Steelers survive Cardinals' rally for record sixth Super Bowl title
The Steelers had to go 88 yards in the final two-and-a-half minutes
The Cardinals got two TDs from Larry Fitzgerald to take a fourth-quarter lead
Holmes' last-minute touchdown catch will go down as one for the ages
TAMPA -- Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes caught a six-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds to play to give the Steelers a thrilling 27-23 victory over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium.
The world title is an NFL-record sixth for the Steelers, who had to go 88 yards in the final two-and-a-half minutes after being called for holding on first down. It was a fitting end to arguably the greatest Super Bowl ever.
The Steelers appeared to be in control with a 13-point fourth-quarter lead, but the Cardinals used two touchdown catches by Larry Fitzgerald, including a 64-yard catch-and-run, and a safety to take a 23-20 lead with 2:37 to play. That set the stage for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who played horribly in his previous Super Bowl appearance (nine completions, two interceptions and no touchdowns).
There would be no repeat performance.
"I said [in the huddle] 'It's now or never,'" Roethlisberger said. "I had a lot of fun, and I'm really proud of the way they responded."
Roethlisberger calmly drove the Steelers down the field, with Holmes accounting for 74 of the 88 yards. His touchdown catch was one for the ages, as he stood with both toes just inside the corner of the end zone while pulling down a ball that got through several defenders.
"When they called that play for me, I knew that was my play," said Holmes, who was named Most Valuable Player for his nine catches, 131 yards and a touchdown. "I knew 100 percent that I got my feet down."
With only 29 seconds to play, the Cardinals were unable to make another march, the game ending on a fumble by Kurt Warner, who became the first quarterback to surpass 300 yards passing in three Super Bowls.
That the Cardinals were even in the game was a minor miracle considering they committed 11 penalties for a Super Bowl-record 106 yards, faced two goal-to-go situations and got only one catch from Fitzgerald through the first three-plus quarters. Fitzgerald finished as the first player with seven touchdown catches in a single postseason and the first to surpass 100 yards receiving in four-consecutive playoff games.
"It hurts so bad to see that clock run down," Fitzgerald said. "To have it snatched away ... it hurts."
The first half ended with Steelers linebacker James Harrison flat on his back, but it was the Cardinals who looked to be down and out.
Instead of heading to the locker room with a 14-10 lead, the Cardinals trailed 17-7 after Harrison stepped in front of a Warner pass intended for Anquan Boldin and returned it 100 yards for a score as time expired. On the runback, Harrison evaded Warner along the sideline, accelerated as running back Tim Hightower was blocked, then powered through wide receivers Steve Breaston and Fitzgerald at the goal line.
Fitzgerald came from out of bounds and grabbed at the ball from behind, trying to stall Harrison by extending his body as if going down a water slide. But the ball crossed the goal line just as Harrison fell head-first. He remained on the ground for a few minutes, more from fatigue than injury.
"'Those last couple of yards were probably tougher than anything I've done in my life, but probably more gratifying than anything I've done in football,'' Harrison said.
It was a stunning turnaround in a game that had its share of momentum shifts. The Steelers scored the first 10 points on an 18-yard field goal by Jeff Reed and a 1-yard run by Gary Russell, and appeared to be in control after limiting Arizona to five offensive plays in the first quarter. But the Cardinals responded with a nine-play, 83-yard drive that was capped with a one-yard pass to tight end Ben Patrick.
Suddenly the Cardinals had life. Their defense, which couldn't get off the field in the first quarter, allowed only one first down in the final 14 minutes of the first half and even set up the offense for a go-ahead score when linebacker Karlos Dansby intercepted a tipped pass and returned it to the Pittsburgh 34 with two minutes to go.
Warner then used completions of 10 yards to Hightower, 12 to Fitzgerald, and seven and four to Boldin to reach the one. After a timeout with 18 seconds remaining, Arizona split Boldin and Fitzgerald out to the left, with Boldin on the outside shoulder of Fitzgerald, who was in the slot. Warner anticipated an open window for Boldin after he ran a quick slant under Fitzgerald, who was supposed to clear out the coverage with a corner route.
But Harrison, after showing blitz, dropped to his right -- directly into the area Warner delivered the ball. Harrison's return was the longest play in Super Bowl history and might go down as the greatest single play in title-game annals, finding a spot alongside the helmet catch by Giants receiver David Tyree last year.
''I didn't see him around my offensive line,'' Warner said. ''He made a great play and a great run.''
To that point, the story of the first half was the play of Roethlisberger and the absence of Fitzgerald, whose first catch didn't come until 1:49 remained in the half. It was only the second ball thrown in his direction. That was in stark contrast to his previous three playoff games, where he caught passes for a playoff single-season record 419 yards and five touchdowns. Each of the scores were in the first half, including three in the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles.
But the Steelers made a point of taking him away. They mixed their coverages and were always cognizant of where he was on the field. Sometimes they put safety Troy Polamalu in his face to jam and re-route him at the line of scrimmage; other times they played Polamalu over the top or rolled coverage in Fitzgerald's direction.
Warner capitalized by going to his other receivers and by using running back Edgerrin James out of the backfield. He completed 12-of-18 passes, including three each to Boldin, Breaston and James. Most of the completions were in the flat or along the sideline, which, in light of the Harrison interception, was much safer territory than the interior.
When the Steelers weren't hurting the Cardinals, the Cardinals were hurting themselves. They repeatedly made their lives more difficult with penalties, including a facemask penalty on rookie corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a short completion on second-and-13 from the Steelers 15. A few plays later Dansby was called for roughing the passer. And on a short field-goal attempt to end the possession, Adrian Wilson was called for unnecessary roughness for running through the holder, although Wilson appeared to have lost his balance and stumbled.
That gave the Steelers a first down at the Cardinals four. Even so, Pittsburgh could not get into the end zone and was forced to kick a 21-yard field goal that made it 20-7 -- and set the stage for a wild ending.