lunes, 7 de febrero de 2011

Packers Put the Title Back in Titletown

  ARLINGTON, Tex. — When the Green Bay Packers watched Aaron Rodgers sit in the green room as he plummeted down the first round of the 2005 draft, they noted his poise at dealing with his agonizing plight.  the Packers had already done extra research on Rodgers when they heard the predraft buzz that he might drop, and those long moments under the klieg nights only reassured them that he might be able to handle what was to come.

Rodgers’s equanimity was tested later in his career, when Brett Favre did not go gracefully into retirement, casting Rodgers in the awkward role of a franchise quarterback in waiting, unwanted by some of his own team’s fans.

Rodgers’s talent has long since soothed most of the Favre loyalists, and his performance this season, as the Packers’ roster was decimated by injuries, made him one of the N.F.L.’s brightest young stars. But it will be his levelheadedness in the Super Bowl on Sunday night, when he rebounded from errant throws, dropped passes and a torrid comeback attempt by the Pittsburgh Steelers, that will solidify his spot in the lore of one of the league’s most storied franchises.

With fans wearing cheeseheads in a pigskin palace, the Green Bay Packers won their fourth Super Bowl by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25, at Cowboys Stadium. It was the first title for Titletown since the 1996 season, when Favre won his lone Vince Lombardi Trophy, named for the Packers’ legendary coach. The Packers, the league’s only community-owned franchise, also won nine N.F.L. championships before the Super Bowl era, and their 13 titles make them the most decorated team in league history.

As the final seconds ticked away, Rodgers stood over the N.F.L. logo at midfield and jumped up and down. He had completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns, and was named the most valuable player of the game, completing a career arc notable nearly as much for his maturity as for his passing.

“I’ve never felt like there’s been a monkey on my back,” Rodgers said. Then he recalled a conversation he had with General Manager Ted Thompson, who had been excoriated for the ugly divorce with Favre. “I told Ted back in 2005 he wouldn’t be sorry with this pick,” Rodgers said. “I told him in ’08 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity.”

Still, Rodgers bemoaned the throws he missed Sunday. The Packers never trailed, but the victory felt far from dominating because the Steelers roared back from a 21-3 first-half deficit and had the ball trailing by just 6 points at the two-minute warning. That was when the Packers’ defense, the backbone of a season in which none of the team’s six losses came by more than 4 points, finally held off the Steelers. Green Bay sent Pittsburgh away without its seventh Super Bowl title in a game that had turned the reputations of two grind-it-out teams on their heads. The teams combined for 79 pass attempts, 36 runs and 725 yards of offense.

The Packers were intent on testing the weakness of the Steelers’ defense — the cornerbacks — from the start, spreading the field with the game’s best set of receivers. Rodgers, whose scintillating performances during the playoffs had solidified his position among the game’s best passers, threw on every first down except two in the first half, while the Packers ran for just 37 yards.

Rodgers’s first few passes were high, perhaps a sign of nerves, but he settled down on the Packers’ second drive. On third-and-1 from the Steelers’ 29, he checked into a pass play, spotting Jordy Nelson with one-on-one coverage on the outside, and lofted a perfect pass to Nelson’s outside shoulder. The touchdown gave the Packers a 7-0 lead and a good omen: they have scored first in all five of their Super Bowl appearances.

Then the Packers got their first break. On the next play from scrimmage, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with a defender’s hand in his face, threw a pass that floated so long in the air that the Packers’ Nick Collins, reacting to Roethlisberger’s pump fake to the left side of the field, ran to the sideline. He leaped up to intercept the pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown.

That gave the Packers a 14-0 lead. And it was the first of three touchdowns that came off Steelers turnovers, two of them interceptions. Roethlisberger entered the game 10-2 in playoff starts, but after a season in which he had carefully tried to rebuild his image after a sexual-assault allegation, this was a crushing loss.

Roethlisberger (25 of 40 for 263 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) spoke softly after the game about how he felt he had let the city of Pittsburgh down.

“We’re a team of fighters; we don’t quit,” he said. “If I had played a little bit better, I feel like we would have had a better chance to win the game.”