February 5, 2010

2006: Steelers Defeat Seahawks in Super Bowl XL

The Super Bowl following the 2005 season matched a team that had won four Super Bowls (as opposed to one loss) against a club that had never vied for the league championship before.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, under Head Coach Bill Cowher, had typically contended in recent years, even if they had not won a Super Bowl since the ’79 season. Second-year QB Ben Roethlisberger had built upon his outstanding rookie season to lead the NFL in percentage of touchdown passes (6.3) and yards per attempt (8.9). He missed three games during the regular season to a knee injury and the Steelers lost two of them – testimony to his value to the team. While the outstanding career of RB Jerome Bettis was winding down, Willie Parker stepped into the starting role and gained 1202 yards. WR Hines Ward led the receiving corps with 69 catches for 975 yards and 11 TDs. The solid 3-4 defense featured NT Casey Hampton, linebackers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, and SS Troy Polamalu.

Pittsburgh came in second in the AFC North at 11-5, qualifying them for a wild card showdown with division rival Cincinnati, also 11-5 but ahead of the Steelers due to a better division record. Pittsburgh won handily and then defeated the Colts in the Divisional round and Denver for the AFC title.

The NFC champions were the Seattle Seahawks, appearing in their first Super Bowl. Seattle, under Head Coach Mike Holmgren, had won the NFC West with a conference-best 13-3 record. The two key offensive performers were RB Shaun Alexander, who set a then-league record with 28 touchdowns while leading the NFL with 1880 yards on the ground, and QB Matt Hasselbeck, who completed a career-high 65.5 percent of his passes for 3459 yards with 24 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. Key defensive performers included NT Chuck Darby and LB Lofa Tatupu. The Seahawks defeated Washington in the Divisional playoff and Carolina for the conference title.

There were 68,206 in attendance at Detroit’s Ford Field for Super Bowl XL on February 5, 2006. What they saw in the first half was a low-scoring defensive battle. An apparent 17-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to WR Darrell Jackson late in the first quarter was called back for offensive pass interference; Seattle had to settle for a 47-yard field goal by Josh Brown instead.

Roethlisberger, meanwhile, started slowly, completing just one of five passes in the first quarter for one yard. But late in the second quarter he made big plays to get the Steelers on the scoreboard. First, he ducked the pass rush to throw a shovel pass to Ward that gained 12 yards on a third-and-six play. Then, with third-and-28 on the Seattle 40, he ran out of the pocket and, just short of the line of scrimmage, threw a deep pass that Ward hauled in for a 37-yard gain to the three yard line. On a broken play two snaps later, the big (6’5”, 240-pound) quarterback dove and barely made it into the end zone from a yard out (pictured). While Seattle reached the Pittsburgh 40 with under a minute remaining, Brown’s 54-yard field goal attempt was wide and the Steelers took a 7-3 lead into halftime.

On the second play of the third quarter, Parker broke loose for a Super Bowl-record 75-yard touchdown run and a 14-3 lead (pictured at left). The Seahawks attempted a field goal on their next possession, but Brown again missed a long attempt, this one from 50 yards.

Pittsburgh drove deep into Seattle territory and looked set to break the game open, but Roethlisberger’s third-down pass at the seven yard line was intercepted by CB Kelly Herndon, who returned it 76 yards to the Pittsburgh 20. The Seahawks took full advantage of the break, with Hasselbeck hitting TE Jerramy Stevens for a 16-yard touchdown. Rather than a commanding lead, the Steelers now led by just 14-10 with 6:45 to play in the third quarter.

The contest moved into the fourth quarter, and Seattle again drove into Pittsburgh territory. However, a poorly thrown pass by Hasselbeck was intercepted by Steelers CB Ike Taylor. Three plays later, Parker took a handoff and in turn handed the ball off on a reverse to WR Antwaan Randle El, who hit Ward on a pass that covered 43 yards and scored the touchdown that, for all intents, sealed the game with just under nine minutes remaining (pictured at bottom).

Seattle had to punt on the next possession, and there was only 1:51 left on the clock when the offense next got the ball; the Seahawks got to the Pittsburgh 23 as time expired. The Steelers had their fifth Super Bowl championship by a 21-10 final score.

Hines Ward (pictured at top) was the game’s MVP with 5 pass receptions for 123 yards and a TD, as well as the big play that set up the first Pittsburgh score. Ben Roethlisberger had his difficulties as he completed just 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards with two intercepted, but in the end he had the distinction of becoming the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback (23). With the long scoring run, Willie Parker led the rushing attack with 93 yards on 10 carries. Jerome Bettis, in the last game of his career and playing in his hometown, ran for 43 yards on 14 attempts.

The Seahawks outgained the Steelers, 396 yards to 339, and had the advantage in first downs with 20 to 14. Matt Hasselbeck went to the air 49 times, completing 26, for 273 yards with a TD and an interception. Shaun Alexander gained 95 yards on 20 carries. WR Bobby Engram caught the most passes, with 6 for 70 yards, while WR Joe Jurevicius gained the most receiving yards with 93 on his 5 receptions.

For Bill Cowher, it was his first championship after coaching the team into the postseason in 10 of 14 seasons. The fifth Super Bowl victory put the Steelers in a tie with the 49ers and Cowboys for the most; they would win a sixth following the 2008 season. In between, Pittsburgh dropped to 8-8 in 2006, Cowher’s final year; they were back in the postseason in ’07 and won the title in ’08.

Seattle won the West Division in each of the next two seasons, but with weaker records followed by losses in the Divisional round to exit the postseason.