Sloppy game reinforces AFCs dominance

ON THE NFL

February 06, 2006|By KEN MURRAY

Detroit -- It was there for the taking.

The Seattle Seahawks kept turning their backs on opportunity. The Pittsburgh Steelers kept letting them crawl back in the game.

The 40th Super Bowl was not a work of art; it was more like graffiti for a city that already hasmore than its share.

Trading interceptions, broken plays and bad ideas, the Steelers outlasted the Seahawks, 21-10, in a demolition derby kind of game at Ford Field last night.

In the end, the Steelers claimed their fifth Lombardi Trophy because they came with a few more big plays than the Seahawks, because they did enough little things right to seize the day.

The reign of the New England Patriots is over, but not of the American Football Conference. The AFC has now won seven of the past nine Super Bowls since the NFC romped to 13 straight.

Disparity? Thats when a sixth seed from the AFC can trump the top seed in the NFC, a team that had won 13 of its previous 14 games.

Still, the Seahawks will look back at this game and wonder how it got away. They will look at penalties that snuffed drives and dropped passes that wasted momentum.

Just when it looked as if the Seahawks might actually pull off the upset, they made three huge mistakes that made the difference.

Heres the setup: The Seahawks trailed 14-10 when Peter Warrick ill-advisedly let a Chris Gardocki punt roll to the 2. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck took them right down the field, though, and two plays into the fourth quarter hit an uncovered Bobby Engram for a 17-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 30.

Two Shaun Alexander runs moved the ball to the 19 Seattles rhythm offense was clicking, the Steelers looked tired, Hasselbeck looked sharp.

When tight end Jerramy Stevens caught a pass over the middle that carried to the 1, the Seahawks were in perfect position. But right tackle Sean Locklearwas flagged for holding. On the next play, Pittsburgh nose tackle Casey Hampton sacked Hasselbeck at the 34. And finally, two plays later, Hasselbeck threw maybe the worst pass in a night of bad passes.

In the face of a blitz by Troy Polamalu, Hasselbeck overthrew Darrell Jackson badly, the ball sailing into the arms of cornerback Ike Taylor, who had been toast most of the night.

Taylor made the interception at the 5, returned the ball 24 yards to the 29 and got 15 yards tacked on when Hasselbeck incredibly was called for blocking below the waist when he tackled Taylor.

That quickly, Seattles best opportunity was gone.

The Steelers made it official when Antwaan Randle El, the former college quarterback, made the best pass of the night, a 43-yard touchdown throw to Hines WardM-5 off a play that started as a reverse. With 8:56 left, leading 21-10, the Steelers had the game firmly in control.

Hasselbeck passed for 273 yards, but the only play that will be remembered is his ugly interception. His counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger, played an erratic game with two interceptions, including one at the Seattle 4 that let the Seahawks back in it.

But Roethlisberger survived because he got a gift touchdown at the end of the first half and overlooked running back Willie Parker broke a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Roethlisbergers first-half touchdown gave Pittsburgh a lead it would not relinquish. He had eluded pass rusher Grant Wistrom to heave a 37-yard pass to Ward on third-and-28, and then, on third-and-one, he followed Jerome Bettis on a bootleg to the left

But replays appeared to show that linebacker D.D. Lewis had stopped Roethlisbergers momentum short of the goal line, even if replay official Bob Boylston didn't see it that way. Seattle coach Mike Holmgren argued with officials going off the field at halftime.

The Seahawks self-destructed when it counted most. They only had oneM-5 turnover, but they had seven penalties for 70 yards. Stevens dropped three passes. Jackson was called for pushing off in the end zone that wiped out a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

It left enough room for the Steelers to complete their mission.

The sixth seed is champ.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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