Championship Sunday: Cards, Steelers punch ticket to Tampa
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Super Bowl XLIII outlook
By John Clayton, ESPN.comPITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have the Terrible Towel. The Cardinals were supposedly the terrible team from the terrible division, the NFC West. Super Bowl XLIII is a game that should please everyone. The Cardinals are the ultimate underdog; they were the first No. 4 seed to host an NFC Championship Game. The Steelers are a proud franchise trying to win their sixth Super Bowl. Ratings should be strong because the Steelers are one of the better draws in sports. But the Cardinals could be the more fascinating story. Their owner, Bill Bidwill, has long been criticized for the way he's run his franchise. The Steelers were criticized in a similar way until they won four Super Bowls for owner Art Rooney Sr. during the 1970s. From the NFL's standpoint, it's a retro type of game featuring two families who have a long history of ownership in the NFL. "If you win six, nobody else has ever won six,'' Steelers owner Dan Rooney said. "We're going to play it how we see it. We're going into Tampa with the idea of playing well and having fun.'' Here is the first round of questions heading into two weeks of Super Bowl hype.
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Edgerrin James has been effective, but the Cardinals are fueled by the passing game.
1. In the year of great running offenses, what happened to the running teams?Two of the three worst running offenses in the playoffs are in the Super Bowl. The Cardinals were the worst running team in football during the regular season. They averaged only 73.6 rushing yards a game. During the playoffs, they have run better, but it's not their strength. Edgerrin James, who figures to be released after the Super Bowl, had 73 yards on 16 carries in Sunday's 32-25 victory over the Eagles. In three playoff games, he's had 52 carries for 203 yards. Those numbers are decent, but not great. The Steelers were the 10th-worst rushing team during the regular season, averaging 105.6 yards. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians made a commitment to run more in the playoffs, and the results have been mixed so far. After rushing for 146 yards against the Chargers in the divisional playoffs, Willie Parker was held to 47 yards in Sunday's 23-14 victory over Baltimore. 2. How well do these teams know each other? There is virtually no history between these two teams. The Steelers and Cardinals have played only eight times in 36 years, with the Steelers holding a 5-3 edge in the series. Three of those meetings came when the Cardinals were in St. Louis -- the Steelers won games in 1972, 1979 and 1988. The Cardinals beat the Steelers 21-14 on Sept. 30, 2007. The Steelers beat the Cardinals in 2003 and 1997. 3. What are the injuries heading into the Super Bowl?
Ravens RB Willis McGahee takes a scary hit from Ryan Clark in the AFC Championship Game.
John Clayton's game balls
Championship Sunday rundown• Arizona 32, Philadelphia 25
The Cardinals are in the Super Bowl -- just as everyone predicted. Yeah, right. Eagles QB Donovan McNabb had a productive game (375 yards, three TDs), but the third-down pass he threw a step behind Hank Baskett late in the fourth quarter will likely sting for a while. Photos
• Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 14
Santonio Holmes (65-yard TD catch and run) certainly did his part to make up for the loss of Hines Ward (knee injury). An outstanding rookie season ended on a sour note for Ravens QB Joe Flacco (3 INTs). Photos
Looking aheadAn early look at Super Bowl XLIII:
• Arizona (12-7) vs. Pittsburgh (14-4): The Cardinals are underdogs -- again -- but it certainly doesn't hurt their cause that head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm are former Pittsburgh assistants.