Rodgers leads Pack past Steelers

Rodgers leads Pack past Steelers

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy hoists the Lombardi Trophy at the end of Super Bowl XLV where the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, February 6, 2011.

Tom Rock, Newsday (MCT)

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cheese stands alone.

The Packers denied the Steelers a chance to hoist the trophy named after the patron saint of Green Bay for a seventh time and are bringing the silver football back home to Wisconsin. The Packers scored 21 points off three turnovers and withstood a nearly historic comeback to hang on for a 31-25 win Sunday night in Super Bowl XLV.

Pittsburgh still has the most Super Bowl championships in the NFL, but the Packers made sure they didn’t get the latest one on their watch.

As commissioner Roger Goodell said when he handed the trophy to the Packers: “Vince Lombardi is coming home to Green Bay.”

MVP Aaron Rodgers completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards and no turnovers.

The win not only cements Rodgers’ place in Green Bay lore but also justifies one of the most controversial decisions in franchise history, erasing any doubt that the Packers were better off cutting ties with Brett Favre when they did, in 2008.

The Steelers did make the evening entertaining, first bouncing almost all the way back from a 21-3 deficit and inching to within three points with 7:34 remaining.

They cut their deficit to 28-25 on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace and a two-point conversion run on an option by Antwaan Randle El. The Packers ate up more than five minutes, yet came away with only a field goal and a still tenuous six-point lead, but Roethlisberger threw three straight incomplete passes to turn the ball over on downs. The final pass was a high one for Wallace on fourth-and-5.

Ultimately, the deciding touchdown came after Clay Matthews forced a fumble by Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall and the Packers, who had been flat and discombobulated for most of the second half, marched 55 yards for a 28-17 lead. The drive’s big play was a 38-yard pass from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson on a crossing route on third-and-10, but the points came when Rodgers stared the entire Steelers defense to the right and then came back left, where Greg Jennings was open in the corner of the end zone.

It was a Packers season defined by the ability to overcome injury — 14 players landed on injured reserve — and that story line followed straight through to the end of the Super Bowl, with one playmaker from each side of the ball sitting out the second half. Cornerback Charles Woodson and wide receiver Donald Driver left the game with injuries but were able to enjoy the confetti shower with tears in their eyes.

“It was the great resolve of our football team,” Mike McCarthy said after joining Lombardi and Mike Holmgren as the only coaches to win rings in Green Bay. “It was a very emotional halftime,” McCarthy added, a reference to the knowledge that the team would have to continue without the key players.

The Packers scored two touchdowns in 24 seconds to take a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. First, Jordy Nelson caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers over backup cornerback William Gay. On the next play from scrimmage, Nick Collins picked off a Roethlisberger floater and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown.

Roethlisberger was trying to go down the left sideline for Wallace, but he was hit in his throwing shoulder by former Jet Howard Green as he released the pass and it came up about 10 yards short of its target. Collins zigged through attempts at tackles before lunging over the goal line for the 13th interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.

The Packers used another interception to score their third touchdown, although not directly. A series after the Steelers hit the scoreboard with a field goal, Jarrett Bush reached in and snatched a pass from the grip of Wallace to give the Packers the ball just inside midfield. Four plays later, Rodgers scorched a pass into triple coverage for Jennings, who caught it for a 21-yard touchdown and a 21-3 lead despite a clobbering at the goal line from Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu.

No Super Bowl winner had ever overcome more than a 10-point deficit, but the Steelers started mounting that effort from 18 back before halftime, driving 77 yards on seven plays. After Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward on a 17-yard pass to the 8, the Steelers hurried to the line of scrimmage. Roethlisberger took a shotgun snap, rolled right and lofted a pass over Bush for Ward to make it 21-10 with 39 seconds left in the half.

The Steelers inched even closer early in the third quarter, driving 50 yards — all on the ground — to score on Mendenhall’s 8-yard run to make it 21-17. Steeler Shaun Suisham’s 52-yard field-goal attempt that went wide left was the last scoring opportunity for either team in the third quarter.

(c) 2011, Newsday.
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