Emerald Rose performs at Dragon ConCamera: Jennifer Sami Editing: Jim Dean
Dragon Con parade in downtown AtlantaCamera: Jennifer Sami Editing: Jim Dean
Three plays. Three crucial plays. Right in a row.
Wonder why the Packers beat the Steelers, 31-25, to win the forty-fifth Super Bowl?
Simple. Those three plays.
Not the three Steeler turnovers. Not the shanked Shaun Suisham field goal that cost the Steelers three points.
The Lombardi Trophy returns to its initial residence in Titletown because those three critical plays went the Packers way.
Wise coaches universally espouse the maxim that their athletes must play hard on every single play, because they never know which play might be the one that decides the game. Sunday, it took three plays, but they tilted the game firmly in Green Bay’s favor.
The teams spent the first seven minutes of play engaged in a riveting parry of punts. Alert Falcon fans doubtless observed that Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers hurled as many incompletions in his first series as he did all evening in the Falcons’ playoff debacle.
Rodgers began the Packers second drive with yet another miss, his fourth in five attempts. Then, suddenly, he transformed into the Rodgers of Nightmare at the Georgia Dome.
A short pass over the middle to Jordy Nelson went for nine. Another to Nelson along the left sideline went for nine more. A dink over the middle that Brandon Jackson turned into a 14-yard gain, and another to Korey Hall for two, allowed Rodgers to keep the Packers moving.
Then, suddenly, on third and one at the Steeler 29, Rodgers sought out Nelson again, down the right sideline for the game’s initial score. Nelson beat William Gay on the play. Gay had just entered the game for the injured left corner, Bryant McFadden.
Nelson himself became a primary receiver only after Donald Driver left the game with an ankle injury.
“It was press [coverage],” Nelson recalled at the post-game press conference. “Aaron gave me a little signal, if it was press to go deep. It was actually a screen play, but he checked to a go route. That’s what we hit.”
For his part, Rodgers appreciated the freedom he was given by the Packers coach and play caller, Mike McCarthy. “It was just a special feeling knowing that Mike trusted me enough to let me make decisions there and make the plays,” Rodgers noted during his turn behind the post-game interview mic.
“They’ve got a great front seven. Tough to run against. We felt like if we could pick them up, there were some lanes to throw. I just appreciated Mike and his trust in me to make the right decision.”
Of course, after winning a Super Bowl, there’s plenty of praise to go around. When he got the chance to be interviewed, McCarthy observed of Rodgers, “He played great. We put everything on his shoulders. He did a lot at the line of scrimmage for us against a great defense. He did a hell of a job.”
Packer historians especially savored the play. Going for the big play on third, or fourth, and short isn’t anything new in the Packer playbook. Bart Starr did the same thing, with Vince Lombardi’s blessing, way back when the Packers were the Team of the ’60s.
The second crucial play followed immediately. Antonio Brown returned the ensuing kickoff in fine fashion, up the middle and down the right sideline, putting Pittsburgh in good position to get its offense untracked.
Enter Ryan Mundy. The second year pro out of West Virginia chose to push a Packer out of Brown’s way, in the back, well after Brown had sped past the locale. On the plus side, since Mundy committed his foul on the 14-yard-line, it was only a seven-yard penalty.
At this juncture, the Steeler brain trust felt the need to immediately improve their field position. Cue up the third crucial play. Ben Roethlisberger dropped back and looked deep down the left sideline for Mike Wallace. He took a crucial instant to try to deke Tramon Williams, the Packers corner. That allowed the Packers giant nose tackle, Howard Green, to hoist a huge arm into Roethlisberger’s throwing shoulder.
The resulting pass more resembled a punt, or a lob wedge shot. Packer free safety Nick Collins drew a bead on it like a centerfielder, and once it finally descended, set sail for the goal line, 37 yards away.
“I was able to read Big Ben and got a nice jump on the ball,” Collins said during his post-game interview. “I played high school running back. So, I know what to do when the ball is in my hands. I made a couple of moves to get in the end zone.”
Those three plays gave the Packers a14-0 lead that meant the difference in the game. The teams were too evenly matched for one to spot the other two touchdowns and be able to overcome it.
Pittsburgh spent the rest of the game trying to catch up. Every time they got close, the Packers had enough to pad their lead.
Three crucial plays. The story of the game.