View Full Version : Steelers show mental mettle in Super Bowl 43

02-02-2009, 06:19 AM
Steelers show mental mettle in Super Bowl 43
February 1, 2009

Vinnie Iyer

The Arizona Cardinals did everything necessary to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 43. They protected Kurt Warner for most of the game, played solid defense for 59 minutes and saw their best player, Larry Fitzgerald, come through in the clutch.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the only fact that matters -- the final score of 27-23 -- was in favor of Pittsburgh. The uncanny downfield connection of Ben Roethlisberger and speedy wideout Santonio Holmes will end up going down as the Steelers' comeback heroes of the franchise's sixth Super Bowl victory. But the Cardinals will always feel they let one get away, while Pittsburgh continued to show the steely resolve that was the theme of its 2008 season.

For Arizona, it came down to 11 costly penalties (for 106 yards) and one very costly misread. The team finished four points short, instead of a decisive win over their favored opponent.

The Cardinals totaled 407 yards of offense against the Steelers' top-ranked defense, but they'll be forever obsessed with 45 yards they lost and one yard they couldn't get.

Left tackle Mike Gandy was called for holding penalties on three separate drives that ended in punts. Running back Edgerrin James was flagged for a chop block, a 15-yard infraction on another drive that fizzled.

Then there was the ill-fated pass from Warner intended to Anquan Boldin, which NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison turned into a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown, the longest play in Super Bowl history. Instead of having a 14-10 halftime lead, the Cardinals were stuck in a 17-7 hole.

Of course, those five aforementioned possessions all ended with Arizona not scoring. In its other five possessions, the team produced three touchdowns.

In the big picture, many will look back at this Super Bowl as the Steelers simply dispatching an inferior team to further build their legend as the best franchise in the Super Bowl era. Some will see it as the Cardinals just happening to score their fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown too early, giving money man Roethlisberger an eternity of 2:30 to rally the Steelers for the game-winner.

But Arizona really lost the game on the few occasions it didn't match Pittsburgh's mental discipline. The Steelers are known for their grittiness and ability to be tougher than opponents week after week. On a night where maybe they weren't at their physical best, they got by with better mental mettle.

Just like during the regular season, the Steelers didn't get their once-trademark power running game going. Other than a 1-yard touchdown run from Gary Russell on their second drive and one 15-yard scamper by Willie Parker, the ground attack wasn't there.

Even though Harrison and fellow outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (two sacks, making it a pair it each of Pittsburgh's three playoff games) made an impact by getting to Warner, the Steelers' secondary was exposed.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu, typically a huge disruptive force, was limited to two assisted tackles. Both Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin overmatched Steelers' best cover cornerback, Ike Taylor.

The Steelers excelled at taking away the big play for most of the game, but in the fourth quarter the Cardinals found a surprising weakness in the middle of the field -- in Polamalu's territory. The Cardinals completed three short passes over the middle that were instrumental in Arizona's comeback from a 20-7 fourth-quarter deficit.

At the 10-minute mark, third-down back J.J. Arrington dashed for a 22-yard catch-and-run over the middle, setting up Fitzgerald's 1-yard TD catch four plays later. On the next drive, it was No. 3 wideout Steve Breaston going for 23 yards on a similar play that gave the Cardinals good field position and helped back up the Steelers for an eventual Cardinals safety. On the possession following the safety, a similar call exploded into a 64-yard score for the streaking Fitzgerald that gave the Cardinals a 23-20 lead.

It's fair to say the Steelers' defenders were beaten by both the Cardinals' playbook and skill players in the second half. So it was key that the Steelers' offensive players kept their cool for the final drive.

So Mike Tomlin and his staff may have lost the battle of X's and O's, but their players did a better job of keeping their heads. And, ultimately, that was the difference.

Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.