By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 12:34 AM
ARLINGTON, TEX. - The Green Bay Packers recaptured their glorious past and returned to the top of the football world here Sunday evening. They sprinted to a first-half lead, withstood a comeback bid by the Pittsburgh Steelers and held on to win, 31-25, in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, two of them to wide receiver Greg Jennings, as the Packers captured their fourth Super Bowl title and 13th NFL championship including the pre-Super Bowl era. They handed the Steelers only their second Super Bowl defeat in eight appearances.
"It was a special night tonight," said Rodgers, who completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards and was named the game's most valuable player. "We've been through a lot this year. To be able to finish it like this was really something special."
Rodgers threw first-half touchdown passes to wide receiver Jordy Nelson and Jennings as the Packers crafted a 21-3 advantage. Safety Nick Collins added a touchdown on an interception return. The Steelers got to 21-17 on a touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to wide receiver Hines Ward in the final minute of the first half and a third-quarter touchdown run by tailback Rashard Mendenhall.
The Packers briefly got some fourth-quarter breathing room on Jennings's second touchdown catch, but Roethlisberger's 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace and a two-point conversion run by wideout Antwaan Randle El on an option play got the Steelers to 28-25 with about 7 1/2 minutes to play.
A 23-yard field goal by place kicker Mason Crosby with 2 minutes 7 seconds left upped Green Bay's lead to six points. The Steelers' final attempt for a record-setting comeback ended on Roethlisberger's fourth-down incompletion with 49 seconds to go.
"It's very disappointing," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "We didn't play as well as we should have - way too many mistakes. When you're playing in the Super Bowl, you're playing against a good team and you can't make that many mistakes. They created three turnovers with their defense and we didn't create any."
The Steelers couldn't overcome their three turnovers, two first-half interceptions thrown by Roethlisberger and a fourth-quarter fumble lost by Mendenhall.
The game was played before 91,060 paid customers, including those standing outside on a plaza. The NFL announced that, including those with credentials, there were 103,219 on hand to watch, just shy of the Super Bowl attendance record.
The Steelers were playing in the Super Bowl for the third time in the past six years. The Packers were back on the sport's biggest stage for the first time since losing to the Denver Broncos on Jan. 25, 1998, in the second of consecutive Super Bowl appearances under former coach Mike Holmgren and then-quarterback Brett Favre. To get here, the sixth-seeded Packers beat the top three seeds in the NFC playoffs, all on the road.
Packers Coach Mike McCarthy had his players fitted for their prospective Super Bowl rings Saturday night as a motivational ploy.
"No disrespect to the Steelers [but] we fully expected to win this game," McCarthy said. "This was our time. That was the last thing I told them when we broke the team meeting: 'This is our time. It's time to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay.' "
The storied histories of the two franchises were overshadowed a bit during a Super Bowl buildup in which the main story line perhaps became the icy, snowy weather in the Dallas area that inconvenienced travelers and left some business owners grumbling about their bad luck. So the sport's leaders crossed their fingers and hoped for a compelling game to go with the big crowd and the expected record television viewership.
The Packers moved in front in the first quarter when Nelson, who finished the game with nine catches for 140 yards, outmaneuvered cornerback William Gay to catch Rodgers's well-placed lob for a 29-yard touchdown on a third-and-one play.
Collins's touchdown made it 14-0 soon thereafter. The Steelers had to start deep in their own territory after being penalized for an illegal block on their kickoff return. Packers nose tackle Howard Green hit Roethlisberger's right shoulder and arm as Roethlisberger delivered a pass intended for Wallace. Roethlisberger's pass fell into the hands of Collins, who made the interception, weaved his way through Pittsburgh's offensive players and leaped into the end zone to complete his 37-yard return.
"There are a lot of throws I'd like back," Roethlisberger said.
Things seemed to get worse for the Steelers late in the first quarter when Roethlisberger slipped on the turf on a throw and appeared to hurt his left knee. He was limping thereafter. But he scrambled for an 18-yard gain on the next play. The Steelers finished that drive with a 33-yard field goal by place kicker Shaun Suisham.
But Roethlisberger threw a pass over the middle into double coverage on the Steelers' next possession, and Green Bay's Jarrett Bush emerged with the ball for an interception. The Packers cashed in with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Jennings. Three Steelers defenders were in the vicinity but Rodgers threaded his pass between them.
The Steelers didn't wilt, however. Roethlisberger's eight-yard touchdown pass to Ward, just after Packers cornerback Charles Woodson exited the game with a broken collarbone, got them to 21-10 just 39 seconds before halftime, and Mendenhall's eight-yard touchdown run in the third quarter made it a 21-17 game.
But Suisham sent a 52-yard field goal attempt wide left later in the quarter and Mendenhall lost a fumble, on a hit by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, on the opening play of the fourth quarter. That led to another Rodgers-to-Jennings touchdown, this one covering eight yards.