By Skip Bayless
Page 2

You might as well have rented "The Two Jakes" on Sunday. Even that inferior sequel to Jack Nicholson's "Chinatown" would have been better than watching Jake Plummer and Jake Delhomme.

It's highly debatable which Jake was worse.

Or which Super Bowl-bound quarterback was better -- Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Hasselbeck. Each greatly outplayed a Jake -- or a Joke.

That's mostly why -- surprise, surprise -- the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks got to Detroit via blowouts in Sunday's conference championship games. Thankfully, neither game was decided by the refs or the kickers.

The Steelers will get the bulk of the respect before Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Pittsburgh opens as a 3½-point favorite, which feels about right. The Steelers won three playoff games on the road, the Seahawks two at home. If the Super Bowl were being played at Seattle's Qwest Field, the Seahawks would be favored by eight or 10. Thanks to their title-starved fans, their home-field advantage has become that overwhelming.

Maybe billionaire owner Paul Allen can buy this Super Bowl and move it to Seattle. But if it remains in Detroit, Pittsburgh maintains a slight edge, on mental and physical toughness.

I still can't quite get comfortable with the concept of Seattle in the Super Bowl. Until Sunday, the team I called the Sea-Frauds hadn't proved much more than that it had taken advantage of a weak schedule. But this time, these guys made it 34-14 clear that nobody in the NFC -- or AFC -- could beat them in the tidal-wave machine known as Qwest Field.

Heck, Joe Montana's 49ers or Terry Bradshaw's Steelers would have had no shot Sunday in Seattle, where the Seahawks finish 10-0.

At least Delhomme was turned back into his regular-season alter ego -- Jake the Bellyache -- by Qwest's torrent of noise and momentum. At least he wasn't at home, like Plummer, who turned back into Jake the Fake like an orange-jerseyed pumpkin as the clock struck XL.

Broncos fans couldn't will their Jake into one last uncharacteristically disciplined and deadly accurate performance at Mile High. Their Jake proved that Mike Shanahan could coach him only so far -- to the Super Bowl threshold. He is what he is -- hyper, hot and cold, mistake-prone.

If Jake's Broncos fall behind and have to throw, as they did Sunday, they're in trouble. Pittsburgh 34, Mile Low 17.

But Carolina's Jake was taken apart by the collective psyched-up psyche -- the sheer fanpower -- of a city that hasn't experienced a championship in any major sport since its Sonics won the NBA title in 1979. Congratulations, Seahawks fans. You were as valuable as your quarterback and your defense.

I can relate: After opening the first few of 2,000-plus e-mail responses to my Sea-Frauds column, my computer screen cracked. Each one was a fireball of unprintable passion.

So Delhomme began to snap from his first snap on. It was as if he were playing against 15 or 20 defenders. Three or four blanketed a quickly frustrated Steve Smith, who caused his coaches and teammates more trouble than he did the Seahawks. Seemingly eight men in the box shut down third-string Carolina running back Nick Goings, who soon got his bell rung by rookie linebacker Lofa Tatupu and gave way to fourth-stringer Jamal Robertson. Four men rushed Delhomme as if they were eight or 10.

And when a hot-footed Delhomme frantically looked for a secondary receiver, each appeared to be double-covered.

That's what was most surprising: Despite all the attention the Seahawks paid Smith (five catches, 33 yards, no receiving touchdowns), Delhomme couldn't take advantage of any potential weakness in Seattle's defense. The Panthers couldn't run, couldn't pass, couldn't function.

Delhomme, who came into the game 5-1 in the postseason with 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions, threw three picks. He often looked as if he had forgotten how to play.

But his teammates looked just as overmatched.

Yes, this was a tired, beat-up Carolina, playing its fourth straight do-or-die road game. Tailback DeShaun Foster was lost last week to a broken ankle, and all-world defensive end Julius Peppers played but couldn't tackle with a separated shoulder.

Still, this whipping was even worse than 34-14.

OK, I believe, Seattle.

I'm definitely finally sold on Hasselbeck, who played with the cocky moxie of a running, gunning Brett Favre in his prime. Hasselbeck was astonishingly quick with his feet, his decision making and his release. This time, no poor choices. No wild risk taking. Going 20-for-28 for 219 yards and two touchdowns -- no interceptions or fumbles -- Hasselbeck arrived as a top-tier QB.

What a time he and his team picked to play by far their best game of the season.

Funny how this works: In both conference title games, the winner had zero turnovers and the loser had four.

Denver's Jake had four by himself -- two picks, two fumbles. His second interception and second fumble were terribly frustrating for his teammates and fans because they prevented the Broncos from making it interesting after the Steelers had built a 24-3 halftime lead.

Still, Pittsburgh was clearly the hotter and better team.

Bill Cowher, who's 1-4 in home AFC title games, is much better on the road when he can use his jut-jawed, us-against-the-world motivational speeches and pull out all the stops on offense and defense. In big games at home, he coaches not to lose. For three straight road Sundays, he coached to win.

Now he has a second-year quarterback he trusts to throw for the jugular.

Yet, though Roethlisberger's stats (21-for-29 for 275, two touchdowns and no interceptions) were slightly superior to Hasselbeck's, Pittsburgh's QB didn't play nearly as flawlessly as Seattle's QB.

Roethlisberger threw three potential interceptions. On a rollout left, he tossed up a cross-body lollipop toward Hines Ward in the back of the end zone. Roethlisberger said later that he thought it was an interception. Two Broncos could have caught it before Ward did to give Pittsburgh its 24-3 halftime lead.

Denver might have made Cowher sweat if John Lynch -- playing with an injured hand -- could have held onto a potential fourth-quarter interception.

But Roethlisberger's most dangerous decision came early. Facing third-and-3 at his 40 midway through the first quarter, Roethlisberger unbelievably whipped a last-option pass into the far flat to Ward -- covered by Bailey. Against New England a week ago, Bailey cut in front of Tom Brady's end-zone target and returned an interception 100 yards, to Denver's 1.

That play basically ended New England's bid for an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl.

But this time, Bailey was too eager. He overran Roethlisberger's gift, forcing himself to reach back for it. The ball caromed off his hands high into the air.

When you're hot, you're hot: The ball bounced back toward Ward, who caught it for a 7-yard gain and first down. If Bailey hangs on and takes it home for a stadium-rocking TD and a 7-0 lead, everything changes.

The Broncos then put the game in the running backs' hands -- and mostly keep it out of Jake's.

The Broncos probably win.

Instead, XL will be Jake-free.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.




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JAKE-FREE SUPER BOWL