In no particular order, here are 10 things we learned in last night’s Super Bowl XLIII, a 27-23 win for Pittsburgh over Arizona:
1. Like John Elway’s drive and Tom Brady’s performance in Super Bowl XXXVI, Ben Roethlisberger now has a signature moment. Roethlisberger had a sharp first quarter and a great fourth, capped off by his game-winning six-yard connection to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left to finish 21-for-30 for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception. That last minute pass to Holmes? The wide receiver was surrounded by three red jerseys on the play, and had only the corner of the end zone to work with, but Roethlisberger was able to place the ball in a spot where only Holmes could make the catch.
“I knew it was a touchdown 100 percent,” Holmes said, even though it had to withstand a video review. “My feet never left the ground. All I did was stand up on my toes and extended my hands.”
Roethlisberger certainly made up for a lousy performance in Super Bowl XL, and, in the end, engineered the sort of drive that will allow him to stand alongside the other great quarterbacks of his generation.
“I said, ‘It’s now or never.’ I told the guys, ‘All the film study you put in doesn’t matter, unless you do it now,’” Roethlisberger said of the 78-yard drive that consumed 2:02 and gave Pittsburgh the lead for the final time. “I’m really proud of the way they responded.”
2. The Most Valuable Player probably wasn’t even the best player at his own position last night. Holmes was magnificent, especially on the six-yard game-winner, when he tiptoed along the sideline in the corner of the end zone for the decisive score. He ended up with nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.
But Larry Fitzgerald...well, Fitzgerald could make a serious case to be the first Super Bowl MVP from a losing team since Super Bowl V. Where to start?
After a first-half where Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner didn’t even throw in his direction until after the two-minute warning, he unleashed in the second half. There was the leaping one-yard catch over Ike Taylor that capped off an 87-yard fourth-quarter drive, and then the 64-yard touchdown catch where he caught the ball over the middle and pulled away from the field a la Jerry Rice for the score that put Arizona up with 2:37 left. He finished with seven catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns, but in the end, it was not enough for the preternatural wide receiver, who set league records for most receptions (30) and touchdowns (7) in a postseason.
“You can always look and say, ‘Woulda, coulda, shoulda,’” Fitzgerald told reporters. “The football wasn’t thrown to me for some reason. I’m not pointing fingers. We just couldn’t get it done.”
3. You can’t judge a player midway through the season. This was supposed to be the year that Holmes made the leap from middling No. 2 receiver to big-time contributor, but at the midway point of the season, Holmes was an unquestioned bust (Google “Santonio Holmes” and “mistake,” and you get more than 8,000 results), especially after a pot arrest midway through the year that left him in Mike Tomlin’s doghouse. But last night, he was one of the best players on the biggest stage, and is now the Super Bowl MVP.
“Santonio is a guy who just loves to deliver in big moments and big games,” Tomlin said.
“Great players step up in big-time games to make plays,” said Holmes, who pulled a LeBron James-like move with the football after his game-winning score, treating the ball like a container of resin, pretending to sprinkle some on his hands like James. “I kind of lost a little composure, you know, but I knew our defense would give us a chance to make it back.”
4. For about three-plus quarters, James Harrison looked to be the Super Bowl MVP. Harrison’s game-changing interception at the end of the first half was a tribute to the effectiveness of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz scheme. Ninety-nine percent of the outside linebackers in that situation are going to be coming hard after the quarterback — indeed, Harrison was among those players showing blitz.
But instead, Harrison dropped into coverage, stepping neatly into the passing lane in front of Anquan Boldin and picking off Warner. His 100-yard rumble was impressive — Ben Watson must have been sitting at home smiling when Fitzgerald almost caught Harrison on the one-yard line. Harrison outraced (or just plain bowled over) a bunch of Arizona’s skill position players (including Warner) on the way to the goal line.
That single play was a lightning bolt, the kind of sequence that looked to leave the Cardinals stunned, especially when they looked listless on their first drive of the second half. Until the fourth-quarter fireworks, the Defensive Player of the Year looked to be a sure bet to take home more hardware.
5. If Arizona’s defense prevents that final frantic drive, Warner has two Super Bowl rings, and there’s no more debate about whether or not he belongs in the Hall of Fame. In fact, you could make an excellent case for the 37-year-old Warner already, even with last night’s loss. He’s only one of a handful of quarterbacks to go to the Super Bowl with two different teams, and he came within a few minutes of a second Super Bowl ring on his finger. (Check out his career numbers here.)
Last night, he ended up going 31-for-43 for 377 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, having more success against the Pittsburgh defense than almost every quarterback this year. The soon-to-be free agent has two NFL MVPs in his back pocket, and got plenty of votes for the award this year. (If he wore No. 4 and played in Green Bay, some national writers would be composing sonnets about him.)
But it looks like he might get elbowed out of the picture in Arizona, which has Matt Leinart waiting in the wings. If his career ended last night, he will be the subject of a Jim Rice-style Hall debate that should last a good long time.
6. The thought of Arizona as Super Bowl champions? This was a weird year for the NFL, but not that weird. After a memorable run that almost saw them pull off the biggest Super Bowl comeback in history, the Cardinals now face life in the unenviable position of Super Bowl loser. It’s a unique curse no one has been quote able to explain: Just three of the last 11 Super Bowl losers even made the playoffs the following season, and only four of those teams reached double digits in wins. In all, Super Bowl losers have averaged roughly eight wins a year the last 11 years.
That’s still to come, however, as coach Ken Whisenhunt and Arizona will take a few days to reflect upon an amazing run that left them roughly 50 yards from being one of the unlikeliest Super Bowl winners ever.
“I’m disappointed for our team,” said Whisenhunt. “This is a group of men that I’m very proud of. They played very hard in circumstances where nobody believed in them. … We learned a lot about our team, it’s just unfortunate it had to come out that way.”
7. Team of the decade? Not quite. But if the Patriots are No. 1, the Steelers cemented their spot as a convincing 1A last night. New England has three titles since 2001, while Pittsburgh has two. When you throw in overall Super Bowl appearances and conference championships, the edge here still goes to the Patriots.
That doesn’t mean the Steelers and their fans have to take a back seat to anyone. They can still point to sustained excellence, as well as the fact that they have six Lombardis. (Last night, the Steelers passed Dallas and San Francisco, who had won five Super Bowls. The Green Bay Packers have won 12 NFL championships, three of which were Super Bowl titles.) While New England gets the edge this decade, in the big picture, everyone else is still chasing Pittsburgh.
“It never gets old, that’s for sure. We’ll take as many as we can get,” team president Art Rooney II told reporters last night.
Look at it this way, Patriots fans — at least you don’t have to think about the fact that Monty Beisel has a ring.
8. This year’s Patriots team would have given both these teams a game last night, but in the end, both the Arizona and Pittsburgh passing games would have gotten the better of the New England secondary. There’s plenty of reason for New England football fans to sit and wonder what might have been — especially when you consider just how mind-numbingly awful the Cardinals’ offense was when Arizona came into Gillette Stadium in December. (And don’t forget, the Patriots and Steelers were tied at 10 at the half in the Nov. 30 game in Foxborough — until New England started turning the football over … again and again and again and again.) But there was no way the combination of Deltha O’Neal/Ellis Hobbs/Jonathan Wilhite would have been able to slow down either passing game last night. None at all.
9. It was an exciting game. It wasn’t a great game, but it was an exciting game. Though there was plenty of drama, last night’s game wasn’t exactly worthy of being hung alongside a Picasso. Any time you get a combined 162 penalty yards, it’s not a great game. Any time you have a usually disciplined team like Arizona committing 11 penalties — including a sequence where it was flagged for three personal fouls totaling 34 yards — it’s not a great game. In all, the Cardinals were penalized 11 times for 106 yards, the third-highest total in Super Bowl history. Only Dallas in Super Bowl XII and Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII had more penalties in the game (12).
“You can’t, in games like this, make that many mistakes and expect to overcome all of them,” Warner said.
But it wasn’t just the Cardinals who were flagged for their share of boneheaded mistakes — the Steelers had their share as well. Arizona was awarded a safety after Pittsburgh center Justin Hartwig tackled a Cardinals defender in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, pulling Arizona to within four and eliminating a key Pittsburgh first down. There was an unnecessary roughness call on Harrison on a punt. There was the Warner interception, and the Arizona quarterback also fumbled the ball away in the fourth quarter.
It was the sort of finish Roger Goodell dreams about. Really dramatic, with plenty of emotional swings? Sure. Thrilling? Yep. But this one wasn’t truly great, not in the aesthetic nature of the word.
10. Mike Tomlin can now safely emerge from the long shadow of Bill Cowher. At 36, Tomlin became the youngest coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. Along the way, he established a championship legacy that it took the wildly popular Cowher 14 seasons to achieve. After the game, Tomlin took a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama, and reflected on the path that led him to become coach of the Steelers.
“I’m very blessed to be hired by the Rooney family. They took a chance on a 34-year-old coach with not a long resume. They took a little criticism for that, and I took it personally,” he told reporters. “I wanted to ante up and add to their legacy and thankfully, with the help of a great coaching staff and great players, we were able to do that.”
Click here to listen to Schilling's thoughts on the Super Bowl with D&C.
Peter King joins Dale & Holley to give his analysis of Super Bowl XLIII. Click here to listen.
A Super Bowl in More Than Name- By Michael Felger
6...-By Curt Schilling
Christopher Price covers the Patriots for WEEI.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.