Sam Donnellon: Holmes, Steelers give Cardinals a taste of their own medicine

Santonio Holmes pulls down game-winning touchdown pass with 35 seconds left, managing to get both feet down in bounds.
Santonio Holmes pulls down game-winning touchdown pass with 35 seconds left, managing to get both feet down in bounds.
Posted: February 02, 2009

TAMPA - This is how it feels, Arizona. This is what happens when your improbable, exhausting comeback is completed with too much time left on the clock, when you allow those you have done unto to do unto you.

This is how it feels, Arizona, when the other guys have an out-of-this-world receiver as talented as your out-of-this-world receiver. This is how it feels when a team you had put a sleeper hold on for most of the second half suddenly remembers how it played to get to this point.

Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23. Tell me Super Bowl XLIII didn't look familiar, people, didn't feel familiar, didn't give you a little unwanted deja vu from that NFC Championship Game the Eagles had won, then lost in Glendale 2 weeks ago.

Tell me, as much as you might not have wanted to see your AFC Pennsylvania neighbors hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy, you didn't get a certain amount of satisfaction watching Larry Fitzgerald utter, "Oh, no," as Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes reached high and wide for Ben Roethlisberger's 6-yard end-zone prayer with 35 seconds left, stretched like an action figure - like Larry Fitzgerald,

really - and pulled down his ninth catch of the game, and his most important one.

"My feet never left the ground," Holmes said. "All I did was extend my arms and use my toes as an extra extension to catch up to the ball."

So much has been written about Fitzgerald over the last month, and deservedly so. But Holmes had been almost as good, almost as important in getting the Steelers to this point as Fitzgerald has been to his team.

"Santonio is a guy who just loves to deliver in big games," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was saying in the glow of the winning celebration. "What he's done for us tonight is what he's done for us in the postseason, what he did for us against Baltimore.

"In big moments, we know what we can get from him."

Yeah, OK. Then how come an easier pass, thrown on the previous play, sailed right through his hands? The truth is, Holmes got the second chance that players so often do not get, especially in this game, the biggest game. This game is usually about haunting mistakes and unrecoverable errors, and to be sure, the 43rd Super Bowl was a sloppy, penalty-filled affair full of the former.

But it was also full of redemption, of second chances and last gasps - sometimes within a few plays of each other. Arizona tight end Ben Patrick pulled down a tough pass for a touchdown just a few plays after pushing his team back with a holding penalty. Warner, after that interception was returned by James Harrison a record 100 yards for a touchdown just before the half, engineered what would have been the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in Super Bowl history - if only that 2:37 wasn't left on the clock.

After three quarters, Fitzgerald, Arizona's most unhumanly amazing ultimate weapon - had one catch. For 12 yards. The NFL's No. 1 defense had eliminated this postseason's No. 1 threat.

So how did Fitzgerald end up with seven catches and 127 yards and two touchdowns? How did Warner, who had 153 yards passing entering that final quarter, end up with 377? How was it that Fitzgerald was poised to be this game's Most Valuable Player when he unbelievably raced up the gut of that vaunted Pittsburgh defense for a 64-yard touchdown with 2 minutes and 37 seconds left to play?

"We put Larry more on the intermediate routes in the middle of the field because they were trying to push everything to the sideline," Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "Once we had an in-breaker, then that was a problem for them."

A fatal one, it seemed. But as the Steelers said over and over again as they were interviewed afterward, the game lasts 60 minutes for a reason.

"I was actually glad he scored so quickly," Tomlin said of Fitzgerald's go-ahead romp. "Because it gave our guys time."

Two minutes, 37 seconds to be exact, to go 78 yards. First came a big third-and-6 pass to Holmes after the 2-minute warning. Then a sideline pass that Holmes caught, busted through two tackles, and raced 40 yards to the Cardinals' 6 with 49 seconds left.

And then, the pass, on that last piece of end-zone real estate, just beyond the reach of three Cardinals defenders. Just enough for Santonio Holmes to do unto Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals what they had done to your Eagles.

How did it feel, Arizona?

"Like getting a chair pulled from under you," Fitzgerald said. "It just hurts to be able to get so close and fall short of your ultimate goal."

Yeah . . . Sure does.

"Everybody is down," said

Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "You can't even describe the feeling of hurt and the pain you see in the other players' eyes."

Oh, I think we can.

Of course, we've had a little more practice at it. *

Send e-mail to

donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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