Lombardi Trophy Goes Home To Green Bay

Published on: 7th February, 2011

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When the Green Bay Packers watched Aaron Rodgers sit in the green room as he plummeted down the first round of the 2005 draft, they noted his poise at dealing with his agonizing plight.

Greg Jennings caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
 
Mike Wallace ran for a 25-yard touchdown after he caught a pass against the Packers’ Sam Shields.
The Packers’ Jordy Nelson scored a touchdown in the first quarter.

The Packers had already done extra research on Rodgers when they had heard the predraft buzz that he might drop, and those long moments under the klieg nights only reassured them that he might be able to handle what was to come.

Rodgers’s equanimity was tested later in his career, when Brett Favre did not go gracefully into retirement, casting Rodgers in the awkward role of a franchise quarterback in waiting, unwanted by some of his own team’s fans.

Rodgers’s talent long since soothed most of the Favre loyalists. But it will be his level-headedness in the Super Bowl on Sunday night, when he rebounded from errant throws, dropped passes and a torrid comeback attempt by the Pittsburgh Steelers that will solidify his spot in the lore of one of the most storied N.F.L. franchises.

With fans wearing cheeseheads watching in Jerry Jones’s cavernous pigskin palace, the Green Bay Packers won their fourth Super Bowl by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25. It was their first title since the 1996 season, when Favre won his lone Lombardi Trophy.

The Packers also won eight N.F.L. championships before the Super Bowl era, and their 12 titles make them the most decorated team in football history.

 Rashard Mendenhall ran for a touchdown in the third quarter.

As the final seconds ticked away, Rodgers stood over the N.F.L. logo and jumped up and down. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns, and was named the game’s most valuable player. His performance completed a career arc notable nearly as much for his maturity as for his passing.

The Packers never trailed in the game, but the victory felt far from dominating because the Steelers roared back from a 21-3 first-half deficit and had the ball with a 6-point deficit at the two-minute warning.

That was when the Packers’ defense finally held off the Steelers, sending them away without their seventh championship in a game that had turned the reputations of two grind-it-out teams on their heads. The teams combined for 79 pass attempts and just 36 runs.

The Packers were intent on testing the weakness of the Steelers’ defense — the cornerbacks — from the start, spreading the field with receivers. Rodgers, whose scintillating performances during the playoffs had solidified his position among the game’s best quarterbacks, threw on every first down except two in the first half, while the Packers ran for just 37 yards.

Rodgers’s first few passes were high, perhaps a sign of nerves, but he settled down on the Packers’ second drive. On third-and-1 from the Steelers’ 29, he checked into a pass play, spotting Jordy Nelson with one-on-one coverage on the outside, and lofted a perfect pass to Nelson’s outside shoulder. The touchdown gave the Packers a 7-0 lead and a good omen: the Packers had scored first in all five of their Super Bowl appearances.

Then the Packers got their first break. On the next play from scrimmage, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with a defender’s hand in his face, threw a pass that floated so long in the air that the Packers’ Nick Collins, reacting to Roethlisberger’s pump fake to the left side of the field, ran to the sideline. He leaped up to intercept the pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Packers a 14-0 lead.

When the Packers held the Steelers to just a field goal on their next drive, then intercepted Roethlisberger again in the second quarter, the Packers’ offense threatened to blow the game open. When Rodgers threw a laser of a 21-yard pass to Greg Jennings in the end zone — another first-down pass — the Packers had a 21-3 lead and their foot on the gas.

And then, suddenly, it stopped. The Packers entered this season as perhaps the most talented team in the N.F.L., but an avalanche of injuries caused them to squeak into the playoffs as the N.F.C.’s sixth seed after needing a victory in the final week of the regular season.

This game, then, became a microcosm of the season. The game was marred by a series of injuries as one by one players went off the field. The most critical one came just after the two-minute warning before halftime when Charles Woodson, the Packers’ superb cornerback, dived to break up a deep pass and landed awkwardly. The fall broke his collarbone, and Woodson, who was the defensive player of the year in 2009, stood with his arm in a sling for the rest of the game. That freed the Steelers for a precise two-minute drill that salvaged the game with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward that made the score 21-10 at halftime.

The Steelers dominated the third quarter, though. When Packers receiver James Jones, who has had a few other noteworthy drops this season, dropped what would have probably been a touchdown pass early in the third quarter, General Manager Ted Thompson, sitting among reporters in the press box, put his hands over his head in dismay.

The Packers had only one first down after they took a 21-3 lead through the end of the third quarter. And when the Steelers turned to their running game to grind out a touchdown drive early in the third, they trailed by just 21-17 — and felt as if they had a lead.

But then the game grew sloppy. Both quarterbacks threw errant passes. When the Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall fumbled, the Packers had their next chance to seize momentum. On third-and-10 from the 40-yard line, Rodgers detected the Pittsburgh blitz coming. He hit Nelson — who had dropped an early pass — with a pass into the void in the middle of the field and Nelson ran 38 yards all the way to the 8. Then on second-and-goal from the 8, Rodgers, back to his precise passes, lofted a pass to the back right corner of the end zone for Jennings, who made a tiptoe catch for the touchdown. That was 21 Packers points off Steelers’ turnovers.

It gave the Packers an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter. No team had ever come back from that large a deficit to win a Super Bowl. But the Steelers had already mounted a masterly comeback in this postseason, rallying from a 14-point deficit to Baltimore in the divisional round.

The Steelers had not led in the game, but they, too, again found their groove, with Roethlisberger using a pump fake to buy time for his fastest receiver, Mike Wallace, to run down the sideline for a 25-yard touchdown reception with just 7:34 left. When the 2-point conversion was successful, the Steelers trailed by just 3 points, and a matchup between two of the N.FL..’s best defenses had evolved into an unexpected shootout, with both teams abandoning their running games and entrusting their quarterbacks with their seasons.

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