For nearly three quarters, the Cardinals were living up to the popular idea that they didn’t belong in the Super Bowl—it seemed as though their lucky run had come to an end.
Thank goodness for the last ten minutes of the game.
Early on, the Steelers dominated play. They controlled the football, time of possession, yardage, etc. and it appeared that they might blow out Arizona in Tampa. But what was a recurring theme all night, the Steelers couldn’t put the nail in the coffin and allowed the Cardinals to remain in the game.
Early in the second quarter, down 10-0, Warner led his lifeless team on a methodical drive down the field and ended it with a short one-yard TD to Ben Patrick. So they were back in the game.
The score remained 10-7 until just before halftime when the Cardinals actually were in a position to take the lead. And they were in that position because Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger made an errant throw which was tipped in the air and picked, giving the Cardinals excellent field position with around two and a half minutes left in the second quarter.
The momentum was swinging.
Arizona moved the ball down all the way down to the two-yard line after hitting on some short plays and finally getting superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald into the game (12 yard catch at that point).
And after calling a timeout with 18 seconds before the half, they lined up in the spread offense. Warner, in the shotgun formation, looked left and fired, but DE James Harrison stepped in front, picked it off, and then ran 100-yards for the pick six.
While the interception was bad, allowing him to run all the way back for a TD was really painful. And it’s still shocking to me that none of Arizona’s skill players could run the length of the field to at least knock him down before he crossed the goal line. The result was a 14 point swing.
Instead of leading 14-10, they were now down 17-7 at the half.
After a boring third quarter, which only saw a Steelers’ FG with two minutes left after three precarious personal foul calls.
Hopefully you didn’t turn the TV off when it was 20-7 with about ten minutes left, because that’s when the fireworks began.
Warner led his team down the field—going eight for eight for 87 yards—and hit WR Larry Fitzgerald for the one-yard TD.
For the first time in the game, the Cardinals managed to get their game-breaking receiver involved in the game plan. Early on, the Steelers were doubling him with the safety, so Arizona adjusted to this scheme by hitting the running backs in the flat.
And they did this with success. But they had to figure out a way to get #11 into the game plan.
So they moved Fitzgerald around and began to get him the football.
After pushing the game to 20-14, both the Steelers and Cardinals were forced to punt on each of their next series. The Cardinals punt pinned the ball at the Steelers one yard line.
On third and 10, with just over five minutes left, the Steelers were called for holding in the end zone and the result was a safety. So it was now 20-16 and Arizona was getting the ball back.
On the ensuing drive, after an incompletion on first down, Warner located Fitzgerald on a crossing pattern and he split the defense for a 64-yard TD reception. So after amassing only one catch for 12 yards in the first three quarters, he put up 115 yards and two TDs in the 4th alone.
Big time players make big time plays when it matters most. Fitzgerald didn’t disappoint.
The Cards now had the 23-20 lead with about two and a half minutes left and all they needed was one last stand to be Super Bowl Champions.
But one stand proved to be too much. The Cardinals, one of, if not the worst defense to ever play for a Super Bowl representative, could not stop QB Roethlisberger, and in particular, WR Santonio Holmes, and allowed the Steelers to go the length of the field for the game-winning TD, which was a thing of beauty as Santonio Holmes reached high into the night and kept both feet (toes) in bounds to make the catch in the corner of the end zone.
But there was still 30 seconds left and two timeouts. And everyone was thinking that if they could just get to the middle of the field and have one last shot at a hail mary, certainly Fitzgerald gave you confidence that he’d be able to pull it out of the sky. But the Hail Mary never happened.
After getting to just before midfield with around 15 seconds left, Warner dropped back, scrambled around as the pocket began to collapse, and as he was getting ready to fire the ball, the Steelers defender hit his arm and the play was ruled a fumble, which the Steelers would recover.
It was far too close of a play to not have it reviewed but the NFL said that was the call, and the rest is now history.
So the Steelers won their league leading sixth Super Bowl Championship while the Cardinals, the ultimate over-achievers, played the game of their lives and came up just short in what proved to be a very exciting Super Bowl XLIII.