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One Drive Short

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Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, and Rashard Mendenhall had a costly fumble just as it seemed the Steelers were about to take the lead. Instead, the Lombardi Trophy has returned to Green Bay.

Super Bowl Pregame/In-Game Report: First Half
Let’s start with the weather, which, for a big change, lived not only up to Dallas standards, but also those of the Super Bowl, providing not only relief to those in the area all week, but offering the type of environment you hope for in a stage of this nature. Seriously, after ice, snow, wind and freezing temps all week, sunny and mid-50’s felt a little bit like paradise.

Once inside, there is no other way to describe Cowboys Stadium as anything less than a palace. You can debate forever where we are as a society to have money invested in this sort of thing, and it’s a conversation always worth having, but if the conversation is isolated to what the Super Bowl has become – or where it’s headed – this is the place. I don’t know anything about movies, and don’t attend them other than with my family, but this is like a movie experience. First, the building is absolutely huge; second, the sound system is enormous and the video board probably now qualifies as the 8th wonder of the world.

Christine Aguilara’s rendition of the national anthem was outstanding in terms of passion, perhaps less so in getting out the right words, but otherwise put a cap on another moving pregame experience. As a member of the Steelers Radio Network for years, it was difficult to get a true appreciation of those festivities, even if there were multiple opportunities to do so. Today’s experience for me provided another vantage point and one that brought me nearly to tears a couple times. The shot of the military personnel representing both teams pretty much did the trick.

Both the Steelers and Packers receive 17.5% of the available tickets and that’s about how it felt in the pregame. Once the game started, that didn’t change much, particularly when the Steelers got off to a slow start. In other words, this isn’t Detroit. One, the building is huge with over 100,000 fans in attendance. Second, the Packers fans are here in what seems like the same numbers as the Steelers’ and, third, Seattle isn’t here. But it’s still early…check back later. The fans who aren’t with one of the teams will ultimately take sides.

Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson, who was targeted five times by Rodgers in the first quarter alone, was art, but not a shock. That’s the deal with Rodgers – he’s more than accurate, he’s filthy accurate. His interception ratio in college was 1.95%; it’s 2.0 in three years a starter, which leads the league. Still, to watch that throw coming right at you in the press box, with absolutely no margin for error from nearly 30 yards away, was ridiculous.

The first half was a bloodbath. The Steelers were beat up early and often in the first quarter and that only contributed to a sloppy start. Flozell Adams is questionable to return with a shoulder, ditto with Bryant McFadden with that hip, and Emmanuel Sanders was carted off the field with a foot. The Packers also took a hit on the injury front with the departure of WR Donald Driver (questionable, ankle) in the second quarter. Same thing CB Same Shields (shoulder), Nick Collins (IV), Charles Woodson (shoulder). Oh, Ben wiggled his knee as the first quarter was coming to a close, but then converted a long third down with an improvised run, so enough of that. The Packers have a lead going into halftime, but have to be very concerned about stopping the pass in the second half with potentially three defensive backs in the infirmary.

Ben has two interceptions in the first half and both earned. The pick by Nick Collins was poor; 7 just heaved it from his endzone, albeit under pressure, but his intended receiver was open and by under throwing the ball, Ben made it easy for Collins, whose return netted 6. The interception by Jarrett Bush was also a killer for two reasons – the Steelers were putting a drive together that potentially could have made it a four point game and the Packers also turned that into another score.

A big story in the first half – and one worth watching as the game unfolds – is the Steelers’ success on third down. Green Bay could not stop Pittsburgh on third down and while we’ll await the intermission stats to get confirmation, it certainly appears the Steelers have not only had success, they’ve had it on third and long situations and convincingly.

The Ben to Hines Ward touchdown at the end of the first half was important because it got the Steelers back in the game. The timing of those things is always considered potentially important because it may give a team an emotional lift, but the truth is the game will likely turn on adjustments Green Bay has to make on third down and potentially without 3 defensive backs and the Steelers’ ability to take advantage, but with a beat-up line that could expose Ben in the process.

The halftime stage and production set up is going on as I write this. This is my fourth Super Bowl and before this thing has begun I can already tell this one is going to be bigger than ever.

Halftime Score: Green Bay 21 – Pittsburgh 10

Second Half Report
The Steelers and Packers offenses both feed off big plays by their defensive playmakers. It’s something well-chronicled and reputations well-earned. But the truth is Pittsburgh’s offense also has a habit of making something out of a key misstep by the opposition, a timely mistake that turns a potential pivotal play for the opponent into points. Witness the drop by James Jones on Green Bay’s first possession of the second half. Jones, who had a drop against Philadelphia in the playoffs that took points off the board, just did the same thing. His third down drop on that opening possession was ticketed for six – and a 28-10 Green Bay lead. Instead, it led to a punt, one that the Steelers turned into a TD. A potential 18 point lead turn into a 4 point game – a swing of 14 points. One wonders if Jones is the primary on that route if Donald Driver, who is out for the balance of the game, is healthy.

The press box just announced the attendance in the building. 91,060 fans are in the building, there are an additional credentialed media in the facility and if when those outside in the party plaza are included, the total attendance is 103,219

Lots of head-scratching in the press box over the Steelers’ aggressive decision to attempt a 51 yard field goal late in the third quarter. There was some murmuring it would cost the Steelers when the Pack was handed the ball near mid-field, but it turned out to not hurt immediately as the Packers couldn’t convert on third down. However, the ensuing punt was fair caught deep in Pittsburgh territory. When the Steelers went three and out, I thought anything other than a tremendous punt could still, in fact, give Pittsburgh great field position. That line of thinking became moot when the Jeremy Kapinos, with whom I discussed field position on media day, got off a booming punt, Tramon Williams went unsportsmanlike and Green Bay’s drive began at their own 13.

It’s starting to look like Dick LeBeau is methodically taking things away from Green Bay. Not seeing any rhythm with the Packers’ offense and outside the slant that Rodgers loves, there’s not much there.

Did Clay Matthews miss the bus today?

Oh-oh, did I really just write that? Matthews just caused a Rashard Mendenhall fumble.

Dick LeBeau told me this week that Green Bay was comfortable going one-dimensional if they have to. Well, they have to. There’s no chance the run is there now; Pittsburgh has taken that away and Rodgers is throwing on every down. He just connected a big one to Jordy Nelson to the Pittsburgh 2, but then tried to pass on first and 2 and lost 6? Really? If no run there, then no run anywhere. They just passed again – and converted for six to take an 11 point lead with 11:57 remaining. That’s 3 Pittsburgh turnovers turned into 21 Green Bay points.

The touchdown on the Ben to Wallace toss again came on third down. With the two point conversion, this is now a field goal game. The Steelers get a three and out on the ensuing drive and it’s very easy to imagine the Steelers getting the ball in their hands with a chance to win it with 5:00 remaining. Everyone said it would come down to this and it looks like it’s going to come down to this. Green Bay best get a first down, if you have Packers’ interests. Otherwise, she’s a nail-biter.

Well, the Packers were able to do something, but they kept the door open enough for the Steelers, in literally the same situation they found themselves field and time wise as they were in Tampa Bay when Roethlisberger pulled off his heroics, to mount a game-winning drive. The first play of the drive was a Ben to Hines Ward completion, but three incompletions later, the last to Mike Wallace, and the Steelers were out of magic in their attempt to win the 7th Lombardi Trophy.

Speaking of, when on the podium following the game, the first words offered by Pittsburgh native and Green Bay head coach mentioned the Lombardi Trophy being back home. That was part of a celebration we went down onto the field to cover and, as you might imagine, was complete with the type of unbridled emotion and passion Pittsburgh sports teams have long enjoyed.

Following the game, the Steelers locker room was understandably somber, yet several players were most professional in speaking to the media despite the loss. To a player, the Steelers expressed the pain that comes with a loss of this magnitude, but several also reflected on the accomplishments that had been achieved in a season that at times reflected a soap opera.

Our postgame conversations included Chris Hoke, Bruce Arians, Antonio Brown, James Harrison, Williams Gay, Ike Taylor and others, several of which will be available here.

Final Score: Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25

 

POST GAME QUOTES

"Vince Lombardi is coming back to Green Bay."
-- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as the silver prize was handed to the Packers

"Wow! It's a great day to be great, baby. We've been a team that's overcome adversity all year. Our head captain (Charles Woodson) goes down, emotional in the locker room. Our No. 1 receiver (Donald Driver) goes down, more emotions are going, flying in the locker room. But we find a way to bottle it up and exert it all out here on the field."
-- Packers receiver Greg Jennings

"I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, the fans, my coaches and my teammates, and it's not a good feeling."
-- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who lost for the first time in three Super Bowl appearances

"Got to give credit to our defense. This is a great group of men that we put together here, a lot of character, been through a lot together. It's just great to be able to share it with them."
-- Packers quarterback and Super Bowl XLV Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers

"It was very difficult to watch but it feels good now."
-- Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who left the game with an injured shoulder in the second quarter

"It's what I dreamt about as a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young and we just won the Super Bowl."
-- Aaron Rodgers

"You play to be world champions and that's what we are today."
-- Packers linebacker Clay Matthews

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