Just when it looked as though the Pittsburgh Steelers were about to blow a 13-point second-half lead to the Arizona Cardinals, Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger came to the rescue.
The fifth-year player from Miami (Ohio) found wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the right corner of the end zone with a six-yard pass and 35 seconds left, lifting Pittsburgh to an incredible 27-23 win last Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Holmes, who played at Ohio State, was the game’s Most Valuable Player after making nine catches for 131 yards.
The longest reception for Holmes was 40 yards, but none was more critical than the game-winner.
The drive began at the Pittsburgh 22-yard-line and consumed eight plays, with Holmes grabbing four passes for 73 yards.
About two minutes before, Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner put his club in front, 23-20, when he drilled wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in stride with a 64-yard pass as 2:37 remained.
Fitzgerald hauled in seven passes for 127 yards, but was kept in check during the opening half by the league’s top defensive unit.
The Cardinals (12-8) made it close when they scored 16 fourth-quarter points. A one-yard touchdown pass from Warner to Fitzgerald with 7:33 left made it 20-14 and capped off an 87-yard, eight-play march, and a safety was added when a Pittsburgh lineman was called for holding while in the end zone, making it a four-point deficit with just over three minutes left.
As it turned out, the Cardinals (407 total net yards) left too much time on the clock for Roethlisberger (21 of 30 for 256 yards with one touchdown and one interception), who has now led his team to a second title in four years, and a Super Bowl-record sixth in franchise history.
Even with all the offensive highlights, the soon-to-be classic turned fully in Pittsburgh’s favor on a gem by linebacker James Harrison, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
With 18 seconds remaining on the clock, and the ball at the Steeler one-yard line, Harrison cut in front of wide receiver Anquan Boldin (84 yards and eight receptions) at the goal line, and intercepted Warner’s pass.
Harrison scurried 100 yards just as the clock expired, and barely made it into the end zone on what would be the longest play in Super Bowl history.
The interception gave the Steelers (292 total net yards) a 17-7 lead, and turned back the Cardinals, who likely would have knotted it at 10-10, or given them a four-point lead.
Another problem was Arizona didn’t use Fitzgerald earlier, waiting until the game was virtually out of reach.
Wide receiver Steve Breaston (71 yards and six catches) was Warner’s main target in the first half.
Arizona had a forgettable first quarter, but then settled down. A two-time league MVP and a one-time Super Bowl MVP, Warner completed 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards with three scores and one interception.
Warner’s one-yard pass to tight end Ben Patrick with 8:34 left in the second quarter brought the Cardinals to within 10-7.
The Steelers (15-4) took a 10-0 lead after Jeff Reed drilled an 18-yard field goal with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter, and seldon-used running back Gary Russell scored on a one-yard plunge early in the second quarter. Reed also nailed a 21-yard field goal late in the third quarter to make it 20-7.
Arizona was penalized 11 times for 106 yards, and Pittsburgh was penalized seven times for 56 yards.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.