TAMPA, Florida – Santonio Holmes made a brilliant 6-yard catch deep in the right corner of the end zone with 35 seconds remaining Sunday to lift the Pittsburgh Steelers to a record-setting sixth Super Bowl win, 27-23 over the Arizona Cardinals.
The Steelers, who won their second Super Bowl in four seasons, led 20-7 in the fourth quarter, only to see Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner effect a remarkable rally to put Arizona ahead 23-20 with less than three minutes remaining.
Warner hit All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald in stride for a 64-yard touchdown with 2:37 left. Fitzgerald sped down the middle of the field, watching himself outrun the Steelers on the huge video screen.
But Fitzgerald could only watch from the sideline as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger engineered a 78-yard drive to win the NFL title in what resembled another home field for Pittsburgh. With Steelers fans who made the trip to Florida twirling gold towels in support of their beloved team, Pittsburgh's offense rescued the title.
Holmes was selected the game's MVP.
It was one of the most thrilling finishes to the NFL's title game, certainly equaling last year's upset win by the New York Giants that ended with Plaxico Burress' TD catch — also with 35 seconds left.
"Great players step up in big-time games to make plays," Holmes said. "I kind of lost a little composure, you know, but I knew our defense would give us a chance to make it back."
The stunning swings in the game overshadowed James Harrison's record 100-yard interception return for a touchdown for the Steelers to end the first half. That looked like the signature play until the final quarter, when both teams shook off apparent knockout punches to produce major plays of their own.
Roethlisberger and Holmes struck the last blow, and when Warner fumbled in the final seconds, the Cardinals' dream of winning their first NFL crown since 1947 were gone.
"I said it's now or never, I told the guys all the film study you put in doesn't matter unless you do it now," Roethlisberger said. "I'm really proud of the way they responded."
The Cardinals, playing in their first Super Bowl and first championship game of any kind since 1948, lost their composure after Harrison's big play. They had three penalties to keep Pittsburgh's 79-yard drive going, a 16-play march that ended with Jeff Reed's 21-yard field goal for a 20-7 lead.
Fitzgerald, who already had set a postseason record for yards receiving and had five touchdowns in the playoffs, was all but invisible until an 87-yard, fourth-quarter drive he capped with a leaping 1-yard catch over Ike Taylor. He made four receptions on that series, on which Warner hit all eight passes for all the yards.
Then he struck swiftly for the 64-yarder that put Arizona within minutes of a remarkable victory, that was thwarted by the Steelers' resilience.
Pittsburgh looked like the offensive juggernaut to open the game, smoothly driving 71 yards in eight plays. But the 72nd yard that would have given the Steelers a touchdown never came.
It seemingly had when Roethlisberger's short run was ruled a TD. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt challenged, and the score was overturned after video review, leaving Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin his first difficult decision.
He chose to have Reed kick an 18-yard field goal, the shortest in a Super Bowl since 1976.
After forcing a punt, the Steelers kept the ball the remainder of the first quarter — 11:28 in all, outgaining Arizona 140-13, getting seven first downs to one for the Cardinals. As Warner and the usually potent Cardinals' offense watched, frustrated, from the sideline, Pittsburgh plowed it in on Gary Russell's 1-yard run to make it 10-0.
When Arizona finally got the ball back, it suddenly put the Steelers off-balance with short passes — and one huge play.
Warner hit Anquan Boldin streaking from left to right. He was upended at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line, and Warner's lob to Ben Patrick got Arizona on the board. It was the tight end's first touchdown this season.
Arizona's defense then made a big play. Bryan Robinson tipped Roethlisberger's pass high into the air and Karlos Dansby corralled it at the Pittsburgh 34. The Cardinals got to the 1, then the Steelers' defense asserted itself — magnificently.
Harrison, the defensive player of the year, stepped in front of Boldin at the goal line, picked off Warner's throw and began a journey down the right sideline to the longest play in Super Bowl history.
Harrison ran past or through most of the Cardinals, nearly stepped out of bounds at one point, and was dragged down by Fitzgerald as he fell to the goal line. The play was reviewed as several Cardinals knelt on one knee, exhausted from the chase and disheartened by the result.
The previous longest play was Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return for Green Bay in 1997.