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THE GHOSTS OF FOOTBALL PAST CAST LONG SHADOWS IN GREEN Bay, but Aaron Rodgers emerged from them with a career-making MVP performance against the Steelers, leading the Packers to a 31--25 win in a glitzy Super Bowl XLV battle. "It's a dream come true," Rodgers said afterward. "It's what I dreamt about as a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young." In winning its fourth Super Bowl and record 13th NFL title, Green Bay did something only one other team has done: stop the Steelers in the Big Game. Pittsburgh still has a record six Super Bowl victories, now against two losses.
The battle of old-school NFL franchises was played before a crowd of 103,219 at Cowboys Stadium, the league's shiniest crown jewel. Green Bay grabbed control with two touchdowns in the space of 24 seconds in the first quarter and would never trail, withstanding Pittsburgh's determined comeback.
Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for an arching 29-yard touchdown pass over the head of cornerback William Gay for a 7--0 Packers lead with just more than 12 minutes gone by. Gay provided tight coverage, but Rodgers beat him and would continue to pick on Gay, and the left side of Pittsburgh's pass defense, much of the night.
The Steelers took over on their own seven and on the first play defensive tackle Howard Green overpowered guard Chris Kemoeatu and got in the face of Ben Roethlisberger. The quarterback forced a fluttering pass downfield that settled into the arms of roaming safety Nick Collins, who darted through a maze of would-be tacklers and leaped into the end zone for a 37-yard pick six. Green Bay led 14--0.
Later in the quarter, the lead trimmed to 14--3, Roethlisberger erred again, trying to force a pass to receiver Mike Wallace. Cornerback Jarrett Bush was there to pick it off. "There's a lot of what-ifs, a lot of throws I'd like to have back," the quarterback would say at the postgame press conference. "I don't put the blame on anybody but myself."
The interception set up Green Bay's third score, a 21-yard pass from Rodgers to Greg Jennings. Rodgers would end up completing 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 112.0 passer rating. "We put everything on [Rodgers's] shoulders," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He did a lot at the line of scrimmage against a great defense. He did a hell of a job."
Up 21--3 the Packers had not only the score but precedent on their side: No team had won a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 points. But Roethlisberger and the Steelers rose up, at their best when the situation seemed hopeless. They whipped up a seven-play, 77-yard scoring drive in 1:45 to move within 21--10 just before halftime. Roethlisberger connected with Hines Ward for a key 14-yard gain on third-and-10, then hit Ward again for the TD from eight yards out.
In the second half the Packers struggled early, failing to gain a first down on the opening drive. Pittsburgh wound up with the ball at midfield and from there turned to its patented, pounding brand of football. The Steelers called five straight running plays; on the fifth Rashard Mendenhall went eight yards up the middle and into the end zone. Just like that, the score was 21--17.
And Pittsburgh rallied on, stuffing the Packers' next drive; nearly closing the gap further before Shaun Suisham's 52-yard field goal try went way left; and stopping the Pack again. Then, on the first play of the final quarter, Green Bay defenders Ryan Pickett and Clay Matthews combined to force a Mendenhall fumble. Linebacker Desmond Bishop gathered up the ball and the Packers had possession at their own 45.
Bishop said he'd found inspiration in words from star defensive back Charles Woodson, who'd been forced from the game with a broken collarbone in the second quarter. "At the half [Woodson] tried to speak about what this game meant, and he choked up," Bishop said. "There was something about what he said that just made me want to play harder."