It was no Giants-Patriots in 2008 in Super Bowl XLII, but man, this year’s game was fun to watch.
More than the play on the field, it was a game of storylines. It was a game of experience against desire, memories of the past against the greatness of the present and questionable character against clean-cut image. It was touted as the day Aaron Rodgers got himself out of Brett Fav-ruh’s shadow once and for all, the day Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison and the like got what they deserved.
But as much as it was about all those things, this game was about football. It amazed me just how played up the experience factor was entering into the game. Look at Pittsburgh’s roster at some key positions. No. 1 running back Rashard Mendenhall had been drafted but wasn’t playing the last time the Steelers were in the Super Bowl. Wide receivers Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown all came around after the last title. Kicker Shaun Suisham was a Redskin at the time, though he would be cut by Washington less than a year later. The quarterback and defense are the same, but running back and wide receiver are pretty significant positions, to say the least.
Gone are Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes and Willie Parker. The difference showed as Mendenhall lost a key fumble and Sanders and Brown were non-factors. Even the absence of Jeff Reed was apparent, as Suisham missed a field goal attempt so badly the ball may not have passed through a second set of uprights next to the regular one.
No, it was Green Bay that had all the right pieces, unheralded though they may be. Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Greg Jennings all had standout performances, as we expected them to. But it was the guys who didn’t get headlines or stand out during the regular season that made the plays that mattered.
Jordy Nelson was absolutely a hero in this game. With Donald Driver injured, Nelson was called on to take pressure off Jennings. Not only did he catch a touchdown, he set a new career high with 140 yards. Any player who sets his career high in yardage while playing in the Super Bowl is the kind of player you want on your team.
Jarrett Bush had nearly as good a day, terrorizing Ben Roethlisberger and collecting the near-pick that sealed the Packer victory. Bush stepped up when Charles Woodson and Sam Shields went down, and did it in spectacular fashion.
There are countless more stories like this, from undrafted Frank Zombo sacking Big Ben to undrafted Tramon Williams making himself one of the stars of this year’s playoffs. For a team that has sustained so many injuries since Day 1, it seems like the mentality of the Packers is that on any given day, every player should be prepared to step up and stand out. Head coach Mike McCarthy deserves a ton of the credit for that, because I can’t remember the last time so many no-names have played so big when it mattered most.
In terms of gameplay, much of what needs to be said has been said. Rodgers looked frustrated at times, especially during the third quarter when the offense lost all of the dominance it displayed in the first half and drops seemed more common than catches. It seemed like the touchdown Pittsburgh had scored just before halftime, plus Mendenhall’s rushing score less than five minutes into the third quarter, had shifted momentum completely away from the Packers. Once Mendenhall punched it through, I was convinced for most of the rest of the game that Pittsburgh would somehow pull this one out (though not as convinced as Joe Buck, who talked about Pittsburgh’s momentum about as much as the play on the field).
And yet, for all the drives that seemed destined to end in touchdowns, the damage was not nearly what it felt like it should have been. When a big play was needed, the Green Bay defense made the play. Bush and Matthews were all over the field, combining for five tackles, a pick and a forced fumble. Nick Collins not only ran across the field and intercepted Ben, but had a weaving, leaping return for a touchdown that I absolutely marveled at. Charles Woodson sacrificed his body and saved a touchdown (temporarily), even though it meant that he would have to miss the rest of the game. Based on reports, he continued to inspire the team and was as invested in the game as anyone on the team, even if sometimes it hurt even to cheer.
Offensively, Rodgers proved to have all the toughness and resilience that the media had claimed he had all along. Rather than fall apart, like I thought he would with the loss of Driver and the drops on huge potential first-down plays by Jones and Nelson, Rodgers hung in there as his banged-up defense bent but didn’t quite break.
You have to appreciate that for the majority of the game Rodgers was running what was essentially a one-dimensional offense. The Packers run a lot of play action, but Pittsburgh knew there was really no real threat of Green Bay running the ball. Despite facing a defense that was completely geared up for the pass, Rodgers threw for 304 yards. Without six dropped passes, we’re talking about 30-of-39. That’s absolutely remarkable, considering the circumstances and against the Pittsburgh D. Give credit to a well-thought-out and well-executed game plan.
So yes, Rodgers finally put to bed all of the “Can he live up to Brett Favre’s standards?” questions, though those were ridiculous to begin with. Yes, the Lombardi trophy is back in Green Bay. Yes, the “good” Packers defeated the “evil” Steelers. But really, this game was about a group of guys coming together to overcome injury and low seeding and “momentum” to show that, in fact, they were worthy of being called Super Bowl champions.