April 22, 2006
Two teams and two very different paths to SHAFT BOWL VI.
The 2004 Falcons sat at 5-6 and on the brink of elimination facing must wins every week in order to make the playoffs. Five regular season wins later they were in a 3 way tie for their division crown that was broken by tiebreakers in their favor. The playoffs were no picnic either. They hosted the Buccaneers in the wild card round and came away with a hard fought 13-6 victory where neither team gained more than 200 yards. On the road in the divisional game they trailed the Seahawks 14-0 early and 17-7 at halftime before rallying in the 2nd half and coming back to win 24-20. In the NFC Championship they traveled to Philadelphia and trailed the Eagles the whole game until they took and held the lead with 0:18 left in the 3rd quarter. The final was 29-27.
My 2004 Steelers, on the other hand, seemed to coast through the regular season and finished 15-1 and won their division by 6 games. An early season OT loss to the Raiders started them at 1-1 and caused some concern, but ultimately it was a minor bump in the road. The playoffs started with a 24-10 win over the Jaguars that featured a 17-0 start off some turnovers. Then came the longest and, arguably, the greatest game in SHAFT history: the AFC Championship game against the Colts (documented in another thread).
Would the Falcons be able to win their 9th must win game in a row? Would the Steelers have anything left after the emotionally draining AFC Championship game?
ATL started the game on their own 27 after the Rossum return. Vick hit Price short for 15, misfired at Dunn in the flat, then threw a pick trying to hit Crumpler over the middle. Polamalu returned it 12 yards to the ATL 32.
PIT went for the quick strike, but Roethlisberger threw it right back to ATL trying to hit Ward for the TD on the first play. Mathis snagged it at the 3 and was brought down there.
ATL went 3 and out after an incompletion and 2 runs netted 1 yard. The punt left PIT at their own 45.
PIT picked up 1 first down before failing on 4th and 3 at the ATL 37 when Roethlisberger's quick in to Riemersma fell incomplete.
ATL went 3 and out again after a short Dunn run and 2 incompletions only netted 3 yards. The punt gave it back to PIT at their own 26 after Randle El almost gave it up when he fumbled the return. Fortunately, Willie Williams pounced on it and PIT kept the ball.
PIT also went 3 and out after a couple of Bettis runs and a short scramble by Roethlisberger. The punt gave it to ATL at their own 25.
ATL picked up 1 first down on a 10 yard pass to Crumpler before Duckett fumbled the ball and Farrior recovered for PIT at the ATL 34.
PIT would not waste the opportunity this time. Bettis was stuffed for 0 before Roethlisberger hit ward for 13 down to the 21. A short pass then fell incomplete to Burress. But, on 2nd and 10 from the ATL 21, Roethlisberger went for it and hit Randle El long for the 21 yard TD.
PIT 7 ATL 0 QTR 1 TIME 1:30
ATL started the next drive on their own 20. Duckett lost 2 before Vick hit Price for 15 out to the 33. 2 incompletions brought up 3rd and 10 and the PIT blitz sacked Vick for a 9 yard loss (Hoke). A good punt turned it over to PIT at their own 28.
PIT made it to the ATL 47 on some Bettis runs and a completion to Burress before having to punt. ATL started on their own 20 after the kick sailed into the endzone.
ATL moved 4 yards on a Vick scramble and then 19 more on a flat completion to Crumpler. The drive then stalled at the ATL 49 after Duckett was stuffed for -2 and a completion to Crumpler came up short of the first down. The punt pinned PIT at their own 8.
PIT immediately moved 12 yards on a flat pass to Burress. Two incompletions later Bettis rumbled up the middle for 14 yards on 3rd and 10. But, 3 plays later it was time to punt from the PIT 37. ATL called for the FC at their own 19.
ATL went 3 and out again after a couple of Duckett runs and an incompletion. The punt started PIT in good field postition at their own 41.
PIT now had 2:06 in the half to do something. Bettis reeled off multiple 6 and 7 yard runs and Tuman grabbed a 12 yard pass before PIT ran out of downs and time at the ATL 15. Jeff Reed hit the 32 yarder just before the half.
PIT 10 ATL 0 HALFTIME
PIT received and started at the 19. Bettis was stacked up at the line on 1st down and a pass to Ward fell incomplete on 2nd. On 3rd and 10 Roethlisberger went long again and hit Riemersma but he fell down after only getting 26 yards. A sack of Roethlisberger by Bryan Scott followed and the disoriented QB handed off to Bettis for a minimal gain before throwing a terrible long ball up trying to hit Ward for a big gain. Cory Hall picked it off and ran it back 20 yards to the ATL 46.
ATL then had one of their receivers slip and fall after hauling in a long pass. Finneran was limited to 26 yards on the bomb from Vick. From the PIT 28 Dunn caught a quick screen for 3 to the 25. Vick's following pass to Crumpler fell incomplete, but he connected on the next one and Crumpler was down to the 12 after the 13 yard quick out. Vick misfired on 2 consecutive passes before trying to take it around the end himself. His run only gained 4 and ATL faced 4th and 6 at the PIT 8 trailing by 10. In trotted Jay Feeley and the 25 yarder was good.
ATL 3 PIT 10 QTR 3 TIME 8:42
PIT started at their own 24 after the KO return. The Bus started rolling gaining ground in 9, 9, and 13 yard chunks in between getting stacked up at the line. On 3rd and 5 from the ATL 41, Roethlisberger threaded the needle on a quick in to a double teamed Ward for the first down. However, on the next play, Ward was not as well covered so Roethlisberger lost his concentration and threw his 3rd pick to Cory Hall instead (Hall's 2nd).
ATL started on their own 32. Crumpler grabbed a 15 yarder before 2 incompletions and a short Vick scramble forced a punt that put PIT at their own 14.
PIT started with Bettis, but on 3rd and 4 went to Riemersma for a 7 yard gain. Bettis ran it again for 3 yards out to the 30. On 2nd and 7, Burress caught a hitch over the middle and turned and ran 40 yards to the ATL 30. Roethlisberger hit Burress over the middle again for 11 to take it to the ATL 19. Bettis pounded out 3 to the 16, then Burress grabbed another pass over the middle for 15 down to the 1. On 1st and goal ATL keyed Bettis in the full house backfield but Staley had the ball and plunged in for the TD.
PIT 17 ATL 3 QTR 4 TIME 11:06
ATL started next on their own 32. Price caught a pass for 15 before a Dunn run and 2 incompletions forced another ATL punt. PIT was left at their own 14.
PIT went to the air and Roethlisberger hit Ward for 15 over the middle. Burress was open in the same spot and he gained 12 out to the PIT 41. A Bettis run and 2 incompletions then brought up 4th down and PIT punted away giving it back to ATL at their own 14.
ATL could not complete any passes, but Duckett, Dunn, and Vick runs carried them out to the 33 to face a 4th and 6 with time now critical. Vick dropped back to pass looking for Dez White, but Kimo von Oelhoffen sacked him for an 8 yard loss and it was PIT ball at the ATL 25 with 3:00 to go in the game.
PIT kept it on the ground and Bettis ran for 6,3, and -2 yards before Jeff Reed came in and hit the 35 yard FG.
PIT 20 ATL 3 QTR 4 TIME 1:22
ATL was in desperation mode and did work their way out to the 45 before Willie Williams picked off a Vick bomb intended for Price to wrap things up. PIT took over at their own 27 and kneeled down to run out the clock.
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Atlanta Falcons 3
MVP: Pittsburgh Defense (honorable mention = Burress)
Total Yards: PIT 337 ATL 188
First Downs: PIT 20 ATL 10
Possession: PIT 35:25 ATL 24:35
Turnovers: PIT 3 ATL 3
Ben 28att 14cmp 207yds 1td 3int
Vick 31att 11cmp 154yds 0td 2int
*If I had to pick a game deciding series it would be when Burress accounted for 66 of the 86 yards in what was probably the most critical touchdown drive of the game. But, overall, the defense was the reason Pittsburgh won.
And with people like Ben, Plaxico, and Vick in attendance, the post-game party must have been a hoot! Sorority girls, handguns, and dogfights, woot!!!
Here's hoping tomorrow's opener plays out like your Bowl game did! Go Steelers!!!