Inside the final drive

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
1:34
AM ET
 
  Fernando Medina/US Presswire
  Pittsburgh wide receiver Santonio Holmes' fourth-quarter touchdown grab was the game changer in the Steelers' 27-23 win.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

TAMPA, Fla. -- "62 Scat Flasher."

Remember that play. It will go down in Pittsburgh Steelers lore and Super Bowl history.

That was the final call that capped a historic drive for the go-ahead touchdown in Pittsburgh's 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. The result was receiver Santonio Holmes catching a 6-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the back of the end zone for the game winner.

  SB XLIII Can't-Miss Play: Santonio seals the deal
  NFL.com Video
  Santonio Holmes pulls in the winning score.

The eight-play, 78-yard drive was precision under pressure, something not often seen in professional sports -- especially on the NFL's grandest stage.

"No doubt it was the most fulfilling drive that I've ever been associated with as a coach," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.

The performance by the offense was enough to make receiver Hines Ward cry after the game.

"To be at an all-time high, then at an all-time low in less than three minutes is crazy,” said Ward in reference to the Steelers' blowing a 13-point lead. "To be a part of that is a special feeling."

Arians made a great decision to get the ball in the hands of Holmes, who finished with nine catches for 131 yards. Roethlisberger connected with Holmes four times for 73 yards during Pittsburgh's final drive alone.

Here are the key plays and how they unfolded:

  • On first-and-20 at Pittsburgh's 12-yard line, Roethlisberger threw to Holmes, who beat Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the right sideline for 14 yards at the 2:26 mark.
  • On third-and-6 at Pittsburgh's 26, Holmes caught a short pass and turned it into a 13-yard gain before being tackled by Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby.
  • On second-and-6 at Arizona's 46, Holmes turned another catch into a big gain -- this time 40 yards -- until he was stopped by backup Cardinals safety Aaron Francisco.
  • On second-and-goal from Arizona's 6, Roethlisberger sailed a high pass over three defenders. Holmes leaped to catch it and then tapped his toes in bounds in the right corner of the end zone for the winning touchdown.

 
  Matt Cashore/US Presswire
  At age 26, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has already won two Super Bowls.
Holmes was the third read on the game-winning play. Roethlisberger's first read on "62 Scat Flasher" was to the flat to running back Mewelde Moore, but that wasn't there. The second read was Ward, who also was covered, leaving Holmes to freelance and get open.

"All of a sudden I saw him go to the corner," Roethlisberger said. "I threw it and thought it was going to be picked. He made a heck of a catch."

How ironic is it that a team that relied on its No. 1 defense all season was rescued by its offense?

Pittsburgh's defense appeared to wear down in the fourth quarter. Arizona scored 16 unanswered points, the final touchdown coming when receiver Larry Fitzgerald streaked down the middle of the field for a 64-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner. The Steelers were on the verge of blowing their first ever double-digit lead in a postseason game.

It was yet another test of mettle for the team that had the toughest schedule in the league.

"If you look at our story on this football season, that has been our story," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We had to win the division in Baltimore under similar circumstances."

On the winning drive,

Big Ben Good at Start and End
Drives First 2 Middle 6 Winning
Comp-Att 8-9 8-14 5-7
Yards 122 50 84
TD-Int 0-0 0-1 1-0
Passer rating 118.8 34.8 151.2
Pitt. offense points 10 3 7
-- ESPN Stats & Information
Steelers players said there was calm in the huddle and an air of confidence from Roethlisberger, who told his team it was now or never. Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to four come-from-behind or go-ahead drives during the regular season.

"Coach always says don't blink, and we've taken that philosophy to heart,” tight end Heath Miller said. "No matter what happens to this team -- offense, defense or special teams -- nobody blinks.”

The Steelers are 142-1-1 all time when leading by at least 11 points. That can largely be attributed to the great defense played in Pittsburgh. But this time, the story, and history, will be Pittsburgh's offense in the Super Bowl thanks to the final two minutes.

It was a fitting end for a unit that was sometimes bashed this season.

"Every now and then, when the playoffs come around, we try to play,” Arians said with a smile.

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