By Chad Klassen
Love of NFL Correspondent
The first half certainly put Pittsburgh’s dominance on display, containing Kurt Warner for the most part, giving up only 100 yards through the air and seven Cardinals points. Not to mention the best defense in the league helping out its own cause on the scoreboard with the biggest play of the game. At that point, Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison looked like a lock to win MVP with his monstrous runback on the final play of the first half.
Harrison’s unbelievable 100-yard interception return was the turning point, with Arizona knocking on the door and poised to take the lead before Bruce Springsteen took the stage. A brilliant call, dropping Harrison into coverage, confused Warner and forced a pick in the end-zone to jumpstart a truly game-changing play that could go down as the single greatest play in Super Bowl history.
So, the defense was poised to steal the show, as advertised, in the first half. In addition to making the play of the century with Harrison’s record score right before the half, the Steel Curtain contained not only Warner, but more importantly, the 6-foot-3 Larry Fitzgerald for three and a half quarters.
However, when the game was 20-7 and looking like a classic shutdown performance by the league’s best defense, the Steel Curtain couldn’t quite close the door, giving Arizona life with a few key breakdowns.
As we all know, though, it’s difficult to keep an offensive juggernaut like the Cardinals’ quiet for 60 minutes, but the Steelers’ defensive superiority wasn’t really on display in the late stages of the fourth quarter. Arizona was able to penetrate a porous Pittsburgh unit that nearly cost the team the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the dying minutes. If it wasn’t for Ben Roethlisberger saving the day on the masterful final drive, we would be talking seriously about a first-ranked unit that was a huge letdown.
More than pointing to a Steelers unit that almost blew the game, though, a big reason for the Cardinals’ sudden awakening was Warner’s smarts and little adjustments that allowed him to get the ball in Fitzgerald’s hands.
The Super Bowl XXXIV MVP threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns in the second half alone and picked the Steelers apart with Arizona’s hurry-up offense. To put it in perspective, Warner’s effort probably cemented his spot in Canton with another lethal passing performance. The former stock boy now holds the top three spots in Super Bowl history.
Fitzgerald finally got into the action with two big scores, including the 64-yard strike that was the microcosm of a wide-open seam with safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu biting down.
It marked a short-lived comeback from 13 points behind, but it was a case of Pittsburgh’s defense getting the best of the 37-year-old journeyman quarterback. LaMarr Woodley’s forced fumble sealed the win with five ticks left on the clock and the crucial Harrison interception turned the tides on a potential 14-point swing as time expired in the first half.
It was that stellar play that’ll be replayed in Warner’s mind for years to come and ultimately deprived him of another championship celebration. The Cardinals gave themselves a chance to win, but the Steelers’ defensive presence contributed to the longest play in Super Bowl history and was a big factor in the team’s second championship in four years.