Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Super Bowl Countdown #9 - Super Bowl XLIII - Steelers 27, Cardinals 23

Over the next eleven days, Lattanzi Land is producing a top ten countdown of the greatest Super Bowls of all time. This is a collaborative effort between myself and my good friend and football expert Dustin Holt. Every day around noon, Monday through Friday, the next one will be put up, climaxing with #1 on Friday, February 5th. Some of these may surprise you, and some may make you ask what we are smoking. Enjoy, and any feedback can be made in the comment boxes or via email at joshua.lattanzi@gmail.com or dholt13@gmail.com - we move along to #9...

This game can be classified not so much as a great game but moreso as one of the greatest quarters in NFL history, which is the reason why it finds itself number nine on our chart, rather than a higher position.

To set the stage, Super Bowl XLIII featured two teams from opposite ends of the spectrum: the five-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, coming in with a 12-4 record; and the once (and seemingly perpetually) lowly Chicago St. Louis Phoenix Arizona Cardinals, who attained a 9-7 record.

The Steelers were returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years, whereas the Cardinals were making their first appearance after more than a half century of futility (and yet somehow they always seemed to beat the Redskins and Eagles once each during their annual 4-12 seasons, but we aren't bitter or anything), not appearing in any championship game since 1948!

The game was a great match-up between the top ranked Steelers defense and the high octane Cardinals offense led by quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. However, on this night, the quarterback with the worst rating ever for a Super Bowl winner took center stage as he led his team to a comeback victory during a furious fourth quarter finish.

Ben Roethlisberger, who had led the Steelers to Tampa after defeating the Baltimore Ravens for the third time during the 2008 season, moved the ball quickly down to the one yard line after the opening kickoff. The Steelers were unable to cash in and therefore had to settle for Jeff Reed's 18-yard field goal.

The Cardinals sputtered from the very beginning, giving the ball almost immediately back to the Steelers. Later in the first quarter, the Steelers mounted a drive, which included Roethlisberger's Tarkenton-esque scramble to escape the defenders on a 3rd and 10 play from midfield, to complete a pass to tight end Heath Miller and move the chains. Steeler running back Gary Russell later scored from the one yard line to increase the Steelers' lead to 10-0.

The Cardinals began to show signs of life with a nice touchdown drive, sparked by a 45-yard catch and run from Warner to Anquan Boldin to the one yard line. Warner finished the drive with a one yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Patrick to cut the lead to 10-7.

Unlike a lot of other great games, Super Bowl XLIII encountered a lull in the second quarter action, with each team doing next to nothing, offensively. Then with 2:10 remaining in the first half, Roethlisberger had a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted at the 32-yard line, allowing the Cardinals a shot to score and the opportunity to at least tie the game before halftime.

The Cardinals moved into scoring position with 18 seconds left and the sequence that followed was the turning point of the game and arguably the great play in Super Bowl History. When the ball was snapped Warner read blitz and threw a pass intended for Boldin at the goal line but the pass was intercepted by 2008 Defensive Player of the Year Jerome Harrison right at the goal line.

In order to make this play, Harrison at first faked his blitz, and then stepped to where the ball was thrown and raced 100 yards down the sideline for a touchdown that increased the Steelers' lead to 17-7 at halftime. A closer look shows how Harrison’s faking of a blitz fooled Warner at the snap. Harrison’s great individual positioning and play had its origin in the mind of the godfather of the zone-blitz and Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau, and with that 14-point swing at the end of the first half a major difference had been made in the game.

During the third quarter, most people would have been able to take a nap without missing much as each team traded multiple punts. The Steelers did mount a scoring drive late in that quarter, but for the second time in the game they were unable to score a touchdown from inside the five yard line. They settled for another short field goal by Jeff Reed and built a 20-7 lead.

Once the teams took the field in the fourth quarter, more than 100 million people around the world were treated to one of the finest quarters in Super Bowl history.

The scoring did not start, however, until midway through the quarter when Larry Fitzgerald started to take over the game. With less than eight minutes remaining, Warner threw a fade route to Fitzgerald who made a leaping catch for a touchdown. That score cut the Steelers' lead to 20-14.

On their next possession, the Cardinals were able to drive into Steelers territory but were unsuccessful in their attempt to score. They were, however, able to back the Steelers up against their own goal line with a punt that was downed at the one yard line.

On 3rd and 10 from his own one yard line with 3:02 remaining, Roethlisberger made what was his best pass all night by connecting with Santonio Holmes for a 19-yard gain and a first down. But it wasn't to be as a flag was thrown in the end zone and the Steelers were called for holding. A safety was the result and cut the lead to 20-16.

More encouraging for the Cardinals was the fact that they would receive the ball on the free kick that occurred after the safety. Two plays later, with 2:48 remaining, lightning struck in Raymond James Stadium as Larry Fitzgerald on a crossing pattern took the Warner pass 64 yards for the go-ahead score and a 23-20 lead.

Now, for the first time during the game, Roethlisberger and the Steelers were playing from behind. Big Ben, however, did not fold as he marched the Steelers right back down the field. The initial key play was on 2nd and 6 from the Cardinals' 46 when Roethlisberger hit Holmes on a comeback route that Holmes turned into a 40-yard gain.

With 43 seconds remaining, Roethlisberger surveyed the field, looking left then coming back to the right finding Holmes in the back corner of the end zone for a six-yard double toe tap touchdown (see the picture!). The throw was perfect, the catch was perfect and the footwork was perfect.

The Steelers held on for the 27-23 victory and their sixth Super Bowl title. Holmes was named the games Most Valuable player with 9 catches 131 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

What ultimately sets this game apart from other Super Bowls that had great quarters (i.e. Super Bowl 38 - Patriots vs. Panthers) is the fact that there were lead changes in the fourth quarter, and both teams had to play down with only a short span of time remaining. The fact is also this : Super Bowl 43 had not one, but two signature plays, but we will be the first to admit that it is a fine line to draw and the difference between games such as Super Bowl 43 and Super Bowl 38 is small indeed.

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