NFL Nation: Super Bowl 43

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Team needs: Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, cornerback

 
  G Fiume/Getty Images
  The Steelers could use California center Alex Mack if he drops to them at the end of the first round.
Dream scenario: An ideal scenario for the Steelers would be for them to have a smorgasbord of quality offensive linemen available with the final pick in the first round (No. 32 overall). The NFL draft tends to have teams make a run at certain positions in spurts. But if linemen such as Cal center Alex Mack, Oregon center Max Unger or a quality tackle such as Michael Oher of Mississippi somehow make it through the first 31 picks, Pittsburgh would have a happy draft room. To the chagrin of some fans, the Steelers retained their entire O-line front five from their Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Depth is sorely needed on the offensive line as the Steelers let go of veteran linemen Kendall Simmons and Marvel Smith. There is very little competition behind the starters and that position always faces the prospect of injuries.

Plan B: If the dream scenario fails to materialize, Pittsburgh can simply take the best available player. The Steelers have done it many times, drafting players they don't need right away but who will later develop into solid players. Pittsburgh could use help on the defensive line, which is aging but still has quality starters such as Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton. Cornerback also is a position of need after the loss of starter Bryant McFadden to Arizona in free agency. Pittsburgh is confident in William Gay but needs additional corners behind him and the aging Deshea Townsend to serve as backups and play in obvious passing situations.

Scouts Inc.'s take: "If I were a betting man, I would say the Steelers are going to go with an interior offensive lineman. But it certainly wouldn't shock me if they went with a defensive lineman. If you look at their defensive line, they're all 30-plus. And it takes those guys with the 'five technique' time to learn. None of them ever do it in college. So it takes a couple years of grooming. If you look at how successful they've been, Brett Keisel was a seventh-round pick and Aaron Smith was a fourth, and they didn't come in the league right away and handle that job. It's time to get young blood in to learn from the guys, rotate in and take snaps here and there. Two years ago, when Aaron Smith went down, their season completely crumbled. So that position might be their No. 1 need. If they can find a legit D-end to teach, that would be ideal. But those guys don't grow on trees." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: General manager Kevin Colbert makes the final calls on Pittsburgh's 53-man roster and will do so during the draft on April 25-26. But there will be group input from head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff as well.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:

  • With his Super Bowl win secured, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley returned home to Saginaw, Mich., this week.

Morning take: It's always good to see players become heroes and role models in their hometowns.

Morning take: With the No. 5 overall pick, and not many picks after, it's important for the Browns to get this draft right. Rest assured, the Baltimore Ravens and Steelers will try to keep the gap as wide as possible.

Morning take: The Ravens say their goal is give a long-term deal to Suggs. He won't be happy until then.

Morning take: I'm not so sure the Bengals are convinced Benson is the sure-fire answer. It will probably come down to the price tag.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:

  • It turns out the Pittsburgh Steelers will keep their coaching staff intact for next year coming off a victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

Morning take: This is a rarity for a championship team and should not be overlooked in its quest to repeat.

Morning take: Browns head coach Eric Mangini continues to look to the college ranks to fill out his staff of assistants. Hagen does have some pro experience with a prior stint with the Browns.

  • The Cincinnati Bengals used the franchise tag on kicker Shayne Graham, opening the door for receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh to test free agency.

Morning take: Once other teams get in a high-stakes bidding war for "Housh," the Bengals will probably back off and let the former Pro Bowler play elsewhere next season. It should be a good opportunity for Houshmandzadeh to start anew.

Morning take: This is not shocking considering McAlister was due $8 million next season. Baltimore needs salary cap room to make a serious run at in-house free agents such as linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.

Hot Button: AFC North

February, 12, 2009
2/12/09
12:26
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The top issues facing each team in the division:

Baltimore Ravens

 
  James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
  Ray Lewis is one of many high-end free agents the Ravens could have testing the market this month.
Primary issue: Baltimore has arguably the most high-profile list of in-house free agents in the NFL this offseason. Therefore, the biggest issue for the Ravens is keeping their own players.

Center Jason Brown and linebackers Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs lead an impressive group set to hit the open market at the end of the month. Other key players include safety Jim Leonhard, punter Sam Koch and restricted free-agent safety Dawan Landry.

It will cost the Ravens too much money to keep all of these players, so expect some to get paid elsewhere.

Solution: The Ravens are expected to offer significant contracts to Lewis and Suggs. That's a good place to start. From there the team could allow everyone else to test the market to determine their value.

Secondary concern: After retaining their own free agents, the Ravens' next concern is getting better at receiver and cornerback. The team lacks depth at both positions.

Baltimore is expected to release former Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister to save $8 million off its salary cap for next season, hurting its depth. There also isn't much talent behind Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason at receiver.

Solution: The Ravens can use their first-round pick to improve one of these two positions, while addressing the other later in the draft or via free agency.


Cincinnati Bengals

 
  Nelson Chenault/US Presswire
  Carson Palmer's recovery from elbow problems is a primary concern for the Bengals.
Primary issue: The Bengals are stuck in between the past and future and need to focus on rebuilding before making another playoff run.

For instance, players such as receivers Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh represent a core that made the playoffs three years ago. Both are over 30 and probably will be better fits on other teams at this point. Houshmandzadeh is an unrestricted free agent and Ocho Cinco could be trade bait for a contending team. From there, the team can start the rebuilding process.

Quarterback Carson Palmer also needs to come back healthy next season from elbow trouble. He will remain the cornerstone of the franchise, but Cincinnati needs to begin putting younger and better pieces around him before it's too late.

Solution: Make changes and get Palmer healthy. The Bengals can win four games next year without Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh. It's time to build a new core while Palmer still has good years left in him.

Hot Button Archive
Kuharsky: AFC South
Yasinskas: NFC South
Seifert: NFC North
Walker: AFC North
Sando: NFC West
Williamson: AFC West
Graham: AFC East
Mosley: NFC East

Secondary concern: Although this also could be listed as a primary concern, it is very important that the Bengals nail the draft this year.

Cincinnati's scouting staff is one of the smallest in the NFL and it has been reflected in its draft record over the years. Head coach Marvin Lewis has never had an A-list draft in his six seasons in the Queen City. It's hard to compete in the AFC North when teams like the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are consistently hitting on their picks.

Solution: There is no easy answer to drafting well other than to improve the scouting. Perhaps helping the Bengals this year is the fact their coaching staff ran the Senior Bowl, giving the team more insight into this year's class.


Cleveland Browns

 
  AP Photo/Mark Duncan
  Eric Mangini has to evaluate the Browns roster quickly to prepare for next season.
Primary issue: With a new coach in Eric Mangini and new general manager in George Kokinis taking over last month, the Browns are in full evaluation mode of their roster. Mangini and Kokinis have to decide which players are worth keeping and can fit into their system. Among the many questions is whether the unproven Brady Quinn should remain the team's starting quarterback? Or should there be an open competition between Quinn and former Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson? The Browns could also look to trade Anderson.

There also are other talented players such as receiver Braylon Edwards, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. and running back Jamal Lewis that the new regime needs to make decisions on.

Solution: If the Browns decide to rebuild, trading many of these veterans for draft picks might be the most attractive option for Mangini and Kokinis. New regimes rarely keep all the same players who got the previous regime fired.

Secondary concern: Cleveland's inability to bring in Kokinis much earlier puts the team behind in terms of draft plans.

Much of the college scouting knowledge for the Browns rested with former general manager Phil Savage and his staff. But most of those people are gone.

Kokinis' background is with pro personnel, so even the GM will have to be a quick study over the next two-plus months. Mangini also will have a lot of say in getting the type of player he wants.

Solution: Cleveland can do nothing else besides work extra hard during the combine and interview process to make up for lost time. As a result, the Browns might have to accept the hits and misses in their first year.


Pittsburgh Steelers

 
  James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
  Ben Roethlisberger has taken many hard hits over the past few seasons, forcing Pittsburgh to re-examine their offensive line.
Primary issue: Coming off a 12-4 regular season and its sixth Super Bowl, Pittsburgh doesn't have many holes. But its biggest glaring weakness remains the offensive line.

This is a great time to address the much-maligned unit because the Steelers will have four key pending free agents on the line. Among them are starting guard Chris Kemoeatu, starting tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon, and former starting tackle Marvel Smith, who played in only five games because of a back injury. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has taken a pounding the past several seasons, as evidenced by his recent admission of playing the Super Bowl with fractured ribs. The Steelers have put off acquiring linemen for too long and now is the time to address that need.

Solution: Pittsburgh will not allow all of its in-house free-agent linemen to leave. But it will say goodbye to some and upgrade the rest of the positions via the draft and free agency.

Secondary concern: The free-agent class of 2010 could be brutal for the Steelers. So expect them to take a hard look at several key players a year early.

Veterans like tight end Heath Miller, receiver Hines Ward, safety Ryan Clark and defensive player of the year James Harrison all have expiring deals at the end of next season. The Steelers usually allow their players to fulfill their contracts before re-negotiating, but they will probably make a few exceptions this offseason.

Solution: Of the bunch, Harrison is the only surefire player to get a raise and early extension. He is grossly underpaid for his level of production. Everyone else might have to wait until next year.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

  Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger's admission to Sports Illustrated that he played with fractured ribs in Super Bowl XLIII should tell the Pittsburgh Steelers one thing: He needs more protection this offseason.

Add broken ribs to the list of injuries Roethlisberger suffered throughout the 2008 title run, including a sprained shoulder, injured thumb, concussion and hand injury. That's five ailments for a $102-million quarterback in one season. He cannot take that kind of beating again if Pittsburgh wants Roethlisberger to last the duration of his eight-year deal.

Sure, Roethlisberger has a penchant for holding the football too long in an effort to make big plays. His backyard style is what makes him unique yet also leads to a lot of hits.

  Ultimate Audio: Super Bowl XLIII
  NFL.com Video
  Take in the game like never before. For a surround-sound experience, headphones are key.

But that's even more of a reason to bolster and put money into Pittsburgh's front five. It will be up to the team -- either through the draft or free agency -- to find offensive linemen good enough and mobile enough to fit Roethlisberger's style.

This is a good time for Pittsburgh to do a major overhaul. Four offensive linemen, including tackles Max Starks and Marvel Smith, will become unrestricted free agents. A fifth lineman in tackle/guard Willie Colon will be a restricted free agent.

The Steelers are not a free-spending organization. But if they spend significant money on anything this offseason, it should be on remaking the offensive line.

Roethlisberger, and his fractured ribs, will be thankful.

UPDATE [5:10 p.m.]: The Steelers are saying they had no knowledge of the rib injury to Roethlisberger.

"There's not a whole lot to say," Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett said Monday. "Ben was fine to go. He was cleared to play. He didn't miss any [practice] time. There was no doubt he was going to play." 

Can 'Sixburgh' get No. 7?

February, 4, 2009
2/04/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Mike Tomlin already is working to establish the mindset for the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers.

 
  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  Don't expect to hear Mike Tomlin talk about a Super Bowl repeat.

According to the freshly minted Super Bowl winning coach, you will not hear the terms "repeat" or "two-peat" from Tomlin next season.

"Our focus [next year] will be about being the one at the end of the season, and that we're no different than anyone else in that regard," Tomlin said. "I think repeating and defending Super Bowl champions in today's NFL is somewhat of a misnomer."

Teams can change dramatically. Coaching staffs are altered. And players move around the league in high volumes. The players that do stay have roles that increase and decrease annually.

This is part of the message Tomlin will covey to his team next year as the Steelers prepare to chase an NFL-best seventh Super Bowl championship.

Even for the league's most successful franchise, Pittsburgh has a major uphill climb against history. Only seven teams have repeated as Super Bowl champs since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. The New England Patriots (2003, 2004) were the only team to do it in the last decade.

"Although it will be a very difficult task, the Steelers have a great shot to challenge for the Super Bowl," said Keith Kidd of Scouts Inc. "[They have] a great head coach in Mike Tomlin, a franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and a defense that will return its core group of veteran players under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. ...Simply put, this is an organization that knows how to win."

(Read full post)

Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes talks about game-winning touchdown catch.

Holmes gets his hardware

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
12:51
PM ET
 
  US Presswire
  Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes can't wait to get back to Pittsburgh to celebrate.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

TAMPA, Fla. -- The only thing brighter than the Super Bowl MVP trophy Monday was the smile on Santonio Holmes' face.

In the presence of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Holmes got his hands on the hardware for good during a presentation in downtown Tampa. It came less than 12 hours after the performance of Holmes' career in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-23 Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Everyone knows the statistics: nine catches, 131 yards and a memorable touchdown catch with 35 seconds left in the game.

But not everyone understands the struggle for Holmes to get to the top of the football world. He's survived a troubled upbringing and an up-and-down season.

Three years out of Ohio State, Holmes caught 55 passes for 821 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season. But he struggled to make routine plays and fell just short of his stated goal of recording a 1,000-yard season.

And in the Super Bowl week buildup, Holmes endured added scrutiny when he admitted he sold drugs as a teenager growing up in Florida.

Sunday on the game's biggest stage, he delivered a career-defining performance.

All of those elements were in play as Holmes reflected on his showing. He wanted to share his triumph with as many people as possible and as soon as possible.

"I'm really excited about getting to Pittsburgh for the parade," Holmes said. "We can definitely enjoy it all together."

  SB XLIII Can't-Miss Play: Santonio seals the deal
  NFL.com Video
  Santonio Holmes keeps his feet in bounds and hauls in the game-winner in SB XLIII.
The events of the game and performance by Holmes left Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin humbled. Tomlin, 36, became the youngest coach in NFL history ever to coach and win a Super Bowl but kept the focus on the game's MVP.

"To see guys like Santonio deliver for football teams and see him placed with legendary people and people we look up to, it was just a very blessed evening," Tomlin said. "I'm excited about being a part of it. It's surreal in a way."

Holmes is definitely living the dream. He now will be mentioned in Super Bowl history with former MVPs such as Joe Montana, John Elway, Jerry Rice and many other greats who took their games to another level on the biggest stage.

Teammate and mentor Hines Ward went through the same process three years ago after winning a Super Bowl and MVP award, and offered advice to Holmes of how to handle the increase in fame and celebrity.

"He told me to just stay humble," Holmes said. "Things are going to come for me. Just be ready to represent my family, this team and this whole organization."

Holmes was part of the final drive that lasted eight plays and traveled 78 yards. He accounted for 73 of those yards on four receptions.

With Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the helm and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians calling plays, it was a near-perfect drive done with amazing precision.

"It was the Steelers' night," Goodell said. "It was a performance for the ages. It was something I think we will all remember, a back-and-forth game with some great team performances and great individual performances."

Holmes didn't spend Sunday night partying. He was with his family, watching the animated movie "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" with his children.

As he left the podium Monday, he asked those nearby if it was OK to take the trophy with him. Somewhat surprised, they nodded and said it was his to keep.

Even after the fact, Holmes was still in disbelief with the way everything transpired for him this week.

Super Bowl XLIII MVP and Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes tells us what he said to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before the final drive. Plus, he breaks down the last two plays on the winning drive and explains how good it felt to win it all.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting Super Bowl links for the Pittsburgh Steelers:

  • Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the Steelers' 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals was the best Super Bowl ever.

Morning take: Ever? Hmm. It's always tough to rank these games immediately after the fact. But it was definitely a memorable Super Bowl.

Morning take: This may be a stretch. Taylor received a lot of help from safety Troy Polamalu. At times when the help wasn't there, Fitzgerald exploded.

Morning take: It was a near-perfect drive at the perfect time. The precision and focus during this time of immense pressure was most impressive.

Morning take: King had tremendous access throughout the week, and shows it in this story. This is a great read.

Podcast: Football Today

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
10:21
AM ET
Jeremy Green recaps the Steelers' win in Super Bowl XLIII with Matt Williamson. Plus, postgame reaction from the game's top performers.

ESPN's Ed Werder talks to an emotional Hines Ward following the Steelers' victory over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.

Also see:

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.

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Kurt Warner threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns, but had one costly interception returned for a 100-yard touchdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

TAMPA, Fla. -- Kurt Warner might forever replay in his mind the killer interception James Harrison returned for a 100-yard touchdown to end the first half of Super Bowl XLIII.

Warner needed referee Terry McAulay to review the final play of the game, but it never happened.

NFL history will never know what might have happened next.

Warner deserved a chance to find out.

A replay reversal would have given Warner and the Arizona Cardinals one last chance to complete a jump ball pass to Larry Fitzgerald, the king of jump ball receivers, from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 29-yard line.

For Warner, a second Super Bowl title and spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame might have been at stake.

Whether or not you thought Warner fumbled or threw incomplete on the Cardinals' final play, this epic finish merited a second look.

"I was really surprised on that one because I thought definitely I was moving my arm forward to throw the ball," Warner said. "I thought I had almost gotten the ball off. Yeah, it does surprise you that in that type of situation, five seconds to go to decide the Super Bowl, you would think there would be a review."

  SB XLIII Can't-Miss Play: Harrison in a hurry
  NFL.com Video
  James Harrison intercepts a Kurt Warner pass and returns it 100 yards for the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt had already had two plays reversed by McAulay earlier in the game when the Steelers' LaMarr Woodley hit Warner in the final seconds. The ball came out, but how?

"I would have liked to have seen it replayed because it looked like it to me that Kurt was throwing the ball," Whisenhunt said.

The pass Harrison returned for a touchdown was the difference between a possible 14-10 lead and a 17-7 deficit, but it wasn't necessarily the difference in the game.

Warner made sure of it.

Not many quarterbacks could have willed their teams into a 23-20 lead against the NFL's top-ranked defense after trailing by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter.

Warner did it, and he did it his way -- spreading the field with four receivers and fighting through punishment that no 37-year-old quarterback should have overcome.

"I am so proud to be a part of this football team," Warner said. "I think that is one of the reasons why it doesn't hurt as bad as it could.

"These guys have exceeded expectations. I am proud. We gave ourselves a chance to win a world championship, but that other team went out and won it. I give them a whole bunch of credit, but I am glad to be on this sideline with this Cardinals team and organization."

Warner wasn't the only one at fault on the second-quarter interception. Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley said the Cardinals should have been wider in their formation. The spacing problem left Harrison in better position to settle into the route as part of the Steelers' zone-blitz scheme.

Warner by Quarter

First 3 qtrs. Fourth
Comp-Att 17-24 14-19
Yards 153 224
TD-Int 1-1 2-0
Passer rating 84.2 147.7

"We should have been a little bit more spread on that," Whisenhunt said. "We just weren't far enough outside and James Harrison stepped in front of it and made a good play."

Down but not out, Whisenhunt and Haley put the extended halftime period to good use.

They found ways to get Fitzgerald involved in the second half after the Steelers shut him down through two quarters.

"We made some adjustments and we weren't perfect in the second half, but we got [Fitzgerald] in positions where he could make plays," Haley said. "That is the name of the game and we knew we had to have him making plays to have a chance to win."

Arizona arguably should have stuck with more of its two-tight end offense, particularly after Edgerrin James gained 7 and 3 yards from it on consecutive carries in the third quarter.

 
  Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
  Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner was 31-for-42 for 377 yards and three touchdowns in a Super Bowl loss to the Steelers.

But Haley thought the Cardinals were having trouble running the ball even against the Steelers' nickel defense. He also thought Arizona missed first-half opportunities to exploit the Steelers' strategy against Fitzgerald. The outlet passes he ordered to the running backs worked at times, but James dropped one pass and Warner missed a throw to Fitzgerald that Haley thought might have produced a touchdown.

Warner instantly found a rhythm in the fourth quarter when the Cardinals added a fourth receiver at the expense of the tight end. He completed consecutive passes for 13, 18, 6, 22, 18, 5, 4 and 1 yard during the 87-yard touchdown drive that turned a Steelers laugher into a six-point game, 20-14, with 7:33 remaining.

And when the Cardinals' special teams and defense produced a safety, Warner needed only two plays to produce another touchdown. His 64-yard strike to Fitzgerald with 2:37 remaining put Arizona ahead, 23-20.

Warner couldn't help what happened next. That's why the outcome shouldn't undermine his Hall of Fame credentials. If anyone enhanced his legacy in defeat, it was Warner, who now owns the three most prolific passing performances in Super Bowl history.

"You've got it in your grasp, and that is what Kurt said to me," Haley said. "Two minutes. You are two minutes from what you do all this for. You are two minutes from being world champions and it's as bad a feeling ... "

And yet Warner sounded remarkably at peace during his postgame interview session. There wasn't anything more he could have done, and everyone knew it.

"I have to give credit to the Steelers and their tremendous drive at the end," Warner said. "That is what championship teams are all about. We made the plays to put ourselves ahead and they turned around and came back and did the same to win the game.

"That is what a championship game should be about. I tip my hat to them for playing the way they did."

Even if Warner would have liked one more play.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- Santonio Holmes got the automatic invitation and Ben Roethlisberger got an at-large bid.

The Pittsburgh wide receiver and quarterback will be part of a parade at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom late Monday morning, a Disney spokesperson said.

Holmes will continue the tradition of Super Bowl Most Valuable Players going to Disney World or Disneyland right after the game. But he'll have company. The Disney spokesman said an invitation also was extended to Roethlisberger and the quarterback accepted.

The exact time of the parade is subject to when Roethlisberger and Holmes arrive after the 90-minute drive from Tampa to the Orlando area. But the spokesman said the parade will start sometime around 11 a.m.

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