View Full Version : Super Bowl XLIII Snap Judgments

02-01-2009, 10:33 PM
Super Bowl XLIII Snap Judgments

Don Banks

TAMPA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we struggle to digest the rollercoaster and historic ride that Super Bowl XLIII was in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday night....

Snap judgments require making quick, rapid-fire assessments, but I think even upon further review, with lots of time to mull things over, I'd still come to the same remarkable conclusion: We just witnessed the best Super Bowl in history. Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23.

A mouthful, I know. But for drama, plot twists and huge, game-changing plays, how can we say anything less than the Super Bowl's 43rd edition was the best ever?

It had the most astounding turn of events. It had a record fourth-quarter comeback, with the Arizona Cardinals digging out of a 13-point fourth-quarter hole, a feat that has never been seen before in Super Bowl play.

It had the most amazing game-winning touchdown ever, in Santonio Holmes' six-yard work of artistry in the back corner of the end zone with 35 seconds to play.

And it had James Harrison's epic, mind-boggling, Super Bowl-record 100-yard interception return on the final play of the first half.

It was a game that left us all a bit breathless, and kept re-inventing itself in the midst of an unforgettable fourth quarter of lead changes and heroic plays. It was Harrison's night for the longest time, then Kurt Warner and the long-dormant Larry Fitzgerald stormed back to steal the spotlight, but not the game. Because the game, and the Super Bowl championship, in the end was decided by the remarkable Ben Roethlisberger-to-Holmes connection in the extreme back right corner of the Steelers end zone.

"Some say we could not top last year's Super Bowl, but the Steelers and Cardinals did that tonight,'' said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, getting no disagreement from me.

This was a game that for three quarters seemed like it would be defined by Harrison's one-of-a-kind touchdown, but the final 15 minutes re-wrote the script again, and again, and again. Warner and Fitzgerald made magic, but the Steelers answered, and all that matters is the Black and Gold -- led by Super Bowl MVP Holmes -- were the only ones left standing at the end.

"Steelers football is 60 minutes,'' yelled Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, who became, at 36, the youngest Super Bowl winning coach. "It's never going to be pretty. Throw style points out the window, but these guys fight to the end.''

Super Bowl XLIII was a fight to the end all right. A historic and entertaining fight that had more drama than we ever expected, and have ever witnessed before.

Move over, David Tyree. Make room for Harrison and his are-you-kidding-me interception return. (Photo gallery of return here.) Who could have predicted it, but I do believe for the second year in a row the Super Bowl has given us a once-in-a-lifetime play that will be remembered and rhapsodized about as long as the game of football is played.

Can you imagine what NFL Films is going to do with Harrison's miraculous touchdown return, the longest play in Super Bowl history? Before Films is done with it, they'll turn that one play into a four-part mini-series, narrated by Morgan Freeman.

The Steelers outside linebacker's rumble down the sideline on the last play of Super Bowl XLIII's first half, with the clock ticking to :00, gave the Steelers a stranglehold on this game that they didn't lose until late in the fourth quarter. Instead of a 14-10 Arizona halftime lead, with the Cardinals getting the ball to start the third quarter, it was 17-7 Pittsburgh, with the Steelers tenacious defense never a likely candidate to surrender a second-half advantage.

Harrison's other-worldly refusal to be denied was a sight to behold. I almost felt bad for Bruce Springsteen, having to follow Harrison on stage, as it were. Good luck, Boss. You may have been born to run, but Harrison's unbelievable run stole your spotlight just before you hit the stage.

For my money, Harrison's touchdown was the most astounding defensive play in Super Bowl history, besting even that last-play tackle at the 1 by Rams linebacker Mike Jones on Titans receiver Kevin Dyson in Atlanta in January 2000. After all, overtime still loomed for St. Louis if Dyson had made it another three feet.

As I run the play through my mind's eye one more time, I still can't believe the Cardinals couldn't manage to knock Harrison out of bounds, thereby at least limiting the damage of Warner's interception to a 10-7 halftime deficit. But Harrison would not go down, and he would not go out. And with this touchdown, he severely damaged the Cardinals' dreams of earning a Super Bowl ring.

"All we kept thinking was, 'You've got to score, because time's running out,' '' Roethlisberger said of Harrison's touchdown. "That's why he's the defensive player of the year.''

Harrison's score was such a fitting way to highlight Dick LeBeau's contributions to the game of NFL coaching, because, after all, the Steelers revered defensive coordinator is given much of the credit for developing the zone blitz scheme that has a defender up on the line of scrimmage, disguising the fact that he's going to drop into pass coverage.

Harrison was up on the line of scrimmage, and Warner read an all-out blitz by the Steelers and locked in on receiver Anquan Boldin, who was slanting inside at the goal line. But Harrison dropped back and waited for Warner to make his read, and then pounced on the route, intercepting right at the goal line.

Roethlisberger is now batting only .500 on his replay-reviewed 1-yard touchdown runs in the Super Bowl. Just like in Detroit three years ago, Roethlisberger had a 1-yard touchdown run looked at under the hood on Sunday.

This time, the touchdown call was overturned in the first quarter, when replays clearly showed his knee was down before he broke the plane. But in 2006, his 1-yard, second-quarter touchdown plunge -- giving the Steelers a 7-3 lead at the time -- was upheld after Seattle challenged the call.

After watching Mike Tomlin settle for a game-opening 18-yard field goal on 4th-and-a-foot from the goal line, I guess we now know which way the Steelers head coach would have gone on that potential 4th-and-a-foot in Baltimore in December. That's the one he didn't have to face after receiver Santonio Holmes was ruled to have broken the plane on his third-down, game-winning, division-clinching touchdown catch.

Tomlin's apparently got a conservative nature when it comes to fourth-and-a-foot. Pretty timid approach taken by the usually ultra-confident Steelers coach.

Roethlisberger came out with a vengeance, no doubt still driven by his desire to wipe out the stench of his last Super Bowl appearance, three years ago in Detroit. Big Ben was 8 of 9 for 122 yards on the Steelers' opening two drives, leading Pittsburgh to a 10-0 lead.

For the sake of comparison, Roethlisberger was just 9 of 21 for 123 yards and two interceptions in the Steelers win over Seattle in 2006. That was only one completion and one yard more than he had in Sunday's first two drives.

That's making amends.

With apologies to Eli Manning, who performed that Houdini escape on the Tyree catch in last year's Super Bowl, absolutely no one keeps a play alive like Roethlisberger.

He's at his best when things are falling to pieces all around him, like he showed on that first-quarter, 11-yard minor miracle of a completion to tight end Heath Miller. I'll bet Big Ben was great at recess in school, because when he's out of the pocket, he turns into the consummate playground artist.

It figures that the Wildcat formation -- which was far and away the novelty formation of the 2008 season in the NFL -- had to make a Super Bowl appearance this year. And an early one at that. Steelers running back WillieParker went all Ronnie Brown on us late in the first quarter, taking the direct snap and running around for several seconds before ultimately accepting a no gain carry on first down from the Cardinals 33.

Maybe everyone's just on to it by now.

Nobody's asked me, but I say the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters had a very good year for themselves. Bills owner Ralph Wilson has been a richly deserving, but overlooked, Hall candidate for maybe a couple decades now. The Bills essentially put the city of Buffalo on the map, and Wilson put the Bills in Buffalo, and he's left them there for the past 49 years, even when many have questioned whether the area's big enough to support an NFL franchise any more.

02-01-2009, 10:33 PM
Wilson was one of the men who made the AFL, and that in turn helped make the NFL what it is today. There are really just a handful of those type of historic figures remaining in the game, and among those who weren't in Canton already, the 90-year-old Wilson led that group.

And having covered Randall McDaniel for four of his 12 seasons in Minnesota, I can personally attest to his week-in, week-out, year-in, year-out level of excellence. I'm no Dr. Z when it comes to assessing interior offensive line play, but McDaniel's Hall worthiness was evident early on in his 14-year career. And I'm glad to see that a guy who was notorious for not talking to the press -- he always told me he had nothing to say -- wasn't penalized in the least by the media members who vote for the Hall.

And how do you seriously quibble with Bob Hayes, Rod Woodson, Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas being enshrined? I'm just old enough to remember how much Hayes impacted the games I watched him play, and Woodson, Smith and Thomas were rare talents whose career accomplishments were too Hall worthy to ignore. The non-selection of Cris Carter continues to surprise me, but he's obviously caught in a numbers crunch that will break right for him at some point in the not-too-distant future.

• With Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin and Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt, this year's game was the first Super Bowl to pit two second-year head coaches in their first NFL head coaching gigs. No matter who won, it was going to be the fifth Super Bowl champion led by a second-year coach and the first since Baltimore's Brian Billick earned an early ring when his Ravens demolished the Giants eight years ago in Tampa.

The other second-year head coaches to win it all were Oakland's Tom Flores in 1980, Washington's Joe Gibbs in 1982, and the Cowboys' Barry Switzer in 1995. New England's Bill Belichick was in his second season as the Patriots head coach when he won his first Lombardi Trophy, but Belichick, of course, had served five years as Cleveland's head coach from 1991 to '95.

• What an example for how to conduct yourself during Super Bowl week the Cardinals and Steelers were. If there was a wrong note sounded all week by anyone on these two teams, I didn't hear it. True, staying relentlessly on message makes it a bit boring from a media coverage standpoint, but I can't ever remember a Super Bowl week that had absolutely no cringe-worthy moments from any player or coach.

That's what happens, I guess, when the Steelers lose Joey Porter to Miami and there's no Jerramy Stevens-type pop-off on the Cardinals roster.

• C'mon, Bruce. Glory Days? Did you have to? Not an inspired choice. Not in the least. That little rocker was tired by 1987, and it's not even in Springsteen's top 104 songs all time, let alone deserving of inclusion on a four-song play list at halftime of the Super Bowl.

• Don't you wonder how many New England Patriots were able to watch Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of the day their perfect-season dream died? Maybe a few, maybe a bunch. But I'm guessing it didn't make for easy viewing. It had to re-open the year-old wound just a little bit.

• I've made all four of Tampa's Super Bowls now -- 1984, 1991, 2001 and 2009 -- and I do believe it has risen to a solid No. 3 in my personal Super Bowl city rankings, behind the clear-cut greatest venue of all time, San Diego, and the long-time runner-up Miami. Great weather, great stadium and a veteran host committee that knows its way around a Super Bowl would be just three of Tampa's strengths.

• Call me old school, but if I'm Whisenhunt, I wouldn't have wanted my quarterback going to midfield just before the Super Bowl kickoff to receive the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year trophy. With Warner's night's work still very much ahead of him, it just didn't seem like the time for him to take a bow. After all, there's a different trophy that everyone was focused on much more intently on this day.

• When that first "Here we go Steelers, here we go'' chant of the night broke out at 6:12 p.m., a full 20 minutes before kickoff, my only thought was: What took so long?

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02-02-2009, 02:40 AM
The biggest snap judgement I have was being dumbfounded by Dick Lebeau going into basically a prevent defense for most of the fourth quarter with the safeties playing 35-40 yards off the line of scrimmage. They basically played defense with only 9 active people through most of the 4th quarter and just LET the Cards march down the field. Very frustrating to watch. It seemed like the coaches didn't have faith in their own defense to play their normal game to seal the win

02-02-2009, 06:26 AM
Great read and thanks for sharing Mesa. What a game and what an exciting way to finish this great season for the Steelers.