Bill Cowher and Ben Roethlisberger earned every bit of vindication they felt yesterday after the Pittsburgh Steelers outclassed the Denver Broncos 34-17 in the AFC championship game.
Few quarterbacks have had a better playoff performance than the one Roethlisberger put together against a Denver defense that shut down Tom Brady and two-time Super Bowl champion New England a week earlier.
Roethlisberger, the popular Findlay native who played his college ball at Miami (Ohio), tossed two touchdown passes. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 275 yards. He also ran for a score.
The second-year pro looked like a completely different quarterback than the hesitant rookie who was intercepted three times in last year's AFC title game.
Roethlisberger staged a national coming-out party in sending Pittsburgh to Super Bowl XL against Seattle Feb. 5 at Ford Field.
Roethlisberger passed with accuracy, confidence, touch and zip. He hit receivers in stride in open areas, and he completed passes in tight spaces. His pinpoint second-quarter touchdown pass to Hines Ward in the back of the end zone was a thing of beauty.
Roethlisberger kept his wits about him and played a game that should make Eli Manning green with envy. Manning is the highly-acclaimed New York Giants quarterback taken ahead of Roethlisberger in the draft who flopped in his postseason debut two weeks ago.
Take a bow, Big Ben. You deserve it.
So does Cowher, who's making his second Super Bowl appearance after losing three straight and four of his last five AFC title games.
A year ago, Cowher's Steelers lost only one game in the regular season and became the first AFC team to win 15 regular-season games before losing to New England in the title game.
This year Pittsburgh didn't clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the season. Playing all three playoff games on the road, the Steelers became the first No. 6 seed to advance to the Super Bowl.
Cowher orchestrated the whole thing.
It's easy to take Pittsburgh's defense for granted. Hey, they don't call the Steelers Blitzburgh for nothing.
A strong Pittsburgh defense is always a given. That, along with a power ground game has been Cowher's calling card.
It's now OK to add an innovative passing attack to Cowher's coaching resume.
Cowher and his coaching staff put together a flawless game plan against Denver.
In last year's title game, Pittsburgh ran the ball on first and second down, putting Roethlisberger in obvious third-down passing situations that led to Pittsburgh's downfall.
Pittsburgh's coaches learned from that game. This year offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt put Roethlisberger in position to be successful by calling pass plays on running downs and running plays on passing downs.
Roethlisberger was 13 of 17 for 180 yards and two touchdowns as Pittsburgh built a commanding 24-3 halftime lead yesterday.
Denver never knew when or where "Air Cowher" would strike next.
As much as yesterday's win was about Cowher's open-minded decision to open up his playbook, it was also about what the Steelers will need to continue to do to upend Seattle in Super Bowl XL.