The Packers lost Donald Driver, Charles Woodson and Sam Shields to injuries in the second quarter. They lost the momentum, too, but they held off the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, their first championship in 14 years.
The Steelers had to move the ball 87 yards in the final 1:59 but never got a first down, with Ben Roethlisberger's throw to Mike Wallace on fourth-and-5 broken up by Tramon Williams.
"Go Pack Go!" chants filled the stadium as the final seconds ticked away.
Aaron Rodgers was voted the game's MVP with three touchdown passes.
With Driver already lost to an ankle injury, disaster struck the secondary. On back-to-back plays, Shields (ankle) and Woodson (collarbone) were lost to injuries. James Jones dropped a touchdown pass. Suddenly, the Steelers had momentum.
But as the Packers had done all season, they overcame.
Green Bay was clinging to a 21-17 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, but a Steelers victory looked almost like a foregone conclusion. With a second-and-2 at the Packers' 33 on the first play of the quarter, the defense made the stunning play of the game. Ryan Pickett and Clay Matthews converged on Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, with Matthews jarring it loose and Desmond Bishop recovering.
Set up at the 45-yard line, the Packers' offense broke out of its second-half funk. Jones made amends with a diving catch for 12 yards on third-and-7. After drops by Brandon Jackson and Jordy Nelson – with Nelson potentially scoring on his – Rodgers hit Nelson on a crossing route, with Nelson picking up 28 of his 38 yards after the catch to set up first-and-goal at the 2. After Rodgers was sacked, the Steelers lost track of Greg Jennings, who was wide open for his second touchdown catch of the game, making it 28-17 with 11:57 remaining.
But there was plenty of time for Pittsburgh against a depleted Packers defense. So, the Steelers answered with a 66-yard touchdown drive, with the score coming on Ben Roethlisberger's 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace on third-and-3. An option pitch to Antwaan Randle El for the two-point conversion made it 28-25 with 7:34 to play.
Then came the second monster play. With Green Bay desperately needing to run some clock, Rodgers converted third-and-10 with an incredible 31-yard completion to Jennings in which he fit the ball between cornerback Ike Taylor and both safeties. James Starks then ripped off a 14-yard run and Rodgers hit Jones on a back-shoulder pass for 21 to the 8. But the Packers had to settle for a field goal when Rodgers' fade to Nelson was thrown a hair too far.
Pittsburgh started at its 13-yard line with 1:59 to go, thanks to unnecessary roughness on Keyaron Fox on the kickoff return. On fourth down, Williams, figuring the Steelers wouldn't be going deep, smothered an underneath route and the Packers' sideline erupted in joy.
The Packers took a quick 14-0 lead on Rodgers' stellar 29-yard touch pass to Nelson and Nick Collins' 37-yard interception return that was set up by Howard Green's pressure on Roethlisberger. With Pittsburgh within 14-3 and having recaptured a bit of momentum, Jarrett Bush swooped in for an interception near midfield. Four plays later, Rodgers threw a dart between the safeties at the goal line, and Jennings survived a crunching blow by safety Troy Polamalu for a touchdown to make it 21-3 with 2:24 to go in the half.
After all three touchdowns, the usual stoic general manager, Ted Thompson, sat up in his seat and pumped both fists.
Then things got interesting. On Pittsburgh's first snap, Shields went for an interception but missed, then chased down Randle El after a 37-yard gain but departed with a shoulder injury. On the next snap, Woodson broke up a deep pass to Wallace but he injured his collarbone. That left Pat Lee and Bush as the second and third corners with Williams, and Roethlisberger went after Bush for three completions, including a 7-yard touchdown to Hines Ward in the corner of the end zone just before halftime.
The difference in Green Bay getting an early 7-0 lead was a pair of third-and-short calls by the play-callers. On Pittsburgh's second drive and the ball at its 44, Roethlisberger just missed tight end Heath Miller, who had gotten open inside Williams. The Steelers punted, and the Packers took over at their 20. Starks converted a third-and-1 with an 8-yard run in which he bounced off tight end Tom Crabtree. Then, on third-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 29, coach Mike McCarthy dialed up a pass, and Rodgers' pass to Nelson was perfect, dropping just over cornerback William Gay for a touchdown with 3:44 to go in the first quarter.
In the blink of an eye, it was 14-0. Pittsburgh's ensuing possession started at the 7 because of a penalty. On first down, Roethlisberger pump-faked in hopes of a big play to Wallace but he held the ball too long, with Green plowing through guard Chris Kemoeatu and hitting Roethlisberger as he threw. Collins swooped under the ball and wove his way through traffic and dove into the end zone for a touchdown.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.