Super Bowl 2011: The Biggest Moments from Super Bowl XLV
Initially, there was nothing particular about Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers that was of interest to me. I knew I would watch the game with some degree of attention, but was primarily more excited to be with friends and watch the commercials.
In a non-competitive first half that saw the Packers strike out to an early 21-10 lead, I was largely uninterested in continuing further in front of the TV.
Then, the second half kicked off and the game was on. Pittsburgh's comeback was inevitable, but how close would they come? Playing from behind, they didn't mount a furious rally of quick scores, but built momentum gradually as they reined the Pack back towards even.
As the clock ticked down in the fourth quarter, the Steelers kept coming, which precipitated a dramatic finish that I hadn't expected just an hour earlier.
Within that comeback, and the time preceding it, were many signature moments that this Super Bowl will be remembered for.
Here are the 10 biggest game-changing moments from Super Bowl XLV.
10. Aaron Rodgers Converts 3rd-and-10 to Greg Jennings Late in 4th
The Pack led by just three with the ball in Aaron Rodgers' hands and 7:34 to go. Rodgers was promptly sacked at the Green Bay 21, then a nine-yard pass, then a false start penalty.
They were exactly where they started on the drive, except it was 3rd-and-10 deep in their own territory, and they needed to extend the drive nursing that 28-25 lead.
Rodgers unleashed a dart to Jennings, who was streaking across the middle. Jennings made the catch in front of the leaping Ike Taylor, and didn't go down until he'd gone for 31 yards to the Pittsburgh 44 and a tianic first down.
This play threw the Steelers off dramatically, allowing Green Bay to rip off plays of 14 yards and 21 yards to get inside the Steelers' 10-yard line. A field goal was good enough to require a Steeler touchdown for the win, while leaving them with only 2:07 to operate.
9. Aaron Rodgers Connect With Jordy Nelson for a 29-Yard Touchdown
The scoring didn't get going until the Packers' second drive, when, on a 3rd-and-1, head coach Mike McCarthy called a brilliant play-action pass that Rodgers threw beautifully over the top to Nelson.
With the Steeler defense thinking run, McCarthy took a gamble that the offense would convert the first down and keep the drive alive.
The pass worked and set the tone for the Packer offense for the rest of the game. Rodgers and Co. abandoned the running game pretty early, putting all their eggs in the basket to throw. Rodgers threw 39 passes, which was triple the 13 running plays that McCarthy called.
Nelson, it should be noted, had a terrific performance, with nine catches and 140 yards to go along with that touchdown. His presence kept the pressure off of Greg Jennings, who got loose for two touchdowns of his own.
8. Jarrett Bush's Interception Sets Up a Quick Scoring Drive
Trailing 14-3 and coming off a Green Bay punt, Ben Roethlisberger had the Steelers headed for the end zone.
Having crossed midfield on the previous play, Ben dropped back looking for Mike Wallace over the middle. His pass was off, and safety Jarrett Bush was there to capitalize on the miss.
Green Bay's offense now had all the momentum back and only half a field to the end zone.
The Steelers did not recover from the turnover quickly enough, and before they knew it, Rodgers had gone 53 yards in four plays and found Greg Jennings for a 21-yard score and a 21-3 lead.
7. Roethlisberger Stops Early Bleeding With TD to Hines Ward
Trailing 21-3 in the second quarter and after being picked off on his last drive, Roethlisberger knew that this was no time to panic.
He calmly marched his offense down the field in seven plays to complete a 77-yard drive, which was capped by the ever-dependable Hines Ward's eight-yard catch. This play stopped the Packer momentum, gave confidence to the Steelers, and allowed Big Ben to forget his first-half troubles.
6. Rashard Mendenhall Fumbles
After pinning the Packers inside their own 10-yard line to punt, the Steeler offense trotted out to begin a drive at the Green Bay 41 with fantastic field position. Trailing at this point by just four, the Steelers smelled the lead for the first time, and needed just 41 yards to seize it.
On the second play of the drive, Roethlisberger handed off to the dependable Rashard Mendenhall, who fumbled just twice in 347 touches all year. Mendenhall was stripped by the playmaking Clay Matthews, and Desmond Bishop recovered for the Packers.
This was a backbreaking turnover for the Steelers, who quickly surrendered another Rodgers touchdown in under three minutes.
What was a four-point deficit with a chance to take the lead instantly turned into an 11-point deficit and a punch in the stomach for the Steelers.
5. Roethlisberger Finds Mike Wallace for 25-Yard Touchdown
The Steelers wasted no time in getting back the points they lost on the Mendenhall turnover, plus one.
Roethlisberger looked Mike Wallace's way four times on the ensuing drive, which went 66 yards in just 4:23 and culminated in Roethlisberger's 25-yard strike to Wallace to make it 28-23 Green Bay.
There was no point in kicking an extra point to cut the lead to four, so Pittsburgh went for two and converted on an Antwaan Randle-El option pitch.
Big Ben did a great job picking his team up off the turf after going back down by 11 to convert this drive. Without it, the Steelers wouldn't have had a chance to win on their last drive.
4. Rashard Mendenhall's Touchdown Run
After stopping the Packers on the opening drive of the third quarter and before his fatal fumble, Mendenhall punched in a nice run to keep the Steeler momentum going.
At this point, 21-17 Green Bay, the Steelers were suddenly back in a game that they trailed 21-3 just about seven minutes before.
Every time the Steelers came to the brink of being blown out, they rallied back definitively with a score. This one asserted that they could get it done on the ground, as they'd already proven they could do by air.
3. Antwaan Randle El's Two-Point Conversion
The Steelers needed a two-point conversion after closing the gap to 28-23. With just 7:34 left in the game, they couldn't risk losing a chance to tie the game with just a field goal.
They were already down by five, so kicking an extra point to make it four would make no difference; they'd still need a touchdown to win, and a field goal wouldn't be good enough.
Coach Mike Tomlin called on the seldom-used, but very dangerous, trick play specialist Antwaan Randle El. On an option call to the left, Roethlisberger found the reserve receiver on a pitch coming around from the backfield.
Paydirt, 28-25, and the Steelers were in great position to tie or win on their next drive.
2. Nick Collins' Interception Return for a Touchdown
With his team leading 7-0 late in the first quarter, safety Nick Collins was in the right place at the right time.
Ben Roethlisberger dropped back from his own 7-yard line, was hit on the arm as he threw, and lofted a duck that was well short of his intended receiver.
Collins came over, snatched it out of the air, and got some great blocking as he scampered toward the end zone. He completed the score with a leap from a few yards out that vaulted him across the goal line for six points.
This gave the Packers a 14-0 head start and served as the defining play of yet another well-fought Super Bowl.
Note: that's two championships in a row that have been greatly influenced by interception returns for a touchdown. Within a run of ultra-competitive Super Bowls, game-breaking plays like these go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
1. Ben's 4th-and-5 Pass Hits the Ground
Leading by six points with under two minutes, the Pack didn't have the luxury to relax. Big Ben, the winner of two Super Bowls, including one on the last drive, had the ball in his hands and was hungry for a third ring.
After advancing 20 yards in two plays, the Steelers unceremoniously stalled on three consecutive passes, the last of which clinched the win for Green Bay.
The Green Bay defense celebrated the last play on a night that saw them successfully harass Roethlisberger and do serious damage with takeaways.
He's Making His Own Shadow Now
Aaron Rodgers has now brought as many Super Bowls to Green Bay in three years as Brett Favre did in 16.
For so long, he has fought the shadow of the one who preceded him, the one who was truly beloved in Green Bay, the one who stunted Rodgers' career multiple times before its rise to the elite.
At long last, Aaron Rodgers is out from under the oppressive title of Brett Favre's successor, his underling.
With an improbable and magnificent Super Bowl run that will live on, Aaron Rodgers has begun growing his own shadow.