Taylor had Fitzgerald covered, until the end
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald pulls in a touchdown catch against Ike Taylor midway through the fourth quarter last night.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- In a football game that gave us a match for the shortest Super Bowl field goal, the longest play in Super Bowl history, and the stupidest mudslide of crippling penalties by two teams seemingly incapable of getting out of their own way, the most magnificent performance appeared as if it were being sculpted by Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor.
Running stride for stride, cut for cut, fake for impossible fake with Arizona playmaker Larry Fitzgerald, Taylor virtually paralyzed the pre-eminent wideout in the game and all but eliminated any chance that the Cardinals' dream-like postseason could include the Lombardi Trophy.
Fitzgerald, a former Pitt star who had 151 yards in the first half at Carolina as part of a record-breaking postseason, at intermission last night had 12.
On one catch.
After three quarters, he had the same 12.
He had one catch in the game's first 49:34.
The Steelers led, 20-7, and then Ike Taylor just couldn't do it anymore.
That line of demarcation turned a methodical-to-shaggy Super Bowl into an all-time classic.
Before it ended at 10:09 p.m., the Steelers and Cardinals slugged each other senseless in the game's final 10 minutes, with Santonio Holmes becoming every bit the hero that David Tyree and Plaxico Burress were last year. Every bit and a ton more.
Holmes caught a high-arching toss by Ben Roethlisberger in the right corner of the end zone, dragging his toes across 6 inches of end-zone grass into immortality.
The Steelers' unprecedented sixth Super Bowl victory looked a lot more like its second Super Bowl loss until Holmes' monumental grab with 35 seconds remaining. Two minutes and two seconds before that, Fitzgerald had just finished taking Taylor apart.
The last detail was his break inside of Taylor on a simple slant pattern from the Cardinals' 36. Fitzgerald caught it at the 43, broke Taylor's lunging tackle, and took it 64 yards down the middle to a touchdown that broke Jerry Rice's postseason record, his seventh of the postseason and his second of the game, the one that put Arizona ahead, 23-20.
"I thought if they were going to score, that's the way I wanted them to score, extremely quickly," said Mike Tomlin, the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. "Really, when Ike missed that tackle, I was over it by the time [Fitzgerald] got into the end zone. It left us enough time for a two-minute drill."
Fitzgerald's first touchdown came just five minutes before that, on a fade in the right corner to end a drive that started at the Arizona 10. When the drive started, Fitzgerald had one catch. When it ended, he had five and was on his way to seven that averaged 18.1 yards and a fourth consecutive 100-yard game in this postseason, another NFL record.
"They did a lot of things that were new for them and it was a good thing halftime was so long," Fitzgerald said. "We had 25 or 30 minutes in there, so we were able to dissect some things and figured out a way to attack it. They were walking Troy over on me on some plays and leaving Ike deep. In the second half, we had longer counts and started making them show their hand."
Even after Holmes made every big play on the drive that yanked the Steelers back into the lead -- a 14-yard catch to the 26, a 13-yarder on third-and-6 at the 26, a 40-yard catch and run to the 5, all before his incredible touchdown catch -- Fitzgerald wasn't finished.
With 24 seconds left after the ensuring kickoff, Warner still had two timeouts. Still had Fitzgerald one on one with the fast-fading Taylor, who had been one of the best players in Super Bowl XL and the best for the first 49 minutes of this one.
Fitzgerald beat Ike one final time, for 20 yards across the middle to the Cardinals' 43.
Warner used his second timeout. J.J. Arrington caught his next throw for 13 more yards to the Steelers' 44, where Warner used his final timeout with 15 seconds remaining. There was enough time to hook up with Fitzgerald one, two, even three more times on the sideline, but the Steelers played max coverage on the first-down play, with only LaMarr Woodley joining the defensive line to pressure the quarterback.
What followed was a textbook example of what analysts call the coverage sack. Warner dropped back, read every one of his progressions until he just couldn't read anymore. It's hard to read when Woodley arrives to swat at your throwing arm. Woodley knocked it free, and Aaron Smith plopped on it at midfield.
Six pack, anyone?
"I wouldn't want to have won this any other way," Tomlin said, "with everybody contributing. I'm just glad I could do my part to contribute to that trophy case."
First Published February 2, 2009 12:00 am