Recovery mission a success
ARLINGTON, Texas — Back where it belongs.
Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he had a mission when he brought his team into Jerry Jones’s mausoleum, and it was to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy, emblematic of supremacy in the National Football League, “back where it belongs.’’
To borrow a phrase: Mission accomplished.
Of course, that’s all dependent on someone’s point of view. The fans of the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers feel a bit proprietary about the Lombardi Trophy themselves. But they must wait a while to see it again. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers supported their coach with a spirited, but erratic performance, winning Super Bowl XLV last night by a 31-25 score in an entertaining game that pretty much lived up to its hype, which is always saying a lot in our overheated, media-driven world.
The Packers never trailed, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Pittsburgh had fought back from a 21-3 second-quarter deficit to get it within 21-17 and 28-25, and it was set up for Ben Roeth lisberger to add to a growing reputation as a clutch quarterback when he got the ball back at his 13, trailing by 6 with 1:59 remaining and in possession of just one timeout.
It was nearly the precise circumstance in which he had found himself in a memorable clash with these same Packers a year ago. That time, the clock stood at 2:06 when he took over at his 14, trailing, 36-30, with, yes, one timeout remaining. He took the Steelers down the field, capping the drive with a winning touchdown pass to Mike Wallace as time ran out.
The Steelers’ faithful no doubt thought their Big Ben could repeat that act, but this time the Green Bay defense provided them with a reality check. Defense and Rodgers had carried this team all season, and, as the game entered its 58th minute, Rodgers had done enough to secure the game MVP. Now it was up to that magnificent Dom Capers-crafted defense to submit the one final stop that would make Green Bay a champion for the fourth time in the Super Bowl era, and only the second time in 43 years.
Roethlisberger started with a 15-yard completion to Heath Miller, and then a 5-yarder to Hines Ward, but that was it. Capers wasn’t about to allow Roethlisberger to stand back there without some pressure, and he wound up throwing three consecutive incompletions, the first a heave out of bounds with massive B.J. Raji in his face and the next two well-covered passes intended for Wallace.
Only then could anyone from Green Bay exhale.
It was a game that confirmed a great deal of conventional wisdom. Any game of this magnitude is invariably affected by turnovers, and they were instrumental in Green Bay’s victory. Nick Collins returned a wounded duck of a pass (Howard Green hit Roethlisberger as he threw) for a 37-yard pick-6. An aggressive Jarrett Bush ripped the ball away from Wallace for another interception that led to a score. Clay Matthews provided a desperately needed big play when he knocked the ball loose from Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall for a fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter when the Steelers were trailing, 21-17, and driving for the go-ahead touchdown. Rodgers said, ‘Hey, thanks a lot,’ and took the team 55 yards in eight plays, finishing things off with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings.
No one needs a PhD in gridology to know that 21 points emanating from turnovers will get you beaten, whether it’s a junior high game or Super Bowl XLV.
The Steelers showed resolve, and they even got some second-half help when Green Bay receivers dropped five passes, two of them potential touchdowns, while also committing some damaging penalties. But in the end, Green Bay made more things happen for itself than Pittsburgh did.
“They made plays,’’ confirmed Mike Tomlin, the ever-classy Steelers coach. “It was probably less to do with what we were unable to do than what they did. Green Bay played a really good football game and made the necessary plays to win the game. That’s what I’m going to say.’’
What Troy Polamalu said was even more obvious.
“He’s an incredibly accurate passer, as we said all along,’’ declared the newly minted Defensive Player of the Year.
The numbers for Rodgers, which were impressive enough (24 of 39, 304 yards, three touchdowns), truly do not convey the magnificence of his performance. There really were either five or six terrible drops (depending on how strict a pass receiver marker someone is). And a few of his completed passes were either laser-like missiles that squeezed through microscopic openings or perfectly arched floaters that settled into the hands of his receivers. Very little about this performance was ordinary. The Packers came out of this game with a universal declaration that Rodgers has risen to the top of the current NFL quarterback class, and nothing will dislodge them from that belief.
What an absolutely amazing season this was for the Green Bay Packers. They have what must be an NFL record of 15 players on injured reserve, six of them part of their original starting 22. But somehow, some way, general manager Ted Thompson found the replacements, and McCarthy and his staff coached ’em up. The Packers can even take a sort of perverse satisfaction in the fact that in the biggest game of the year they lost both the defensive stalwart Charles Woodson (fractured collarbone while breaking up a pass in the end zone) and veteran wide receiver Donald Driver, as well as dynamic rookie cornerback Sam Shields, and still prevailed.
They are a team any city could be proud of, and they will now be dining out on some good steak and some lutefisk in Green Bay for the rest of their lives, now that they have brought the Vince Lombardi Trophy back where it belongs.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.