left in the first quarter. Seattle 3, Pittsburgh 0.
Seattle's defense is playing at a supernatural level.
3:09 PM: Seahawks introduced as a team, just like the 2001 Pats. I was hoping they'd do that...and the Steelers did it, too. I think that typifies the approach of both teams - no B.S., just get on the field and play.
3:08PM: The following ceremony brought out many of the past Super Bowl MVPs. For some reason, Franco Harris walking out onto the field gave me goosebumps. Must be a childhood thing.
3:00 PM: Just saw the first pan through the stands after the amazing Stevie Wonder performance…and there are terrible towels EVERYWHERE.
CB Michael Harden
FB Leonard Weaver
T Wayne Hunter
RT Ray Willis
DE Robert Pollard
TE Itula Mili
DT Rodney Bailey
David Greene is the third quarterback.
CB Willie Williams
LB Arnold Harrison
LB Rian Wallace
G Chris Kemoeatu
T Trai Essex
WR Lee Mayes
DE Shaun Nua
Tommy Maddox is the third quarterback.
With Williams inactive, Pittsburgh has nobody on the field with Super Bowl experience. This will be mitigated by the HEAVY pro-Steeler crowd. This is as one-sided a "neutral" site as I've ever seen in a Super Bowl.
11:45 AM: Got a call a few minutes ago from our very own Todd "ArosNET" Breda - he and Mark "rockhawkx" Olsen are in Detroit Hawk City and having a blast. They will be uploading tons of pictures and their own Super Bowl experiences in various blogs next week.
As for me, I'm going to go grab some lunch - I'll be back for the pre-game and GameBlog.
8:30 AM: The first 20 minutes of Sunday NFL Countdown: SteelersSteelersSteelersSteelersSteelersSteelersSteelersSteelers.
The next 10 minutes of Sunday NFL Countdown: (seahawks)BrettFavreBrettFavreBrettFavreBrettFavreBrettFavreBrettFavreBrettFavre.
Sounds about right.
ESPN's Ed Werder did sneak in a report this morning that Mike Holmgren told his team to "go out and prove everyone wrong" in last night's team meeting after the Seahawks watched the NFC Championship game. Holmgren also unveiled a display of one-dollar bills, showing the $30k difference between the winning and losing Super Bowl player shares. Werder reported that this is what Holmgren did for his Packer team before they won Super Bowl XXXI over the New England Patriots, 35-21, on January 26, 1997.
Werder's Seahawks report was cut short by "technical difficulties" which reminded me of Otter's abbreviated plea in student court on behalf of the Deltas in "Animal House".
6:55 AM: Ten (well, five!) Things I Think I Was Thinking While I Was Thinking Of Other Things to Think
(Note: This part of the GameBlog should be enjoyed to the accompaniment of a girls’ field hockey fight song and a half-decaf, triple-tall bacon fat latte.)
1. Seeing Warren Moon make the Hall of Fame was a wonderful thing. Has anyone had a better week than Mr. Moon? First, the team he works for gets to the Super Bowl after a 30-year drought, then he gets his piece of immortality. Well-deserved, sir.
2. Thinking about different matchups, and I believe it all comes down to what Seattle’s front four can or can’t do. If they can get pressure with four (or five at the maximum, and that extra guy cannot be Lofa Tatupu – ne needs to be free to read in coverage as well), all they have to do is play the game they’ve done throughout the postseason and I don’t think Pittsburgh has an answer for that. The Steelers’ defense is fantastic, but people aren’t giving Seattle’s offense enough credit (gosh…what a shock THAT is!). Matt Hasselbeck has enough weapons at his disposal to take that defense on…and maybe enough to take it apart.
3. Speaking of Hasselbeck…everyone’s talking about Ben Roethlisberger, and there’s no doubt the kid’s been as good in his first two years as any QB in NFL history. But I’ll counter with the same numbers I’ve been reciting for the last two weeks: Seattle’s quarterback has completed 36 of 54 passes for 434 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 109.7 passer rating in two playoff games. In his four games in the final month of 2005, Hasselbeck completed 76.1% of his passes – the best percentage of any quarterback in NFL history who played in at least four games in the month. His 135.5 December passer rating tells the tale – 67 completions in 88 attempts for 777 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception.
I don’t care if he hails from “South Alaska”…those numbers are just ridiculous.
4. An interesting number of people who really do their homework (Mike Sando. Andrea Kremer, Aaron Schatz) are picking the Seahawks to win by 3 or 4. Sando and Kremer by 4, Schatz by 3.
5. Speaking of Mr. Schatz, I wanted to thank him once again for his exclusive interview this week with Seahawks.NET. Aaron’s site, www.footballoutsiders.com, is an amazing “think tank”, where advanced statistics are invented and discussed. He took time out from writing his own lengthy game preview for FoxSports.com to talk to us, and he didn’t hold any information back. I think the last five “things I think I think” should instead be highlights from that interview:
6. “The thing about Seattle versus the Pittsburgh defense - people feel like the Seattle offense should be shut down by the Pittsburgh defense - is that Seattle just made it to the Super Bowl by beating the teams that ranked fourth and second in our defensive rankings for the season and now they’re playing the team that’s ranked third. So it’s not like they haven’t played strong defenses in their last two games of the playoffs and done fine against them, but they haven’t seen the 3-4 defense with the complicated blitzing. While they have played 3-4 defenses earlier in the season and not just Dallas, obviously they whaled away on San Francisco and Houston.”
7. “Because Seattle is not quite as good at running DVOA as they are at line yards, that does indicate there are some longer runs against them as opposed to Pittsburgh who is really strong in all of our run defense stats. I don’t think it’s just the front-four. Leroy Hill, in particular, is very strong against the run. He’s stronger against the run than he is against the pass. Seattle’s defense was number two in preventing runs around the right end.”
8. “The thing about Roethlisberger is that people have talked about how he’s come out this year and been so amazing – he was this good last year. This guy has been this good for two years. His rookie year compares to the greatest quarterbacks of the last 25 years. If you look at similar rookie years you get Tom Brady’s first year as a starter, Joe Montana’s first year as a starter and Brett Favre’s first year as a starter. There’s no quarterback that’s comparable to him at this point in NFL history, because he gets so many yards per attempt, but throws so few passes and he’s so young.”
9. “The Pittsburgh running game isn’t nearly as good as people think, and Seattle’s run defense is one of the best in the league. Pittsburgh runs and they run and they run and they run and they ran more than any other team. They don’t run more in first half than other teams, but in the second half, when they get a lead, they stop passing. Other teams will mix in the pass a little even if they’re running out the clock - I mean, Pittsburgh just stops passing and they run all the time. But their running game is not actually that good. They were 11th in DVOA and what is interesting is to look at the split between the two halves. Pittsburgh in the first half had the second-lowest yards per carry in the league. The only team that averaged fewer yards per running back carry in the first half was Arizona.”
10. “This offensive line is better than Washington’s or Carolina’s. Nobody’s 43 years old – nobody played for the St. Louis Cardinals on this offensive line (laughs). Pittsburgh’s line has been sort of inconsistent this year – part of that was that they had a rookie (Trai Essex) playing left tackle some of the time when Marvel Smith was injured, but Marvel Smith is healthy now. And (guard Alan) Faneca, despite being a Pro Bowler…I saw some games this year where he was just getting run over, but a lot of the time, that’s when he had Essex playing next to him. So, while I think he was inconsistent, he’s obviously played well in the playoffs. This is not the offensive line that Seattle has faced in their last couple of games. This is one of the better offensive lines in football. Not as good as Seattle’s offensive line, or Denver’s…but then again, Denver’s right tackle got smashed last game, so maybe they’re not as good as we think!”
6:04 AM: The Press is a Mess!
Seeing the inattention and laziness of the national media when discussing the Seattle Seahawks over the last two weeks was disappointing, to be sure. Big-name national columnists wrote like five-year-olds, voting with their hearts (Steelers) instead of their heads (Hmmm…how about analyzing the game and picking from there?) Perhaps the most disappointing coverage (I can’t call anything ESPN does “disappointing” at this point – I just expect the worst) came from the NFL Network, because their pre-coverage of this Super Bowl has been an absolute nightmare.
From Rich Eisen's inability to get the names of Seahawks right (and his whiny NFL.com column about the reactions he got to it), to Lincoln Kennedy's "HUH?!?!?" moment when he made up an entirely new name for Sean Locklear and was never corrected, to Rod Woodson's smothering homerism (he should have been taken off the broadcast...all he's done is pimp the Steelers and provide no analysis whatsoever), this last two-week period has pretty much demolished my enthusiasm for a network I once begged Comcast to carry. If this is the future of this network, boot it off my cable box and I won't miss a thing.
The craven coverage of the Porter-Stevens verbal battle was a “shining” example of tabloid "he said/she said" yellow journalism. "Playbook" this week has been nothing but smack talk and a few unrelated, disembodied highlight clips. It was certainly obvious that Sharpe and Baldinger were too busy trying to out-yell each other to do any homework..."If Seattle's defensive line wins the line of scrimmage battle, Pittsburgh's running game could be impacted!" Stop the presses. Nobody would dream of such insight!
I swore that if I heard "Hasselback" one more time, I was going to scream. Some of their field reporters are half-aware, and one in particular is just vacant. I like Paul Burmeister, and Eisen has his moments, but they need more people who can actually run a half-decent interview, and more people who can explain basic terminology.
Where were the guest coaches? Where were the people who could get inside the heads of Holmgren and Cowher and tell you what they might be thinking, based on their experiences? All we had was Jim Mora, his “SeaHacks” cracks and his struggles to get Bryce Fisher’s name right.
I only hope that when the combine rolls around later this month, they'll get back to business. But I have seen some ugliness...the potential for the NFL Network to lower itself to ESPN's level, where nothing but "blah, blah, blah" emanates from the idiot box.
Given the potential this network has for providing crucial and intelligent information to fans abandoned by ESPN's demise, it would be a tragedy if they stopped trying to do it the right way.
File it all under the “Just My Humble Opinion” category, but I was saddened and disgusted by my favorite channel this week.