Super Bowl XLV: Steelers' three turnovers led to 21 Packers points

February 6, 2011

ARLINGTON, TEX. - Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was brought to Green Bay to make over a stagnant defense, move some parts, overhaul a philosophy. It didn't take long. After just two years, he's helped bring a championship to the small Wisconsin community whose passionate citizens own the team and another shiny Lombardi trophy to go with it.

"All the credit goes to those players who were out there," said Capers, the architect of the Packers' successful 3-4 defensive scheme. "They got it done when they had to get it done."

Despite missing key players due to injury, Green Bay's defense turned in a trio of game-changing plays that helped lift the Packers over the Steelers, 31-25, in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.

The Packers turned three Pittsburgh turnovers into three Green Bay touchdowns. It was a formula with which the Packers were plenty familiar. Green Bay returned three interceptions for touchdowns in the postseason alone. In the regular season, the Packers scored 15 touchdowns off turnovers, more than every NFL team except the New England Patriots.

The Packers were 5-0 when they forced at least three turnovers in the regular season, and accomplishing that proved essential in Sunday's championship.

"That was the difference," said Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. "They were able to make plays on defense. We didn't."

The first turnover came late in the first quarter, as Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were trying to bounce back after watching the Packers get on the scoreboard first. On the drive's first play, Roethlisberger dropped back to pass. His pump fake gave nose tackle Howard Green just enough time to push past guard Chris Kemoeatu and get a piece of the quarterback's arm.

The ball floated in the air and landed in the hands of Green Bay safety Nick Collins, who returned it 37 yards, weaving his way downfield before diving into the end zone.

"I was able to read Big Ben and got a nice jump on the ball," Collins said. "I made a couple of cuts to get into the end zone."

The Steelers suddenly trailed by 14, and though they later closed that gap considerably, Collins's touchdown was certainly a bad omen: Teams that had returned interceptions for touchdowns in the Super Bowl were a perfect 10-0 entering Sunday's game.

Green Bay had relied on big defensive plays all season. They finished the year with 32 takeaways, better than all but five other NFL teams. Their 24 interceptions were the second-most in the league, behind only the Patriots (25).

On Sunday, one interception wasn't enough. In the second quarter, the Steelers were near midfield and faced second and 11. Roethlisberger aimed for wide receiver Mike Wallace but instead found Packers defensive back Jarrett Bush. The Packers needed just four plays before Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings with a 21-yard touchdown pass.

Injuries took their toll on the Green Bay defense. Star cornerback Charles Woodson, a seven-time Pro Bowler, broke his collarbone in the first half and was unable to return. Cornerback Sam Shields missed much of the game with a shoulder injury, and Collins required an IV to re-hydrate.

The Packers went from man-to-man defense to zone coverage because "a big part of our game plan went out the window," Capers said.

"We probably had to adapt as much in the second half as we have in quite awhile. . . . Fortunately, we had a little bit longer time at half to go through and make some of those adjustments," said Capers.

By the time the fourth quarter came around, the Steelers had grabbed hold of the momentum and turned the Packers' 18-point lead into a tight 21-17 game.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Steelers faced second and two from the Packers' 33. If the Steelers had finished the drive, they could have wrested the lead from Green Bay, marking an unlikely comeback. Instead, they fumbled the opportunity away.

Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall had 347 touches in the regular season and only fumbled twice. Usually as sure-handed as anyone on the field, Mendenhall charged up the middle, where he was met head-on three yards behind the line of scrimmage by the Packers' Clay Matthews. Green Bay's powerful second-year linebacker rocked Mendenhall, jarring the ball loose in the process.

"It just happened," Mendenhall said, "and it should not have happened."

Linebacker Desmond Bishop recovered the ball and the Packers took over possession on their 45-yard line.

"We have been playing team defense all season," Matthews said, "and this was just another case of that tonight. I am so proud of our defense."

Injecting life back in a listless Green Bay offense, Rodgers moved his team downfield, eventually connecting with Jennings for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 28-17 lead, which proved to be all they'd need to send a fourth Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay.

"We're going back to Titletown, baby," Collins said. "This is big. It's coming back home."

Rick Maese is a sports features writer for The Washington Post.
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