The Super wrap: Call them Sixburgh Steelers

Big Ben proves himself a Super QB during title run

There's no way to know at this early stage where Ben Roethlisberger's career will lead or whether he someday might wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he surely put an entirely new perspective on his stature with a superb performance in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday night as the Pittsburgh Steelers became the first franchise to win six Super Bowls.

The story of the 2008 Steelers was supposed to be written by their defense, the league's best, a unit that allowed more than 300 yards in only one of its previous 18 games.

Instead, on a night the defense permitted more than 400 yards to the Arizona Cardinals and saw a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead disappear, it was Roethlisberger who took command in the final three minutes by leading a drive that earned him a place in history alongside the late-game Super Bowl heroics of quarterbacks like Joe Montana, John Elway and Tom Brady.

Roethlisberger did it with his arm, but he also did it with his powerful legs and torso. The aggressive Cardinals kept coming after Roethlisberger, whose offensive line this year was not up to Steelers standards, but they couldn't sack him when it counted.

Pittsburgh's winning drive covered 78 yards in eight plays in 2:12.

All eight plays were passes by Roethlisberger. Six were complete, for 88 yards. Yes, that's 10 more yards than the length of the drive, because it began with a holding penalty. Did we happen to mention that this was not one of Pittsburgh's better offensive lines?

This was the usual pattern of the game: An Arizona defender would break through a crack in the Pittsburgh line. Roethlisberger would be forced to escape from the pocket. He would keep his poise, keep his eyes looking downfield and find a receiver to throw to.

"Most quarterbacks would not have been able to make those plays," said Arizona defensive end Bertrand Berry. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, whose two fourth-quarter touchdown drives would have made him the hero but for Roethlisberger's late work, praised Roethlisberger's footwork and said, "He was very poised."

He had to be. As good as he was at getting out of trouble, the Steelers still allowed two sacks and gave up a safety when center Justin Hartwig was called for a holding penalty in the end zone rather than let Roethlisberger get hit.

Roethlisberger completed 21 of 30 passes for 256 yards and one touchdown, the end zone, tip-toe catch by Santonio Holmes, who was not the primary receiver, of a 6-yard pass with 35 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh became the first team to win six Super Bowls, and Roethlisberger (two) joined Brady (three) as quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls in their first five NFL seasons.

This one was special. And it should change the way Roethlisberger is viewed.

When the Steelers won the Super Bowl three years ago, Roethlisberger was completing just his second NFL season and he played poorly. Last week, he said he expected to play much better this time because he was more experienced and more relaxed.

And he was right.

"He's not the same guy he was in the last one," said Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh coach who became the second African-American coach, after Tony Dungy, to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. "He was a young guy in the last one. He's a franchise quarterback (now)."

"I felt a lot better (tonight)," Roethlisberger said. "I didn't have the jitters. I actually didn't feel really nervous, but then when the planes flew over (in a pre-game ceremony), that's when I was the most nervous."

Because the Pittsburgh defense and running game are both so strong, Roethlisberger generally had been viewed as more of a caretaker than a franchise quarterback even though he was in the starting lineup for an NFL-record 51 victories in his first five seasons.

The winning drive dispelled that caretaker notion, especially the winning play.

Holmes, chosen as the game's MVP, was no more than the third receiver on the play. Roethlisberger said he wanted to throw to the flat first, but it was covered so he looked next to Hines Ward, who also was covered, "getting held," Roethlisberger said. "But all of a sudden, I saw (Holmes) go to the corner. I threw it and thought it was going to be (intercepted). He made a heck of a catch."

Actually, there wasn't really much threat of an interception.

Holmes was in the back corner of the end zone, and Roethlisberger floated the pass over three defenders, including nickel corner Ralph Brown, who was closest to Holmes.

Brown jumped. The ball floated over his outstretched hands into the outstretched hands of Holmes, who is only an inch taller. Holmes stretched his arms to the sky and kept his feet on the ground with a ballet-like move, falling to the ground outside the end zone still tightly clutching the ball.

A short time later, after a final stop by the Pittsburgh defense, Joe Namath -- hero of a Super Bowl stunner 40 years ago -- presented the Steelers with another trophy for their collection. He passed through a receiving line that allowed players and coaches to touch it.

One man did not.

"I see five of them every day" Tomlin said. "I know what they look like."

Now, he can see six of them every day. And that's more than any other franchise in the league.


SEASON UNQUALIFIED SUCCESS FOR CARDS

No matter what happened in Super Bowl XLIII, this season was going to be an unqualified success for the Cardinals.

Losing to the Steelers, 27-23, obviously was a sour way to end a glorious playoff run that shocked nearly everyone that follows the sport. It shouldn't, however, stain what the Cardinals accomplished.

They did a solid job of laying a foundation for future success.

What went right: The Cardinals grew up. They made plenty of mistakes, to be sure, but they learned from them. Through the regular season, they lost road games on the East Coast, a problem for years, yet won in Carolina in the playoffs. They struggled to run the ball for most of the season, yet found a competent running game in the playoffs. They had difficulty stopping the run intermittently throughout the regular season, yet clamped down in the playoffs.

There were many points this year where the season could have been lost and the locker room might have fractured. From receiver Anquan Boldin's contract situation to the decision to start Kurt Warner at quarterback over Matt Leinart, to the benching and reinstatement of Edgerrin James as the starting running back. The players remained loyal to coach Ken Whisenhunt and trusted that he was making the right decisions for the club.

Most importantly, the Cardinals found the style they have to play to be successful. On offense, that means continued reliance on the pass. It would be foolish to get away from that as long as Warner and Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are healthy and under contract. Defensively, the Cardinals learned they can't take plays off, can't lose their discipline and can't lose their focus. When they follow their schemes and are mentally into them, the Cardinals have a solid defense.

When they freelance and slack off mentally, the unit is well below average.

What went wrong: Most of the Cardinals' problems this year were mental, not physical. They were not a mature team and the performance suffered when the players thought there was little on the line.

It's a mistake to call the Cardinals a young team. There are solid veterans throughout the lineup. But it's an immature group, especially on defense, where emotion and passion is so important. The running game still needs to develop. It improved greatly at the end of the season, but the Cardinals lacked balance for most of the season.

At some point, coaches must commit to the run and avoid the temptation of abandoning it when the initial results aren't pretty. There isn't much depth along the offensive line, and there were some games in which key defensive players such as end Darnell Dockett and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, didn't make much of an impact.

It's questionable, too, if the front office has done enough to keep this team together.

Boldin is still unhappy with his contract. The club didn't make an effort during the season to re-sign Warner and Dansby, two key veterans who are due to be unrestricted free agents.


CALL THEM THE SIXBURGH STEELERS

They're calling it Sixburgh in the Steel City.

The Pittsburgh Steelers became the first franchise to win six Super Bowls when they beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in one of the most exciting of the 43AFC-NFC championship games.

They did it with the youngest head coach in the game's history, 36-year-old Mike Tomlin, and behind a 26-year-old quarterback who won his second Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger.

It could be a nice long marriage for the coach and his quarterback. "He's a franchise quarterback that we have a long-term commitment to," Tomlin said. "He's our guy."

Tomlin's second team avoided the kind of late-season injuries that doomed the chances of his first in 2007, when they labored down the stretch and were eliminated at home in their first playoff game.

Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward and Aaron Smith all had healthy productive seasons. Their offense labored because of injuries to Willie Parker, two starting linemen and rookie halfback Rashard Mendenhall. Roethlisberger s statistics were mediocre with 17 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions, but he led them on six winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime to make up for it, including the one that covered 78 yards in the Super Bowl.

Ward had his most productive season since 2003 with 81 receptions and his first over 1,000 yards in that time. And Parker, while missing five games with injuries, was healthy and running well by the end of it.

The Steelers head into free agency trying to rebuild a weak offensive line again. Tackle Marvel Smith, who missed the end of the season with a second back surgery in one year's time, is a free agent, as is the man who replaced him on the left side, Max Starks. Even before he played in his second Super Bowl in his first five seasons in the NFL, Roethlisberger rose to become the clear team leader.

"He is driving the bus now," said Ward, who noted that Roethlisberger was mostly along for the ride in Super Bowl XL. "Now, when he gets in the huddle he demands all eyes on him, all the attention. He knows this is his team and we go as far as Ben takes us. He's a leader of this team, voted captain."

What went right: Coordinator Dick LeBeau wanted a better pass rush and more interceptions, and he got both. One reason was the addition of linebacker LaMarr Woodley, whose presence and 11.5 sacks on the left side helped James Harrison, who set a team record with 16 on the right side. That helped the secondary and the pressure helped increase their interceptions to 20, up from 11 a year earlier.

What went wrong: Pittsburgh's offense pulled some games out near the end of the season, but overall was not as effective as in the past. The Steelers' running game ground down to a 23rd ranking in the league, the second-lowest since it joined the AFC in 1970, and its offensive line was a problem all season.


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