Pack burns Steelers secondary, and DBs knew it was coming

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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DALLAS -- Troy Polamalu smiled when asked about the Green Bay Packers' depth at wide receiver.

"Sometimes it's just about the guy putting the ball in their hands," Polamalu said.

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The Steelers knew they were in for a challenge against the Packers' spread-'em-out offense Sunday. They knew because they heard about it the entire week leading up to Super Bowl XLV.

They heard it from the media.

They heard it from their coaches.

And they heard it in veiled references from the Packers, who believed they could pull Pittsburgh out of its base defense and exploit that shift with an array of receivers the likes of which the Steelers' suspect secondary had not seen all season.

"It was like a broken record," cornerback William Gay said. "We prepared for it for two weeks. We knew what was coming."

But the Steelers were mostly powerless to stop it in the Packers' 31-25 victory.

Green Bay got four catches and two touchdowns from top receiver Greg Jennings and two receptions from Donald Driver before he left because of an ankle injury.

But it was the Packers' Nos. 3 and 4 wideouts who killed the Steelers repeatedly at raucous Cowboys Stadium.

Jordy Nelson caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, breaking Max McGee's franchise record for receiving yards in a Super Bowl. James Jones added five catches for 50 yards.

Those numbers would have been much more impressive if not for a half-dozen drops by Green Bay receivers. But those drops didn't matter, because Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers just kept putting throws in the right places.

"He didn't fold under the pressure," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "I thought we hit him some early and we got to him as the game went on, but he showed his mettle, continued to throw the ball and continued to throw it accurately."

The Steelers sacked Rodgers three times and either hit or harassed him many more.

"He just stood in there and made plays," cornerback Bryant McFadden said.

The Steelers responded by dropping more into coverage and creating tight passing lanes.

"He put the ball in some tight places and he made some really good throws," Polamalu added.

And when the Steelers made coverage errors, Rodgers cut to the bone.

He hit Nelson over the middle on a 38-yard crossing pattern that set up the Packers' final touchdown -- leaving safety Ryan Clark running in Nelson's fumes.

On the first touchdown pass to Jennings, both Polamalu and Clark had chances to make a play on the ball and missed by inches.

Gay was beat on several occasions.

And on the second Jennings touchdown, Polamalu, the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, got caught cheating.

"That was completely my fault," he said. "Earlier in the game, they ran Jennings down the middle, and I was anticipating that same pass play and I guessed wrong."

The score in the right side of the end zone was a dagger that restored Green Bay momentum after the Steelers had rallied from a 21-3 deficit to pull within 21-17.

"Big ups to them," a choked-up Gay said. "They did what they needed to do."

It would be foolish to pin the loss entirely on the secondary when Pittsburgh's offense turned the ball over three times, allowing an interception return for a touchdown while twice giving Green Bay a short field, opportunities the Packers turned into 14 more points.

"They were tough situations, but we've been in those before," McFadden said. "You have to pick each other up."

The Steelers could not, making precious few of the plays that defined their run to Dallas.

"They made plays, we didn't get any turnovers," Tomlin said. "It's that simple."

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