Ali/Frazier. Yankees/Red Sox. Michigan/Ohio State. If the NFL has one rivalry in 2011 that belongs in the same breath as these classic feuds, it’s Pittsburgh/Baltimore. The two cities share a fair amount of blue-collar DNA and their respective football teams play a similar brand of Clubber Lang football. I pity the fool who doesn’t come ready to play on Sunday night. As Cris Collinsworth said during the Football Night in America pregame show, “You get the idea they don’t care if they get fined, they don’t care if they get penalized. Sometimes I wonder if they even care who wins on the scoreboard. They just want to beat each other up.”
NBC promised “4 Quarters of Fury,” and borrowed some boxing imagery to set up the primetime showcase. Bold, since, to be honest, there haven’t been “4 Quarters of Interesting Football,” combined, in the last three Sunday night games, all one-sided snoozers. NBC was betting on the belligerent attitude of Terrell Suggs, Baltimore’s outspoken defensive standout, who spent the week spewing venom at the black and gold. The Steelers took the high road, and simply came out wearing their Heinz Spicy Mustard helmets. Good enough for me. Come out fighting, boys, and protect yourself at all times.
But first, the undercard. In New England, Eli Manning and the Giants did themselves — and their local rivals, the Jets — a favor by edging Tom Brady and the Patriots, 24-20. Manning’s been in the league eight years now, and he’s won a Super Bowl, but I still have no clue whether he’s really a good quarterback. Today, he certainly was, throwing two scores in the fourth quarter, but he’s always a week away from playing like a sophomore stand-in. Maybe it’s just his “Golly, gee” post-game press conferences that make me question his steel — he always sounds like Ed Norton’s “split-personality” killer from the movie Primal Fear. Loyal Giants fans are just helpless Richard Geres, praying the calculating, accurate Eli shows up on Sundays.
Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, is playing the quarterback position as well as anyone since… well, ever. After four more touchdown passes today during the perfect Packers’ 45-38 win over San Diego, Rodgers now has a passing rating of 129.1, which is a good 49 points higher than Tim Tebow’s. In St. Tim’s defense, he did toss two TDs and rush for more than 100 yards in the Broncos’ victory over the Raiders. And playing in the pathetic AFC West means Tebow only needs to win a few more games to reach the playoffs.
Which brings us to Baltimore’s quarterback Joe Flacco. He’s unfortunately got a little Eli in him, leading his team to playoffs, but always capable of a big-game stinker. My personal pet peeve with him is how lackadaisical he seems. If he’s in a groove, his three-step drop is smooth and relaxed, as if he and his receivers are the only players on the field. But when a pressure defense is breathing down his neck, his drops are… smooth and relaxed, as if he and his receivers are the only players on the field. He never seems in a hurry to get rid of the ball. Still, NBC’s Dan Patrick — who extended his Foster the People reference streak to a league-leading three weeks — dropped the question, “How do you stop Joe Flacco?” like he was the second coming of Dan Marino. Rodney Harrison sidestepped it by talking about Troy Polamalu and then uncorked this week’s “Rodney Harrison Award for Most Obvious Analytical Statement That Retains a Whiff of Profundity Because Rodney Harrison Said It and He Is Undeniably Cool”: “I believe the team that limits the turnovers will be the team that wins.”
He’s not the best analyst in the business for nothing, folks. Faith Hill, take it away! Sing that iconic punk Joan Jett song with enhanced lyrics like, “Sunday Night Football on NBC; Al and Cris are the best on TV!” (I hate myself, alright.)
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