It was a tale of five quarterbacks, and when the final storyline of Championship Sunday was written, three of them came out winners, one a tough-luck loser, and one with what could be a career-defining “incomplete.”
It’s a virtual lock that no one outside the Hanie family of Forney, Texas, knew that a kid named Caleb was the third-string quarterback for the Chicago Bears, but everyone knows him now. Despite throwing an improbable interception to 338-pound defensive lineman B.J. Raji of the Packers that helped seal Green Bay’s NFC title game win, Hanie completed 13 of 20 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in double-relief of the Bears’ top two QBs, and came out of the game a winner.
Packers starter Aaron Rodgers, the hottest QB in the playoffs coming in, didn’t put up the video game stats he did against the Falcons in the divisional round, but he threw for 244 yards and ran for a touchdown in leading the Packers to their first Super Bowl since 1998. In beating the Bears 21-14 for a Super Bowl berth, Rodgers claimed the greatest win in the history of what is arguably the NFL’s greatest rivalry, in just his third season as a starter. He is a clear winner.
Much like Rodgers, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not have his greatest statistical game, but proved once again that he is the ultimate winner in today’s NFL in leading Pittsburgh to its third Super Bowl since 2005.
He completed just 10 of 19 passes for 133 yards and threw two interceptions, but scored a touchdown on the ground, kept countless drives alive with first-down runs, and completed two huge passes that allowed the
Steelers to keep possession and run out the clock on the final drive of his team’s 24-19 victory. The man-child who acted too much like a child in the off-season played like The Man when he had to, and proved — again — to be the ultimate winner.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had done the improbable by beating the game’s top two passers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, in the first two rounds, but was unable to pull off the impossible by following up with a win in Pittsburgh.
His numbers were better than any of the winners on the day, throwing for 244 yards and two touchdowns in a gallant comeback effort, but he and the Jets were unable to back up a season of trash-talk and controversy.
Perhaps his association with the Raunchy Rex Ryan, Barking Bart Scott, Sideline Sal Alosi, Brash Braylon Edwards and Asinine Antonio Cromartie were his undoing, but either way, he was the day’s tough-luck loser.
Which brings us to the “incomplete” on the day’s grade card.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler left the NFC title game early in the third quarter with an undisclosed knee injury, leaving backup Todd Collins to flounder in his absence before Hanie came in and gave the Bears life. Upon seeing Cutler standing on the sideline watching, rather than being on a stretcher, a table or even crutches, players from around the league began questioning what no athlete ever wants to have questioned: his heart.
Tweeted Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew: “He can finish the game on a hurt knee…I played the whole season on one”
ESPN’s Mark Schlereth: “You’d have to drag me out on a stretcher to leave a championship game!”
Raiders’ QB Bruce Gradkowski: “N E one a fan of Cutler?” And “looks like he’s already tappin’ out.”
Deion Sanders: “in the playoffs u must drag me off the field…Folks i never question a players injury but i do question a players heart.”
Fair or not, unless Cutler is diagnosed with torn knee ligaments requiring extensive offseason surgery, the day will be known for two gutsy QBs overcoming their own adversity and earning a spot in Super Bowl XLV, and one whose manhood will forever be questioned on what should have been his greatest day.
To Dallas we go.
Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at email@example.com.