Another 1 and 1 day, and, again, one expected and one surprise.
Eagles versus Giants -- I expected this one to be a close game, but with a mostly-healthy Giants team, I expected New York to be on the good side of a 23-11 score versus the Eagles. But it didn't turn out that way, with the Eagles' defense being the difference in this game, forcing a fumble and two interceptions. The Giants' defense also netted two interceptions. New York actually had more total yards (307) than Philly (276), but were unable to make those yards bring something they could put on the scoreboard.
Giant's kicker John Carney put the first points on the board with a field goal in the first quarter. Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was 22 of 40 for 217 yards with one touchdown and the two interceptions, got his team's first score with a 1-yard run in the first quarter. The Giants trapped McNabb in the end zone in the second quarter, scoring a safety, then Carney and Eagles' kicker David Akers traded field goals to put the score at 10-8 before the half. Carney and Akers traded field goals again in the third, the only scoring in the quarter. The fourth quarter broke the Giants' backs as the Eagles scored 10 unanswered points, with McNabb hitting tight end Brent Celek for a 1-yard TD and Akers connecting on his third field goal. Running back Brian Westbrook was held to 18 carries for 36 yards and had two catches for 10 yards. McNabb threw to seven different players, with wide receiver DeSean Jackson getting four catches for 81 yards and wide receivers Jason Avant and Kevin Curtis each getting four catches, Avant for 43 yards and Curtis for 40 yards.
The Giants were held without a touchdown. QB Eli Manning was 15 of 29 for 169 yards and the two interceptions. Manning threw to six different players, with tight end Kevin Boss getting three catches for 52 yards and wide receiver Domenik Hixon catching two for 37 yards. While Carney produced all the points for the Giants, he missed two tries during the game. The rushing game contributed as much as it could, with running back Brandon Jacobs getting 19 carries for 92 yards and running back Derrick Ward getting 12 carries for 46 yards. These are pretty good numbers, but the offense could never get them close enough to the end zone to make their power and speed pay off.
This game was closer, I thought, than the final score indicated. Take away a miscue here and there, have Carney hit one or both of the field goals he missed, capitalize more in the red zone, and the Giants are in this game in the fourth quarter. As it was, Philly did what they had to do to win, and they move on to meet the Cardinals next week in Arizona for the NFC Championship. The Giants head into the offseason thinking about what might have been and what will be next year. Kudos to the Giants and their fans on another great year, and congrats to the Eagles, who are one win away from a chance to play for the ultimate prize.
Chargers versus Steelers -- I, and a lot of others on various threads, said the Steelers should win this game, provided their defense played as they typically do and their offense scored some points to back up the defense. The Steelers got the win, 35-24, and while they did not run away with this game, it wasn't as close as the final score indicates.
The Chargers scored on their first possession of the game with a 41-yard pass down the middle from San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers to wide receiver Vincent Jackson, a flat-out speed route with Jackson running under a beautifully thrown ball from Rivers. The Steelers answered quickly with a 67-yard punt return by Santonio Holmes for a touchdown. In the second quarter, Chargers' kicker Nate Kaeding hit on a 42-yard field goal, and Steelers' running back Willie Parker plowed into the end zone on a 3-yard run. The Steelers were up 14-10 at the half. The Steelers went up 21-10 in the third quarter, a quarter in which San Diego did not score, on an 8-yard pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger to tight end Heath Miller. In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh running back Gary Russell scored on a 1-yard run, putting the Steelers up 28-10. Rivers hit receiver Legedu Naanee for a 4-yard touchdown to make it 28-17. Shortly after that, Parker would score again for the Steelers on a 16-yard rush, putting the game at 35-17. Running back Darren Sproles would finish the scoring in the game on a 62-yard touchdown pass from Rivers. The Steelers were always able to stay one step ahead of the Chargers after they tied the score in the first quarter.
Rivers was 21 of 35 for 308 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The Steelers' defense sacked Rivers four times, and also took away a fumble during the game. Rivers threw to eight players, with Sproles leading receivers with five catches for 91 yards, most of it coming on the TD catch. Wide receiver Chris Chambers had four catches for 72 yards, and tight end Antonio Gates had 5 catches for 59 yards. The Chargers had just 15 net rushing yards. Sproles had 11 carries for 15 yards.
Roethlisberger was 17 of 26 for 181 yards and a touchdown. Back-up QB Byron Leftwich came in during the waning moments of the fourth quarter to ensure that Roethlisberger remained in one piece and in possession of all of his faculties. Roethlisberger was sacked once, but did not give up an interception. He threw to six different players, with wide receiver Hines Ward leading the way on four catches for 70 yards. Heath Miller had three catches for 37 yards, including a TD. On the ground, Willie Parker racked up 27 carries for 146 yards and the two TDs, proving to be the engine that drove the Steelers' offense. Six other players combined for 19 yards on 15 carries. The Steelers did not turn the ball over. The Steelers also won time of possession (36:30 to 23:30) and first downs (22 to 15).
Kudos to the Chargers and their fans for a strong finish after what could have been a disastrous season. The Steelers' win sets up a confrontation between them and the Baltimore Ravens, bitter division rivals in the AFC North, for the AFC Championship. Pittsburgh swept the regular season series, and they will have home-field advantage again next week, but the Steelers have to be ready for a Ravens team on a roll. Baltimore may be dealing with injuries to two key players, as linebacker Terrell Suggs left their game against the Tennessee Titans with a sprained shoulder, and cornerback Samari Rolle left the game with a groin strain. Hopefully, the Ravens will be at full strength. It will make this game, already expected to be intense, that much more exciting.