Steelers, Seahawks Advance in NFL Playoffs

The Pittsburgh Steelers advanced Sunday to the AFC Championship game after a 21-18 upset over the Indianapolis Colts, while the Seattle Seahawks upset the Washington Redskins in one of Saturday's playoff games.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This past weekend of NFL playoffs ended with the two-time defending Super Bowl champions eliminated and the team that dominated the regular season eliminated. When the dust cleared, next Sunday's conference championships were set with Carolina playing at Seattle and Pittsburgh playing at Denver. Those are the winners. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to talk about winners and losers.

Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I watched the end of the Colts-Pittsburgh game yesterday, and I cannot believe that, after all those unbelieving twists and turns, the game ended up, well, basically with the same result than if it had ended early.

FEINSTEIN: Yeah. The last five and a half minutes, from the time the officials blew that non-interception, I guess we'll call it, by the Steelers and the Colts went down and scored to pull within 3, you're--there were more bizarre turns than you're supposed to see in an NFL game. The `No Fun League,' as they call it, was lots of fun if you were a neutral observer but, in the end, heartbreaking for the Colts because they were given every chance to pull out a miraculous victory. They were dominated for three quarters by the sixth- and last-seeded Steelers, down 21-to-3. Then Jerome Bettis fumbles for the first time all season on the goal line. It looks like they might score a touchdown on the fumble. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger makes the game-saving tackle. And then Mike Vanderjagt, who had not missed a field goal at home all season, misses by about a hundred yards on the game-ending play. It was just weird to watch.

INSKEEP: In golf, you'd call that a shank.

FEINSTEIN: You would definitely call that a shank, and that's something that'll be hard for Vanderjagt to live down because he and Peyton Manning aren't exactly the closest of friends to begin with. And that was the moment when Vanderjagt had to justify his role as a kicker, and he did not.

INSKEEP: So the Colts lose 22-to-18; Pittsburgh moves on. And you have to wonder if the death of the coach's son for the Colts changed their season.

FEINSTEIN: I think you have to because this was a team that started 13-and-0. They had lost their first game just before James Dungy, Tony Dungy's 18-year-old son, apparently committed suicide in December. And you might say, well, that would bring a team together. They bond behind their coach, who they very much looked up to. But this was a team that was already bonded. They didn't need tragedy to bond them. And I really think it shook them up and they never recovered, and they were not the same team. They were flat the first three quarters of that game yesterday, Steve. I think you're right.

INSKEEP: Well, now what happened to the Patriots?

FEINSTEIN: The Patriots simply got beaten by a better team. I mean, they had to go on the road to play in Denver. They were a team that had injuries all year. They turned the ball over five times. Think about this, Steve: Tn their 10 straight victories in post-season while winning three Super Bowls in four years, they had a total of six turnovers; they had five on Saturday night. You can't win on the road against a good team like the Denver Broncos with five turnovers.

There were a couple of questionable officiating calls in that game, too. Officiating's a problem in the NFL, where they don't have full-time officials, unlike the other professional leagues. But the Broncos deserved to win that game, and the Patriots' run, at least for the moment, ended.

INSKEEP: So two surprising losers there, and something of a surprising winner over the weekend, the Seattle Seahawks.

FEINSTEIN: Well, surprising only in the sense that it had been 21 years since they won a playoff game and that most of the time when you turn the ball over three times in the playoffs, you don't win. But the Washington Redskins simply weren't good enough to take advantage of that and the fact the Shaun Alexander, the MVP of the league, was knocked out of the game in the first quarter. So the Seahawks deserved to win only because the Redskins weren't that good. They will have to play much better to beat the Carolina Panthers in the championship game next Sunday.

INSKEEP: The Carolina Panthers the other winners over the weekend. John, thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Those are the comments of John Feinstein. His latest book is "Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL."

This is NPR News.

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