The Packers started the Super Bowl very well. Rodgers led a drive and then the defense did what it had been doing all year and intercepted a pass by putting pressure on the quarterback. This pick was turned into a touchdown and a quick 14-point lead. This lead went to 21-3 close to halftime, and things were looking rosy for Packer fans.
The Packer defense had done a great job of shutting down Pittsburgh for the first half. The Steelers were showing some signs of being able to run the ball. But being put in such a hole, they had to abandon a steady diet of running and turn to throwing the ball more exclusively.
Then things started to turn dark. Suddenly with two minutes left in the half, the Packer players started dropping like flies. On offense, Donald Driver left the field early to go to the locker room. On defense, the situation was even worse. Sam Shields ran up the tunnel to have his injury checked out. Nick Collins also headed in early. And worst of all, Charles Woodson ran into the locker room holding his arm in a way that did not look good.
Woodson has been the team’s vocal leader all year long. During the Steeler's drive that ended the half, Woodson dove to bat down a pass near the goal line and appeared to damage his shoulder. We would later learn he had broken his collarbone and he watched the second half in street clothes with a sling holding his arm. He cheered and cajoled the defense from the sidelines, wincing often, whenever a movement jostled his injury.
Woodson also gave a speech to the team at halftime. Well, he tried to. He started to tell the team that he was out and that they all knew how much this meant to him. But then he had to stop. “I just couldn’t do it,” he is quoted saying after the game. “I was just too emotional.” Woodson started to cry and was unable to complete his speech.
This is understandable for any player in such a situation, but especially for Woodson. He had made an interception in his previous Super Bowl game. His Raiders team still lost the game. He made the sack and hit and fumble on Tom Brady that should have sealed a playoff win, only to have the tuck rule reverse his wok and have him again watching from home. He has been the leader of the Packers defense for several years and won the Defensive Player of the Year last year. But he had not been to another Super Bowl and wanted this one desperately.
In the second half, it appeared there was going to be little left on the field to slow down the Steelers. Collins was all right and played the rest of the game. Shields was hampered and played sparingly and not at the level he had shown in the last few games. This left the Packers trying to cover a dangerous trio of Steeler receivers and a top tight end with Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee.
You heard me right, Packer fans. Jarrett "Freaking" Bush and Pat "Stinking" Lee. Leading into the second half I know I had a queasy feeling in my stomach that had nothing to do with all the Shiner Bock I had consumed or the halftime performance by the Black Eyed Peas. It was thinking of the Packer defense having to rely on these guys in such a big game.
Jarrett Bush has a job in the NFL because he is a good gunner on the punt team. The level he has shown for his cover skills, well, let's just be kind and say they have been lower than you’d hope for in an NFL level player. And Pat Lee? Well Pat Lee backs up Bush so little more needs to be said.
The emergence of Sam Shields as a reliable cover man had kept these guys off the field in most circumstances. Now they needed to step up and play in the biggest spot of all.
In the first half, the Packers strategy on defense appeared to be to contain Roethlisberger and keep him in the pocket. Clay Matthews was not really rushing at the big quarterback most downs, but was mirroring him and letting the inside pass rush try to get home as the backfield covered up the receivers. The idea was to make Pittsburgh have to throw check down passes in the middle of the field and not get any big gains. Now with Woodson missing, Shields and Collins hobbled, could they afford this strategy?
The Packers still had Tramon Williams, but he appeared so nervous at times that he forgot how to field punts. A skill he had been near perfect at all season long. In the Super Bowl he fumbled one and let several others bounce in front of him or sail over his head. Without Woodson, Williams was now the leader of the defensive backs.
Maybe the Packers heard enough of Woodson’s speech and went out there to win one for the “Gipper” or the Woody in this case. Williams said that the look on Woodson's face at halftime motivated him to go out "and do what we needed to do." After the game many other players echoed this and talked about the inspiration Woodson gave both in the locker room and with his support on the sidelines in that sling.
The defense did not exactly come out and dominate in the second half. The Steelers had more first downs and time of possession than the Packers. The Packers only sacked Big Ben once in the game. But the view in my head during halftime never came to be. I figured either the Packers needed to come out and score 50 points or they were going to lose. Possibly even lose by a wide margin.
But Jarrett "Freaking" Bush and Pat "Stinking" Lee held up fairly well. Bush did get fooled so bad he was barely in the television frame on one touchdown pass but he also had an interception on a great instinct play and he defended several passes during the game. He even took Woodson’s role and blitzed on several attempts and got decent pressure.
For the most part, the Packers did not give up any huge plays and kept the Steelers having to organize long drives to score. The defense also came up with the critical fumble that jump started the offense. Once the offense remembered how to catch passes, they scored enough points to put a lot of pressure on the Steeler offense. They were once again unable to seal the win, but took up time and notched a field goal that put the margin to six points with two minutes to go.
Then they turned it over to the defense. Just like the playoff games against Philadelphia and Chicago, the Packers defense once again held and did not let the opposition score in the final minutes. In this case, they stopped Pittsburgh fast. After one first down they defended four straight passes, giving up a total of only five yards. All that was left after that was for Rodgers to go into the “We Win” formation and kneel down and end the game.
When I will look back at this season, I am not sure what will stand out most. The play of Rodgers. How the defense dominated with so many different moving parts in it week to week. Maybe it will be how Jarrett "Freaking" Bush and Pat "Stinking" Lee were able to keep the Steelers from scoring 50 points in the second half to get that win for Woodson.