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Say Cheese! Lombardi Trophy Goes Back to Green Bay, as Packers Outlast Steelers in Super Bowl XLV

The comparisons to Brett Favre ended.   And Green Bay is Titletown once again.

Aaron Rodgers wrote his own legacy on Sunday night, stepping out of Favre’s shadow and writing his own ticket in Titletown by bringing home Green Bay’s 13th NFL title and the first Packers’ Super Bowl championship in 14 years with a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rodgers, named the Super Bowl MVP, helped Green Bay reclaim the legendary trophy named after Green Bay’s larger than life iconic coach, Vince Lombardi.  This wasn’t the picture perfect, dissection of the Atlanta Falcons, but Rodgers threw for 304 yards, three touchdowns and an all-important zero interceptions becoming just the fourth quarterback in Super Bowl history to boast 300+ passing yards, three touchdowns and no picks.  

He was at his best when the Packers needed him to be: in winning time.  Engineering a back-breaking drive that lasted 5 minutes and 19 seconds after the Steelers seized momentum with a touchdown and a crucial two-point conversion, capped off by Mason Crosby’s 23-yard field goal.  On the drive, Rodgers completed five of six pass attempts, none bigger than his 31-yard killer to Greg Jennings on a third-and-10 that prevented the Steelers’ defense from getting off the field and prevented the Steelers’ offense from coming any closer.  Now, after holding the clipboard behind Favre for three seasons, it’s taken Rodgers three seasons since to capture his first Super Bowl crown.

You’ve heard the saying before:  when it’s your day, it’s your day.  Or in this case, it was simply Green Bay’s time to step forward in the sun.  Not even the late second quarter losses of Charles Woodson and Donald Driver, and another injury to Sam Shields could keep the Packers’ hands off the Lombardi Trophy.  Woodson returned the sidelines in street clothes, armed with a sling to ease the pain of his broken left collar bone.  Driver sported a walking boot on his injured left ankle.  Shields returned to action, but was clearly not operating at 100 percent.  Still, the Packers persevered.

Just like they did when Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley were lost for the season in the first six games of the season.  Just like they did when others like Nick Barnett, Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar and Mark Tauscher joined Grant and Finley on the IR.  The Packers have seemingly been operating with half staff for virtually the whole way in 2010-11.  It just didn’t matter.  No matter the hurdle, no matter the injury Green Bay found a way to rally as a team and overcome the obstacles.

Needing to win their final two games of the regular season, Green Bay triumphed over the New York Giants and Chicago Bears and the Packers carried their late season momentum into the playoffs with three straight road wins against Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago.  For their biggest claim to fame, the Packers became the second team in NFL history and the first six seed in the NFC to win the Super Bowl by surpassing Pittsburgh and the Steelers’ championship experience and top ranked defense.  Ironically, it was these Steelers who accomplished the feat first in 2006 as the sixth seed to make the run all the way to the big game and win.

Pittsburgh didn’t surrender without a fight and a furious comeback that fell short. 

For the second time in their last three playoffs games, the Steelers failed to start on time and failed to protect the football.   In 24 seconds, the Steelers found themselves down 14-0 thanks to a 29-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson (nine catches for 140 yards, 1 TD) with 3:44 left in the opening quarter.  24 seconds later, on the Steelers’ ensuing possession, Packers nose tackle Howard Green hit Ben Roethlisberger’s arm in Pittsburgh’s own end zone, sending the ball fluttering into the open arms of Nick Collins, who took the interception 37 yards to the house. 

Down 14-0 and facing the crossroads of a potential blowout, the Steelers started to come alive by stringing together a 13-play drive culminating in Shaun Suisham’s 33-yard field goal to cut Green Bay’s lead to 14-3.  Shortly after, with the Steelers moving the ball again, Roethlisberger was tabbed with his second interception of the first half, this one to Jarrett Bush who was able to wrestled the football away from Mike Wallace.  Green Bay made sure the Steelers would pay again for their mistake, and the price would be another touchdown.  Rodgers completed passes to Greg Jennings and Nelson, along with a 12-yard run by James Starks.  Rodgers ended the drive successfully as Jennings hauled in a 21-yard pass that was a little behind him.

These are the moments when you find out what a team’s resolve is made of.  Down 21-3, do you come out swinging and fight  to do the necessary deeds needed to be done to get back into the game, or do you run away and hide? 

With 39 seconds left before halftime, the Steelers went on an urgent 77-yard drive capped off with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Hines Ward.  A 21-10 halftime decifit was suddenly much more manageable for the Steelers to work with.  And then their defense went to work in the third quarter, shackling the Packers’ offense to just one first down, four punts and 17 yards of offense.  With less than three minutes gone by in the third, Pittsburgh went on a five-play, 50-yard drive finished off by Rashard Mendenhall’s eight-yard touchdown run to pull Pittsburgh within four, 21-17.

With Pittsburgh marching towards their first lead of the game, their third turnover was just as costly as Roethlisberger’s first two picks.  At Green Bay’s 33 yard line, Packers defensive players Clay Matthews and Ryan Pickett combined to force a fumble by Mendenhall and Green Bay recoved.  Rodgers and the Packers went 55 yards on eight plays in just under three minutes, this time it was Jennings again, catching his second touchdown of the game from eight yards out.  Green Bay got some breathing room at 28-17.

The resolve of the Steelers came through again, as Roethlisberger led the Steelers 66 yards from their own 34 to the end zone, as Big Ben hooked up with Wallace from 25 yards out.  An option-like pitch out from Roethlisberger to Antwaan Randle El pulled Pittsburgh to within a field goal, 28-25. 

But for Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh, this Super Bowl belonged to Rodgers and Green Bay.  Rodgers steered Green Bay on a scoring drive that lasted over five minutes, with the biggest play coming on a third-and-10 with Rodgers connecting with Jennings on a 31-yard pass play.  The drive lasted 11 plays and began from the Green Bay 25, with Jennings coming up huge, Nelson on the receiving end of a key nine-yard reception and James Jones’ biggie was a 21-yard catch that got the Packers at the Pittsburgh eight yard line.  Green Bay would get as close as the five yard line, and Crosby did the rest with a 23-yard chip shot.  Green Bay went up 31-25 and set the stage for Roethlisberger to potentially engineer another Super Bowl comeback.

Roethlisberger hit tight end Heath Miller for 15 yards, then Ward for a short five-yard gain.  But that would be the last completion for Roethlisberger, who threw three straight incompletions including a close call to Wallace.  But it just wasn’t meant to be for Pittsburgh.  It was Green Bay’s time.

Roethlisberger said in the post game he felt like let a lot of people down from the city to the organization to the fans, and said there would probably be a lot of  “what ifs” racing through the minds of the Steelers.  Ultimately, on the biggest stage in sports, it’s extremely tough to play catch-up football and get positive results at the end.  Losing the turnover battle 3 – 0 didn’t help Pittsburgh’s cause either.  The Steelers had yet to play a complete 60 minute football game in the playoffs and it caught up to them in Super Bowl XLV.  In six halves of football in their three playoff games, the Steelers played three complete halves.  And that won’t get you the Lombardi Trophy.

For Green Bay, what else is there to say?  Sure Rodgers, Matthews and Woodson garner the most attention, but it was the lesser knowns like Shields, Collins, Raji, Starks and Bishop who were vital cogs in the Packers’ winning essentially six straight elimination-type playoff games. 

Not injuries nor adversity nor the ghost of Favre could derail the Packers from bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay.  Deep in the heart of Texas, the Green Bay Packers are the last team shining brightly.

Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers for winning Super Bowl XLV!

Here’s hoping this wasn’t the last time football will be played in 2011.

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