The first Super Bowl RING for the other hand was sweet to watch and exciting to absorb. Credit the Arizona defense for not allowing the game to get out of hand from the get go.
After winning the coin toss, the Cardinals decided to kick off instead of receive. The broadcasters speculated this was to see if Ben was nervous in his second Super Bowl as he claims he was in his first. I believe that Whisenhunt made this call because he knows the Steelers usually prefer starting the game with their defense on the field. Not too mention this has lead to a domination of the 3rd quarter. Nevertheless this almost blew up in his face as the Steelers marched down field for an apparent 7 to zip lead. But not so fast football fans.
A funny thing happened on the way to a Steelers blow out. The Cardinals stopped them on 1st,2nd,and 3rd and goal. It even took an Arizona challenge to reverse what first appeared to be a Rothliesberger keeper TD. For what it is worth I thought his knee was down before Hartwig pulled Ben into the end zone. So it was now 3 to 0 instead if 7 to 0.
Which proved to be more of a factor when the Steelers continued to hog the ball in the first quarter and drive down to the Arizona 7 yard line as the quarter came to a close. The Steelers Gary Russell finished that drive in the beginning of the 2nd quarter with an off guard 1 yard plunge for pay dirt and a 10 to 0 lead. Which again could have easily been 14 to 0.
The 4 less points made it possible for the Cardinals to stick with their offensive game plan. They did not panic and actually regained the identity they had created over the season to become a prolific offense. As a result they mounted an impressive drive against the best defense the NFL has to offer for 9 play 83 yard drive to close the gap 10 to 7.
As the 2nd quarter continued both defenses had tightened up a bit but then the Cardinals caught a huge break. The Steelers took over at their own 16 after the Cardinals punter put 45 yards between him and the ball and the coverage team stopped Santonio Holmes for a 1 yard return. After Mewelde Moore busted through a blitz for a 6 yard scamper to the Pittsbrugh 22 the Steelers went with a no huddle. Ben’s pass was subsequently batted into the heavens by a Arizona and fell into the arms of Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby and Arizona now had the ball 1st and 10 at the Pittsburgh 34. As a side note, Mewelde Moore made quite a tackle on that INT.
Suddenly the Cardinals sensed the momentum had shifted full tilt to their side and they heard opportunity knocking. And frankly when you get the ball against a great defense it helps immensely when the field is short. And like a Super Bowl worthy contender they made their move for the end zone. They had their designs on taking a 14 to 10 halftime lead. OOPS!
The Steelers as they have a reputation to do, played with total intensity and focus on every down. It was 1st and goal at the Steelers 1 and the Cardinals I think tipped their hand a bit by putting Kurt Warner in the shot gun. Some would say this could have been a diversion. Steelers D Coordinator Dick Lebeaudid not think that. He dialed up a vintage Steelers blitz. But it was more than that.
The Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison did what a great defender should do. Knowing the blitz he prepared for the contingency throw that Warner would opt out too. That proved to be an inside slant and Harrison was a step ahead of Warner committing to the hot read. The rest was HISTORY and a thing of beauty.
Harrison slipped out and down field and grabbed the Warner pass and headed for the promised land. Only there was 100 yards of craziness between him and dream land. Harrison is a very gifted athlete and has some speed for his size. Also he had a posse of Steelers running down the sideline with him. Despite the help there were Cardinals who took their shot at stopping him but too no avail. And yet the play still ended with an amazing last ditch effort from Arizona’s stud wide out Larry Fitzgerald right at the goal line. But Harrison was not to be denied. And the Steelers ripped the heart of momentum right out of the Cardinals chest and the Bruce Springsteen show started with the Steelers winning 17 to 7. (In fact I think I was singing Born to Run as Harrison reached the 50.)
The 3rd quarter pitted the #1 scoring 3rd quarter team, Arizona, versus the #1 least points allowed 3rd quarter team, the Steelers. That battle within the war went to the Steelers as they held Arizona scoreless. The downside to the 3rd quarter for the Steelers however was that Arizona held them to 3 points. Actually they did that twice!. Say what?
Here is what happened. The Steelers drove into the red zone and had 1st and goal at the Arizona 5 only to be stonewalled …….. again by an inspired Arizona defense. So the Steelers trotted Jeff Reed and the Field Goal Boys out for a chip shot. Then for some unknown inexplicable reason, Adrian Wilson pulled a bonehead move and derailed holder Mitch Berger. The Steelers could have separated themselves by scoring and “easy” TD. Certainly the Cardinals D could not stop them ….yet again. O contrare’ ! They did it …….. AGAIN. So the Steelers had a deja vu moment by trotting out Jeff Reed again for another chip shot. So the end result was the Arizona defense limited the damage again. It was Pittsburgh 20 to 7 instead of 24 to 7.
Then at 11:30 in the 4th quarter, Warner and his redbirds went back to the drawing board and pulled out the Fitzgerald Files as they drove and impressive 87 yards in 8 time eating plays for a much needed touchdown. It was now 20 to 14 Pittsburgh with the lead.
After a couple of defensive stands by both teams the Cardinals had to punt from their failed offensive possession. They pinned the Steelers at the Pittsburgh goal line. This was yet another moment where the sub par rushing of the Steelers reared its ugly head. After surviving a safety as Willie Parker barely made it out of his own end zone, Ben pulled off a tremendous 3rd down conversion for a first down. BUT NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Justin Hartwig did the unforgivable sin for an O-lineman. He was caught red handed, holding in the end zone. Which is a safety in the NFL. Which is stupid for Hartwig, a sack would have only been a safety so why not give you QB a chance without being stupid and assaulting your assigned defender? This gave the Cardinals a new lease on life as it was now 20 to 16 and the Steelers would now punt the ball to the Cardinals.
Now the Cardinals have the ball at their own 36 with 2:58 to play. They need a touchdown. There is no way I am thinking that the Pittsburgh defense is going to get beat again. I was sadly mistaken. To my shock and near heart attack Warner hits the dreaded Fitzgerald for a 2 and 10 short pass over the middle and sling shotted 64 yards for a mind numbing TD and a dagger like lead. The extra point made it Arizona 23 and Pittsburgh 20.
At this point I was mad. This is the kind of scenario that I feared through the playoffs. The backbone of the Steelers is the defense. 23 points was too much. The Steelers had only surrendered 300 or more yards ONCE in 18, count them, 18 games! The Cardinals had now put up 400 yards on them. To make matters worse, as much as I love my Steelers and Ben and company, the Arians offense and O-Line were once again mediocre overall. They did not run the ball well at all against a unimpressive Cardinals and Ben was having to be Houdini as usual. Yes the offense makes its share of big plays but they have not and were not scoring or sustaining drives that would have put them game away early. I suppose I should tip my hat some to the Arizona defense but this has been the ugly style of Pittsburgh all year. But wait!
I thought the Cardinals may have made a mistake. Fitzgerald should have dropped at the 1. He left too much time on the clock. The Steelers would get the ball with 2:37 left and if they went for the touchdown surely they would at least tie the game, I kept convincing myself.
Then Ben decided this is gut check time. Heroes or goats? If your the O-line this drive would make us all forget the struggles of your see saw year. Then Ben went to work and Santonio “Puffy” Holmes stepped up to the challenge and rose to the occasion. Starting at their own 22, the Steelers frenetically and dramatically took the ball 78 yards in 8 exhilarating and heart stomping plays. It took 2:02.
On the 7th play Santonio Holmes had victory slip through his hands on high throw from Ben into the back left side of the Arizona end zone. Ben and Holmes put that play behind them and Arians and Rothliesberger called #10 again. This time Ben and Santonio were in sync. The Cardinals went for heavy coverage instead of an all out blitz on Ben. The O-line had been having one of their best drives all year and gave Ben the proverbial perfect pocket. The 5 year QB through the perfect pi line pass where only Holmes had a shot. Santonio Holmes went into retro mode and did his best Lynn Swann impersonation and made an unbelievable sky walking, back shoulder, tip toe your two feet in bounds catch! With 35 seconds left the Steelers pulled the dagger that Warner and Fitzgerald had shoved into them and sent fate packing back to the desert. Pittsburgh 27 and Arizona 23!
Yes the Cardinals had a punchers chance to kick a game tying FG, but everyone in the know Universe knew the Steelers defense was not going to let that happen this time. They had been smarted enough up till that point and had enough of the Warner Bros shanagens. Not coincidentally the Steelers defense went after Kurt Warner and caused a fumble to end the game with 5 seconds left. Some argue that it was not a fumble but really with 5 seconds left what would they have had a chance to do?
Well I have more I want to say but for now I have run a bit long so I will bring chapter 2 in later. In the meantime I ask the rest of the NFL “Who ‘s your daddy?”