- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009


Once is a fluke. Twice is a trend. It’s now commonplace for a Super Bowl to start as a snoozer, then erupt into a thrill-a-minute finish that is in doubt until the confetti is falling and the Vince Lombardi Trophy is handed out.

Last year, the New York Giants and New England Patriots slept-walk through three quarters before playing an epic fourth.

Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIII, the Pittsburgh Steelers entered the final period with a comfortable 20-7 lead against the Arizona Cardinals, whose passing game was stuck in neutral.

But just when James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown to end the first half was being identified as the key play in another Steelers championship, the Cardinals recorded a safety and Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 64-yard touchdown with 2:37 remaining to take a 23-20 lead.

The Steelers answered, winning 27-23 on Santonio Holmes’ 6-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds remaining.

The ebbs and flows of an NFL title game are amazing.

Q: How many twists and turns were there?

A: It was a darn roller coaster. Steelers lead 10-0. Cardinals cut it to 10-7 and intercept a pass. Steelers return interception for a score. Steelers stretch lead to 13 points. Cardinals come back. Steelers rally to win. Things really busted loose in the fourth quarter. The teams combined for 23 points in the final 7:33.

Q: What’s more stunning - the Patriots blowing it last year on the cusp of 19-0 or the Steelers losing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter only to rally?

A: Pittsburgh losing its lead. Since 1988, the Steelers are 143-1-1 when they have a lead of 11 or more points. And with the league’s best defense harassing Warner and negating Fitzgerald (one catch through three quarters), this would have been a historic meltdown.

Q: What happened to the pass defense in the fourth quarter?

A: Credit should go to Holmes and Fitzgerald, two players with sensational futures who made plays happen after the catch. Sometimes good route-running and great hands beat any kind of coverage. Fitzgerald was held in check because of double coverage, but on the 64-yard touchdown, he was left in man coverage and easily beat Ike Taylor.

Q: Both coaches said the Cardinals scored too early (with 2:37 remaining). Agree?

A: Totally agree. But you’re not going to give back a 64-yard touchdown. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he was hoping to hold the Steelers to a field goal and produce the first overtime in Super Bowl history. Pittsburgh wasn’t doing much on offense, so it seemed like the Cardinals would hang on for the win.

Q: Pittsburgh had a touchdown reversed on the opening drive, and Mike Tomlin opted to kick a field goal from the 1-foot line. Good decision?

A: Tomlin’s reputation is for making aggressive calls in situations like this, so it was a surprise, especially considering the Steelers have the league’s best defense. The second-year coach might have been a little nervous and wanted to make sure his team got the sure three points instead of getting stopped and coming away with nothing.

Q: There were certainly fireworks at the end of the first half. How impressive was James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return?

A: It has to go down as one of the best plays in Super Bowl history, and it was the longest play in the game’s history. Arizona was poised to go into halftime tied at 10-10 or in the lead at 14-10. Instead, Harrison stepped in front of Anquan Boldin and pushed the lead to 17-7 at halftime.

Q: How about a quick review of Bruce Springsteen at halftime? What did you think of the set list?

A: The Boss delivered. Opening with “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” was a great choice. The safest prop bet would be that “Born to Run” and the new single “Working on a Dream” would be included in the 12-minute set list. Finishing with “Glory Days” was a solid choice as well. Not a solid choice: whatever Clarence Clemons was wearing.

Q: The Steelers have won two Super Bowls in four years. The Cardinals were the eighth different NFC team to make it in as many years. Which team has more staying power?

A: No doubt the Steelers. Pittsburgh has youth at quarterback, running back and key parts of the defense, such as the secondary. Arizona has more than a dozen free agents to deal with later this month, including Warner, running back Edgerrin James and a disgruntled Boldin.

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