Feb. 6, 2011: Packers survive injuries to beat Steelers in Super Bowl XLV

Green Bay holds on to win fourth Super Bowl title (Title 13 of 13)

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Editor's note:This story was originally published Feb. 7, 2011.

Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers (right) and Clay Matthews celebrate the Packers' victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

Arlington, Texas — If these Green Bay Packers aren't the most deserving champions of the Super Bowl era, they're not far from it.

At the moment of truth Sunday night in Super Bowl XLV, the Packers overcame the first-half departures of Charles Woodson and Donald Driver to vanquish the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25, at Cowboys Stadium.

"It's how our season has been since Day 1," linebacker Desmond Bishop said. "We don't blink. We know somehow, some way, somebody will make a play."

Everything that made the Packers the startling success story that they became was evident against the Steelers.

Aaron Rodgers, the most valuable player, was magnificent. Just when the Packers' chances were starting to become bleak deep in the second half, his powerful arm and remarkable accuracy kept the team afloat.

Despite five second-half drops, the Packers' wide receivers also made play after play against Pittsburgh's proud but overmatched secondary. Jordy Nelson had a career performance with nine catches for 140 yards.

And then there was the defense, a unit buffeted by injury after injury all season long and again in the finale when Woodson went out with a broken collarbone late in the second quarter and nickel back Sam Shields sat out significant stretches with a shoulder injury.

"We faced adversity again today," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Guys stepped up. It's a very proud moment right now. I just can't say enough about that football team."

Without Driver (ankle) and Woodson, the Packers were down eight of their 22 preferred starters. Tight end Jermichael Finley, tackle Mark Tauscher, running back Ryan Grant, inside linebacker Nick Barnett, outside linebacker Brad Jones and strong safety Morgan Burnett were among 15 players on injured reserve.

Packers cornerback Charles Woodson is able to lift the Lombardi Trophy despite a broken collarbone.

Dealing with injuries became a way of life. In the regular season, the Packers had 12 starters miss a total of 86 games and 31 players miss a total of 180 games.

The 2003 New England Patriots, who went 14-2 and beat Carolina in the 38th Super Bowl, had starters miss a total of 103 games. Coach Bill Belichick's squad probably ranks with the Packers as the most injured champion, at least in the last 25 years.

"That's the way it's been the whole year," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Nobody used them as an excuse. Guys went down, we put in guys and expected them to make plays."

The Packers claimed their 13th championship, most in the National Football League. With four Super Bowls, they now trail only Pittsburgh (six), Dallas (five) and San Francisco (five).

McCarthy relished the return of the Lombardi Trophy to Green Bay for the first time since the 1996 season.

"The people of our organization who have been there for years know the true meaning of what the Lombardi Trophy means, not only to Green Bay but the NFL," he said.

"No disrespect to the Steelers. We respect their football team. We respect the way they play. But we fully expected to win this game. It is our time."

The Packers joined the New York Giants of 2007 and the San Francisco 49ers of 1988 as the only Super Bowl champs with a 10-6 record in the regular season. That winning percentage of .625 was the lowest of Green Bay's previous 12 winners, below the mark of the 1967 club that finished .692 at 9-4-1.

Only one NFL champion, the Giants of 1934, had a worse winning percentage. Those Giants won it with a regular-season record of 8-5 (.615).

But therein lay the unexpected wonder of this team. Despite all the misfortune, they bonded together and developed an unshakable chemistry that carried them through must-wins over the Giants and Bears to gain a wild-card playoff berth and then a murderers' row of playoff road games against the Eagles, Falcons and Bears.

Only three teams in NFL history - the Patriots of 1985, the Steelers of 2005 and the Giants of 2007 - had won three road games in the post-season. The Packers, the first sixth-seeded team from the NFC to reach the Super Bowl, now is the fourth ultimate road warrior.

Green Bay never trailed against the Steelers (14-5), a familiar scenario during the season. The Packers never did trail by more than seven points, and their six losses were by a combined total of 20 points.

Although it wasn't mentioned in public, the Packers talked among themselves that they were close to being undefeated.

A crowd of 103,219 watched the spectacle. It was the first Super Bowl crowd of more than 100,000 in 24 years.

The Packers led, 21-3, in the second quarter, and 21-10 at halftime. During intermission, Woodson gave an impassioned speech as he fought through the pain of a broken collarbone that would prevent him from achieving his career goal on the field.

"He tried to give a pep talk and he broke down in tears," said defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. "He got so emotional it was unreal. It was from the heart."

Edgar Bennett, the starting halfback on the '96 champions who now coaches the position, compared Woodson's impact on this team to that of defensive end Reggie White 14 years ago.

"Just like Reggie White," said Bennett. "The leadership. He has the ability to reach guys."

Without Woodson, the Packers used Pat Lee at right cornerback in base and Jarrett Bush from the slot in nickel. Shields sat out the third quarter, returned early in the fourth quarter and then was back on the bench for the Steelers' last-ditch drive.

"A lot of our game plan went out the window," Capers said. "Our man stuff. We played zone and fire-zoned."

Without Driver, McCarthy had just four wide receivers and couldn't spread out the Steelers in his "Big Five" set. Driver's reliability was never more apparent in the second half when wide receivers dropped five passes, including a possible 75-yard touchdown by Jones early in the third quarter.

The Packers made just one first down on their first four possessions of the second half. Sensing the kill, the Steelers were sitting back in a seven-man box playing coverage and daring the Packers to run the ball, which they basically couldn't do.

As the fourth quarter dawned, Green Bay's lead was down to a precarious 21-17. The Steelers had second and 2 on the first play of the quarter when Ryan Pickett made what he called "the biggest play of his career."

Linebacker Clay Matthews made a verbal call just before the snap telling Pickett to slam inside right guard Ramon Foster. As he did so, Matthews flew off the edge.

When Pickett and Matthews collided with Rashard Mendendall deep in the backfield, the ball came loose and Bishop pounced on it for the third of the Packers' three takeaways.

"Big, big play in the game," said Capers. "The momentum was starting to swing their way."

Despite his reduced supporting cast, Rodgers found a way to convert the 55 yards in eight plays. He completed passes on a pair of third-and-long situations, then found Greg Jennings in the right corner for an 8-yard touchdown and 28-17 lead.

Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings hauls in a 21-yard touchdown pass in the first half. The Steelers’ Ryan Clark barely misses deflecting the hard pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers

The security of an 11-point lead was short-lived. Ben Roethlisberger brought the Steelers to within three, 28-25, with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace behind Shields and an option pitch to Antwaan Randle for a 2-point conversion.

"The NFL is a quarterback's league," Packers President Mark Murphy said. "The reason they were right there with us was Roethlisberger."

Seven minutes, 29 seconds remained when Rodgers brought the team to the line 75 yards from the end zone. This is the moment when a quarterback such as Rodgers, who had yet to win a playoff game when the season started, could move among the finest quarterbacks in the business.

Daryn Colledge false-started, setting up third and 10. Then Rodgers made perhaps his greatest throw on a night of many, zinging a 31-yard strike to Jennings on a vertical route with cornerback Ike Taylor in tight coverage.

James Starks cracked for 14. Two plays later, Rodgers fired an exquisite back-shoulder fade to Jones, who caught it for 21 with William Gay in coverage.

The drive bogged down when Rodgers' third-down pass in the corner skimmed off the fingertips of an extended Nelson. But Mason Crosby's 23-yard field goal forced the Steelers to play for the end zone.

This was the exact same situation in which Roethlisberger beat the Packers in December 2009, 37-36, and in which he beat Arizona, 27-23, in the 43rd Super Bowl.

Starting from the 13, Roethlisberger opened with a 15-yard check-down to tight end Heath Miller. At that point, Capers rushed five on every play, preferring to go down fighting if he was going to go down.

Shields didn't play the final series. Tramon Williams and Lee were outside, Bush was in the slot.

Bush blitzed off the slot on first down, a 5-yard completion to Hines Ward. On second down, A.J. Hawk came free inside and Roethlisberger had to throw the ball away.

His third-down pass was thrown under considerable pressure and sailed over the head of Wallace.

It was fourth and 5 at the 33. Just 56 seconds remained.

Roethlisberger chose Wallace, who ran a 12-yard curl against Williams, bodied up and squared back to the passer. But just as he has done so often this season, Williams played the man and the ball perfectly and broke the play up.

"Just a great play by Tramon," said Capers. "But he's done that all season."

So the Packers' improbable drive to the top was complete. A team that made the playoffs on the strength-of-victory tiebreaker over Tampa Bay and the Giants had risen to the football mountaintop.

After the victory celebration, the focus will turn to 2011 and the chances to repeat, something no team has done since the Patriots in 2003 and '04.

"You know, the next year the Super Bowl team has pretty much sucked," Bishop said. "But I just can't see us sucking."

They surely didn't in 2010.

Packers' championship titles

1. Dec. 8, 1929: The Green Bay Packers' first league title

2. Dec. 14, 1930: Tie clinches second straight championship

3. Nov. 29, 1931: Punter/halfback Verne Lewellen helps secure third title

4. Dec. 13, 1936: Green Bay's first championship decided by a post-season game

5. Dec. 10, 1939: Fifth title dubbed the Dairy Bowl

6. Dec. 17, 1944: The Packers' final championship under Curly Lambeau

7. Dec. 31, 1961: Vince Lombardi's first NFL title

8. Dec. 30, 1962Packers still champs as Ray Nitschke leads way

9. Jan. 2, 1966:1st of 3 straight Packers titles began with 'Mud Bowl'

10. Jan. 15, 1967: Packers beat Chiefs to win Super Bowl I

11. Jan. 14, 1968: Packers rout Raiders to repeat as Super Bowl champions

12. Jan. 26, 1997: Power and the Glory. Packers win Super Bowl XXXI.

13. Feb. 6, 2011: Packers survive injuries to beat Steelers in Super Bowl XLV

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