February 5th, 2009 16:35 EST
Steelers Clamber Back To Win Their Record-Setting 6th Super Bowl
Seconds short of the two-minute warning, it appeared as if a team running on only 3 of its 4 cylinders was making a futile mad scramble downfield. Seemingly, with the score 24-20 favoring the Arizona Cardinals, and only approximately 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Pittsburgh had nothing left to go home with except their dignity. What made the loss (reasonably assumed as it was at the time) all the more difficult to swallow for the black and gold was how they blanked the Cards the first 3 quarters of the game.
Arizona won the coin toss at the onset of Super Bowl 43, but instead of allowing their offense to start, they deferred to Pittsburgh to assess Ben Roethlisberger`s nerves at commanding Pittsburgh`s offense. Roethlisberger, who had a rough going in his first Super Bowl appearance 3 years prior, disappointed naysayers by showing poise and confidence with a play action pass to Hines Ward, good for 21 yards.
Though the Cardinals` defense budged while Roethlisberger engineered a drive to the red zone, they stepped up to prevent the Big Ben from running it in for a touchdown on third down. While the initial call on the field was a touchdown, Arizona`s head coach Ken Whisenhunt challenged the touchdown call which was quickly overturned. Mike Tomlin, the Steelers` head coach, opted for the field goal opportunity and was rewarded by a 3-0 lead. As soon as the Cardinals took control of the ball, they employed the rushing game executed by RB Edgerrin James who had been so effective against the Panthers and Eagles the last two games.
Pittsburgh`s rushing defense, ranked 2nd in the NFL, overwhelmed Arizona`s offensive line and limited Arizona`s ground game to " yards in 4 quarters. Feeling the pressure of the blitz, Kurt Warner resorted to making screen passes and flats that only yielded 4th and longs in the 1st period. The advantage clearly belonged to Big Ben and Pittsburgh as they commanded time of possession throughout the 1st.
On Pittsburgh`s second drive, backup RB Gary Russell ran it in for the 1st touchdown of the game. Without a ground game to speak of, Arizona`s game went airborne as Warner connected to wide receiver Steve Breaston, kick starting their first successive drive which led to a 3-yard touchdown completion to Anquan Boldin.
Being on the short end of a 10 to 7 mark, the Cardinals eased back into the pass-heavy offense that was ranked 2nd in the NFL in the regular season. You wouldn`t have guessed Pittsburgh`s secondary defense, consisting of strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor, was regarded as the finest in football by their performance.
Warner regularly dumped short passes down the middle of the field to receivers Breaston and Boldin to net the Cardinals crucial first down conversions. Only by the grace of the upfront attack of outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were the Steelers able to minimize the damage against them on the scoreboard. They combined for 2 sacks and consistently caught Warner off guard, making him throw the ball when he wasn`t ready leading to several key missed completions. But they could only carry the defensive workload for so long, before Warner found the time necessary to string together several long pass completions to have them knocking at the door again. James Harrison, who was supposed to blitz the quarterback, instead dropped back to cover Anquan Boldin at the goal line.
Warner, who obviously misread the situation, slung the ball right into Harrison`s waiting arms. Harrison then ran for 100 yards, all the while evading tackles by jilted Cardinals, for the longest defensive touchdown in Super Bowl history. Dick LeBeow`s gambit paid off and instead of going into halftime being down by 4, the Steelers had the 17-10 lead.
The third quarter was headlined by great defense on both sides of the ball. Though Roethlisberger possessed hawkeyed accuracy throughout the game, Arizona`s cornerback Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie outmatched Ben`s target Santonio Holmes in determination and athleticism.
What could`ve been three catches of at least 20 yards were only batted down incompletions as Rodgers-Cromartie, the taller of the pair, obviously had the edge. The Cardinals had been plagued with penalties all throughout the game: 11 total resulting in 106 yards. Left tackle Mike Gandy alone committed holding penalties on three individual drives. After being slighted most of the game, Edgerrin James was guilty of a chop block which cost the offense 15 yards: yards they never made back on the drive.
Later on, when the Steelers marched downfield and were yet again in the red zone, tight end Heath Miller dropped a perfectly thrown pass that should`ve resulted in another touchdown. Instead, Arizona`s defense sealed up the creases and Pittsburgh was slated to attempt another field goal. For the most part, the Steelers` primaries kept a steady assault on Warner and the offensive line on the front which hindered any big plays the passing game might execute. Jeff Reed tapped another 3 points through the goal posts and added his 18th postseason field goal to his track record. As the curtain fell on the 3rd quarter, the Steelers gripped a tight 20 to 7 death knell over the Cardinals and it was assumed their defense would come through in the end to make the clutch play to stop Arizona`s passing offense.
Whisenhunt and the rest of the Arizona coaching staff had nearly exhausted the extent of their offensive playbook when they went to the no-huddle play-making ability of Warner. With Pittsburgh`s linemen off guard, Warner and his 3 receiver unit took advantage of Pittsburgh`s hampered secondary down the middle of the field. 5 minutes in, 3rd down back J.J. Arrington opened a 22 yard hole down the center with a pitch-and-catch reception from Warner.
Arizona`s ace in the hole, Larry Fitzgerald, hadn`t been a factor throughout the game until he finally broke out as the go-to wideout and advanced the Cardinals to the 1 yard line. One play later, he strolled into the end zone to cut their deficit to 6. Arizona`s linemen got to Roethlisberger early and often and thereby were able to prevent them from falling deeper in the count. On the Cardinals` next drive, Steve Breaston was called on once more and put the birds in great field position with a 23-yard reception. The resulting punt bounded within the ten yard line, but after James Harrison committed a gross personal foul during the kick, the Steelers were backed up to the 1 yard line.
Like clockwork, Roethlisberger made the clutch airmail delivery to Santonio Holmes to convert on 3rd down but was then negated by a holding penalty by Offensive Tackle Justin Hartwig which led to a safety. Though the scoreboard read 20 to 16, the momentum swayed to the Cardinals on the strength of their overpowering offense.
One bright outcome of the disaster was Pittsburgh`s ability to kick off from the 20-yard line, but Warner doused that benefit quickly. Less than 4 minutes remained in the game and Arizona`s offensive coordinator had already formulated the death blow to take the championship. Taking the play that had been so effective moments earlier, Larry Fitzgerald dashed down the center of the field, passing Ike Taylor on the way.
Troy Polamalu hadn`t the time to fill the gap and stop Fitzgerald before the latter hauled in the pass. Larry strode to the end zone with his pursuers at least 10 yards behind him at all times. Arizona had now gained the lead with a score of 23 to 20. But in the final 2 and a half minutes, Roethlisberger connected to Santonio Holmes for 4 catches and 73 of 78 passing yards resulting in inarguably one of the greatest touchdown catches in Super Bowl History.
With the defense breathing down his neck, Big Ben strayed left and right from the pocket before slinging a rocket to the back right corner of the end zone where Holmes, while diving, caught it and scraped his toes along the ground. The call on the field stood following a challenge and after Kurt Warner fumbled, Pittsburgh kneeled to take Super Bowl 43 by a score of 27-23. It was Pittsburgh`s 6th Super Bowl Championship: the most for any franchise in NFL history.
The deciding factor in the ultimate outcome was completely psychological. Through all the terrible offensive lines and mediocre receivers, Roethlisberger has time and time again shown how his inner fortitude can overcome any obstacle even on the grandest stage in all of football. Besides the one interception off of a tipped pass, Big Ben was superb even if his receiving staff wasn`t at times. Holmes, who had been known to have dropped many key passes in the past, kept his bumbling in check especially when it would`ve mattered most.
Santonio Holmes was named the Super Bowl MVP although earlier in the game he gave up on receptions that might`ve developed into interceptions. Though Holmes may have made the acrobatic leap in the end, it was Roethlisberger who had showcased the greatest consistency and confidence of any Steeler. He finished the game 21 of 30 with 256 passing yards, 1 TD, and 1 interception, and a passer rating of 93.2. More importantly, Ben Roethlisberger came through at the most critical points like he has for most of his young 5 year career.
The Associated Press