ARLINGTON, Texas – Someday they’ll be comparing the next Packers quarterback to Aaron Rodgers.
Whoever it is, he’ll have big shoes to fill.
Rodgers now can cement his name alongside Green Bay’s other great quarterbacks – Bart Starr and especially Brett Favre – after he and the Green Bay Packers put a bow on a stunning postseason with a 31-25 victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium.
“It is a dream come true,” said Rodgers, a native Californian and 49ers fan growing up. “It’s what I dreamt about as a little kid watching Joe Montana and Steve Young.”
The event had been labeled the Disaster Super Bowl for a series of weeklong blunders by host North Texas, Dallas owner Jerry Jones, and the NFL. But Rodgers put out a number of fires – dropped passes, a leaky defense, and injuries – with his steady hand and won the game’s most valuable player award.
He completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns, and did not toss an interception. His counterpart Ben Roethlisberger, however, threw two interceptions, and the two-time Super Bowl champion lost for the first time in the title game.
“I felt like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, my coaches and my teammates,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not a good feeling.”
Green Bay’s improbable run began with two regular-season-ending wins to get into the postseason. The Packers then won three straight playoff games on the road – against the Eagles, Falcons, and Bears – to get here.
With the Super Bowl win, the Packers become the first NFC sixth seed to win a championship. They matched the 2005 Steelers as the only sixth seeds to win a title since the NFL moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990.
It was their fourth Super Bowl title – behind only the Steelers (six), 49ers (five) and Cowboys (five) and first since the Favre-led Packers claimed a Lombardi Trophy following the 1996 season. Rodgers, who sat behind Favre for three seasons and had to deal with the future Hall of Famer’s will-he-or-won’t-he retirement act, is now also a Super Bowl champion.
The Lombardi Trophy, named after the great Packers coach, is going home.
It did not come easy.
“We had some adversity,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We lost some guys to injury and had some rough plays there. In the third quarter with the penalties, our guys just kept fighting.”
The Steelers refused to die after Green Bay went ahead, 21-3 in the second quarter and 28-17 in the fourth. They trimmed the lead to 21-17 early in the second half and then down to 28-25 with a touchdown, two-point conversion combination with 7 minutes, 34 seconds to play.
The Packers, though, struck back with an efficient, 10-play drive that advanced them down to the Steelers’ 5 and drained the clock down to 2:07. But they couldn’t put the game away with a touchdown and had to settle for a 23-yard Mason Crosby field goal and a 31-25 advantage.
Needing a touchdown on the ensuing possession, the Steelers never advanced out of their own territory. Pittsburgh is now 6-2 in the Super Bowl. Roethlisberger’s two interceptions and a fumble proved to be the difference against a Packers team that never turned the ball over.
When the fourth quarter opened, all the momentum was on the Steelers’ side. They trailed, 21-17, but had possession on the Green Bay 33 and were only 2 yards away on second down from picking up another set of downs.
But Rashard Mendenhall, who had been so tough up until that point, fumbled the football when he was stripped by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and Green Bay’s Desmond Bishop pounced on the loose ball.
It was a devastating blow because Green Bay would turn the giveaway into seven points, as it did on the previous two turnovers. Rodgers and Greg Jennings hooked up for their second touchdown when the receiver tiptoed in the corner of the end zone for an 8-yard score and a 28-17 cushion with 11:57 remaining.
Undaunted, the Steelers rebounded. As great as both defenses played all season, they were exploitable in the Super Bowl. And Roethlisberger (25 of 40 for 263 yards and two touchdowns) and his offense continued to press the Packers in the second half.
The quarterback needed only seven plays and 4:23 to move Pittsburgh 66 yards. And he narrowed the lead down to five when he hit receiver Mike Wallace for a 25-yard touchdown pass on a fade pattern. The Steelers then elected to go for two, with Roethlisberger pitching to Antwaan Randle-El for the conversion.
The Packers led, 28-25, with 7:34 to go and it would be closest the Steelers would get since 0-0.
A brutal first-half stretch for Pittsburgh, in which Green Bay opened up a 21-3 lead, proved to be too much to overcome. Rodgers delivered the first blow with a 29-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jordy Nelson (nine catches for 140 yards).
Twenty-four seconds later, Packers safety Nick Collins intercepted Roethlisberger after he was hit and returned the pick 37 yards for the score and a quick 14-0 lead.
Cornerback Jarrett Bush also intercepted Roethlisberger in the second quarter, and Rodgers and the Packers capitalized on that turnover, too. Four plays later, the quarterback hit Jennings down the seam for a 21-yard touchdown and a 21-3 lead.
The Steelers did not go gently, though. Aided by a game-ending injury to Packers all-pro cornerback Charles Woodson, Roethlisberger whittled the lead down to 11 just before halftime and then down to four early in the second half.
Pittsburgh got as close as three. But the vaunted Steelers defense, ultimately, could not stop Rodgers.