for this game

Steelers deep-VI Cardinals for Super Bowl title

Feb 2, 2009 - 4:58 AM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Having watched his Pittsburgh Steelers squander a huge fourth-quarter lead, Ben Roethlisberger stood in the huddle in the final minutes and gave the offense a simple message: "It's now or never."

Roethlisberger and the Steelers then delivered.

Roethlisberger's 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds remaining rallied Pittsburgh to a 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday night.

Holmes barely managed to drag both feet down before going out of bounds as the Steelers pulled out the wild victory that featured 23 fourth-quarter points and two lead changes in the final 2:37.

The victory gave the Steelers an NFL-record sixth Super Bowl title.

The Cardinals, making their first Super Bowl appearance, overcame a 20-7 lead in the final eight minutes with 16 consecutive points. However, Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 78 yards in eight plays for the dramatic victory.

"Before that drive, I told him, 'Ben, I want the ball in my hands no matter what ... no matter where it is,'" said Holmes, named the game's Most Valuable Player. "I wanted to be the one to make the play and I did it for our team."

On the decisive drive, Holmes had four catches for 73 yards, including a 13-yard reception on 3rd-and-6 and a 40-yard reception to Arizona's 6. He scored two plays later.

Holmes, who grew up in Belle Glade, Florida, and admitted this week he sold drugs as a youth, finished with 131 yards on nine receptions.

"I knew my toes were on the ground the whole time," Holmes said. "Once I extended my arms and my body, everything just flowed right together. I never left the ground."

Roethlisberger was 21-of-30 for 256 yards for one touchdown and an interception in joining New England's Tom Brady as the only quarterback to win two Super Bowls by the age of 26.

"I was going to throw the ball in the flat," said Roethlisberger of the game-winning TD. "They covered it up, so I went to Hines (Ward). He was covered, getting held. But all of a sudden, I saw (Holmes) go to the corner.

"I threw it and thought it was going to be picked. He made a heck of a catch."

The victory also made 36-year-old Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin the youngest in NFL history to win an NFL title.

Played on a brisk, beautiful night in Raymond James Stadium, the Steelers seemed in complete control until the Cardinals' comeback in the fourth quarter.

A seven-point underdog, the Cardinals overcame a 20-7 deficit with 16 points in the final eight minutes. Larry Fitzgerald's 64-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner gave the Cardinals their first lead of the night, 23-20, with 2:37 remaining.

"You can't explain it," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. "You are seconds away from crying in the locker room, and them being out there. That's how amazing this game is."

However, the Cardinals' defense couldn't stop the Steelers one final time.

Fitzgerald, who was held to only one catch in the first half, finished with seven receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Warner, who was honored as the 2008 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year minutes before kickoff, finished 31-of-43 for 377 yards, two touchdown and one interception.

He became the first quarterback in Super Bowl history with three 300-yard passing games.

But it wasn't enough to compensate for a non-existent running game that had only 33 yards rushing - 40 yards below their NFL worst 73.6-yard average.

With Arizona trailing, 20-7, in the fourth quarter, Warner drove the Cardinals 87 yards on eight plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown pass to Fitzgerald, making it 20-14 with 7:41 remaining.

Arizona reached Pittsburgh territory on its next possession but couldn't capitalize and punted with 3:26 remaining. It was downed at the 1-yard line.

On third down, the Cardinals were awarded a safety when Steelers center Justin Hartwig was penalized for holding in the end zone, making it 20-16.

After another Pittsburgh punt, Fitzgerald's touchdown appeared to put the Cardinals in control. But Roethlisberger and Holmes rallied the Steelers in the final minutes to avoid squandering a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter.

"That was a shot in the heart," Polamalu said of Fitzgerald's 64-yard touchdown catch from Warner.

Tomlin said he was glad that the Cardinals scored so quickly.

"If they score, that's how you want them to score," Tomlin said. "You don't want them to milk the clock."

Arizona reached midfield in the final seconds, but Warner was sacked by linebacker LaMarr Woodley, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Brett Keisel to secure the victory.

"I'm disappointed for our team," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "This is a group of men that I'm really proud of. They played very hard in circumstances where nobody believed in them, but themselves.

"I think it's a great message that if you believe together as a group, you can accomplish things and be successful. We learned a lot about our team and it's unfortunate that it had to come out this way."

The Cardinals averaged 32 points in their final four games, but were ineffective until the game's final eight minutes.

The turning point of the first half came on the final play of the second quarter.

With 18 seconds remaining, Arizona had 1st-and-goal at the 2, but Warner's pass intended for Anquan Boldin was intercepted at the goal line by James Harrison, who rumbled 100 yards for the touchdown.

"We had them matched up and it was kind of like, give it time, and I slid over to the right and (Warner) threw it right to my hands and I took off," Harrison said. "I was just trying to get to the other side and score seven. That's all.

"It was very tiring, but it was all worth it. I was just thinking that I had to do whatever I could to get to the other end zone and get seven. I just wanted to help my team win, that was it. That was all I was thinking about."

Instead of possibly trailing 14-10 at the half, the Steelers held a 17-7 advantage.

"It is tough when you are in a game like this," Warner said. "You have the lead later, but you know everything rides on the balance of this game. Your emotions are so high with two minutes left in the game when you have the lead.

"You know that you are two minutes away from being World Champions. On the flip side, they come down and make a big play to win the game and the emotions flip.

"Either way, I'm proud of this team. I think that is one of the reasons why it doesn't hurt as bad as it could. These guys have exceeded expectations. We gave ourselves a chance to win a world championship, but that other team went out and won it."

In the first quarter, the Steelers dominated the Cardinals, outgaining Arizona 140-13, but Pittsburgh only had a 3-0 lead.

On the game's opening drive, Pittsburgh marched 61 yards to the 1. On 3rd-and-goal, Roethlisberger appeared to bull over for a touchdown. However, Roethlisberger's TD was reversed after a challenge by Whisenhunt and Pittsburgh settled for an 18-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.

On its next possession, Pittsburgh increased its lead to 10-0 on Gary Russell's 1-yard touchdown run, capping a 70-yard drive.

However, the Cardinals answered with a nine-play, 83-yard touchdown drive. Warner hit tight end Ben Patrick for a 1-yard touchdown with 8:34 remaining in the second quarter. On the drive, Warner was 7-for-8 for 92 yards, completing his final seven passes, including a 45-yarder to Boldin.

In Roethlisberger's first Super Bowl against Seattle, he was only 9-for-21 for 123 yards and two interceptions. He nearly exceeded that in the first quarter against the Cardinals, completing 7-for-8 for 118 yards.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell summed up the feelings of the 70,774 fans before presenting the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Steelers.

"Some said we couldn't top last year's Super Bowl," he said. "But we did that tonight."