The Prequel to Super Bowl XLV

As week two of the Super Bowl Media Crunch cranks out one story or subplot after another to continue to hype up this game, there is one angle that cannot be overlooked or understated. The last time these two teams played was the best game I can remember in a long time.

It's hard to believe now, but just a year ago, while the 9-4 Packers were red-hot in mid-December, much the way they were this year, the mighty Steelers were 6-7 coming into the home stretch. They were coming off five consecutive losses (while Green Bay had just reeled off five straight wins), all of them by a touchdown or less. Two of the losses came in overtime, while a third came from surrendering the winning touchdown pass from 11 yards out with just nine seconds left. While the Packers were very much alive for the wild card (the Brett Favre-led Vikings were dominating the NFC North), Pittsburgh was seeing its season slip away and needed a win to salvage it.

And so a high-scoring slugfest of epic proportions ensued at Heinz Field in which defense was little more than an abstract concept. Ben Roethlisberger made it clear this would be a long night for the then-maligned defense of the Packers with a 60-yard TD pass to then-rookie Mike Wallace on the Steelers' first offensive play of the game. Rodgers would answer just four minutes later with an 83-yard bomb to Greg Jennings, which involved spinning away from a questionable-at-best attempt (again, abstract concept) by Tyrone Carter for a tying score.

The Steelers had a reply to that with a more conventional touchdown drive later in the quarter. When Green Bay tied it in the second quarter, Pittsburgh retook the lead with another touchdown drive right before the half and led 21-14 at halftime. A quiet third quarter that only saw a Pittsburgh field goal set the stage for a truly wild and thrilling fourth.

Only a minute and a half in, Rodgers found Jermichael Finley with an 11-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 3. (Luckily in next Sunday's game, Pittsburgh will not have to worry about Finley, who is on injured reserve.) The Steelers would have to settle for a field goal on their ensuing drive, which led to the Pack finally catching and passing them on a 24-yard touchdown run from Ryan Grant (also on injured reserve, as James Starks fills those shoes now). A 58-yard bomb to Hines Ward set up another field goal for the Steelers gave them the lead back at 30-28. The play that followed turned the game from entertaining to bizarre.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, a coach with a Super Bowl ring, mind you, made the highly questionable decision to try an onside kick with a lead. With four minutes left in the game. The decision appeared to backfire when the Steelers recovered it illegally before the ball went 10 yards, giving the Packers the ball at the Steeler 39. Less than two minutes later, Rodgers found James Jones with a 24-yard touchdown pass to re-take the lead. The two-point conversion made the score 36-30, Pack, with two minutes to go.

Perhaps Mike Tomlin decided to do what he did because he knew whoever had the ball last would win the game. Certainly Aaron Rodgers was capable of running a four-minute offense down the field to setup a winning field goal with no time left. Giving the Packers a short field meant they might score quickly and give the Steelers the last possession to win the game. Sure enough, this is how it played out.

The last possession was a two-minute drive that proved to be a tightrope act all the way to the end zone. The first series resulted in a 4th-and-7 which Roethlisberger survived by hitting Santonio Holmes (now gone to the Jets, breathe a sigh of relief, cheeseheads) in the open field for 32 yards to the Green Bay 46.

Then came a 1st-and-20 and an interception by Jarrett Bush to end the game ... except for the illegal contact flag against the Packers. Big Ben then faced a 3rd-and-15 in which he found a diving Heath Miller 20 yards later on the sideline, who made a full-extension, toe-tapping-the-sidelines catch usually not asked of tight ends. Big Ben was then sacked on the next play until another flag came down from the officials.

After all these trials and mishaps, there stood the Steelers on the Packer 19 with three seconds left. Why not throw to the rookie who started this game with a bang? Roethlisberger bought time in the pocket and then fired to the left corner of the end zone where rookie Mike Wallace was pinned against the sideline. Wallace went horizontal to make a spectacular catch while keeping his feet stapled to the green turf throughout. The extra point made the Steelers a winner in the only NFL game ever to have the wild final score of 37-36.

When all was said and done, Aaron Rodgers had 383 passing yards, while Roethlisberger with that final completion topped out at a ridiculous 503. Both QBs finished with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. More importantly, the Steelers had managed to stay alive in the playoff hunt for the moment, although they would eventually miss out with a 9-7 record. The Packers would make the playoffs at 11-5 and lose a similarly entertaining 51-45 game to Arizona in the wild card round in overtime.

The 2009 Packers were a team that relied on Rodgers to cover up for a shaky-at-times defense and an offensive line made of finish-line tape most of the season. This year's version does not have either problem.

The Steelers are a healthier team than they were last year, as defensive stars Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith are ready to go for the Super Bowl. Yet they are far from 100%, thanks to the broken bone in the ankle of starting center Maurkice Pouncey, suffered in the AFC Championship Game.

The odds are that this will not turn into the kind of slugfest seen a year ago with two solid, healthy, elite defenses taking the field, and more conservative game plans undoubtedly being drawn up on both sides. And while the Super Bowl never has seen an overtime game or a finish as wild as last year's thriller, it has been very good to us lately with seven unforgettably dramatic endings over the last 13 years. This is also about as even a matchup as any we've seen recently, so there's no reason to think it won't be another thriller.

The final score will not be as crazy as last time, but Super Bowl XLV should still be good to the last snap.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site