Packers find way to win without stars
The Green Bay Packers were trying to play defense without cornerback Charles Woodson. Their wide receivers couldn't seem to hold onto the ball with Donald Driver also out hurt.
Somehow, they found a way to win the Super Bowl.
''It was the great resolve of our football team,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ''We had some practice with some guys going down and other players stepping up. It was a very emotional halftime for our football team. We had some bumps in the third quarter but just a tremendous effort and Coach Lombardi's trophy is finally going back home.''
Green Bay's 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night was a fitting end to the season for a team that found a way to get there despite having 16 players, including six starters, on injured reserve.
With Woodson sidelined, Clay Matthews forced a critical fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Then Jordy Nelson made up for some dropped passes by putting the Packers in position to score with a big catch, and Greg Jennings caught what would end up being the decisive touchdown.
The Steelers came back with a touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the lead to 28-25, but Aaron Rodgers' big plays to Jennings and James Jones allowed the Packers to kick a field goal. The Steelers couldn't rally in the final two minutes, and the Packers' bench erupted in celebration.
Things weren't looking so good to begin the second half.
The Packers were leading 21-10 at halftime - but would their defense be able to hold without Woodson? And could Rodgers give the defense some breathing room?
Driver had hurt his ankle, and Woodson had hurt his collarbone. Neither would return.
''We've been a team that's overcome adversity all year,'' Jennings said amid a jubilant celebration on the field at Cowboys Stadium. ''Our head captain goes down, emotional in the locker room. Our No. 1 receiver goes down, more emotions are going, flying in the locker room. But we find a way to bottle it up and exert it all out here on the field.''
The Packers needed Rodgers to put together some sustained drives to give them time to regroup on the sideline in the second half. Rodgers initially couldn't deliver, although he certainly could have used a little more help from his wide receivers.
Jones bobbled what could have become an easy touchdown on the Packers' first possession of the second half - another critical drop for the talented but inconsistent receiver. Nelson made a nice catch for a 29-yard touchdown for the Packers in the first quarter, but he also had a couple of critical dropped passes.
With Driver out, backup wide receiver Brett Swain then dropped what would have been a big completion near the end of the first quarter. McCarthy challenged the play, but the call on the field was upheld and the Packers had to punt.
But the Packers forced a fumble to start the fourth quarter, and Rodgers made the most of it.
''Got to give credit to our defense,'' Rodgers said. ''This is a great group of men that we put together here, a lot of character, been through a lot together. It's just great to be able to share it with them.''
Nelson had another drop early in the fourth quarter but made up for it right away, with a long catch-and-run to give the Packers first and goal. Rodgers found Jennings for an 8-yard touchdown pass two plays later, and the Packers took a 28-17 lead with 11:57 left in the game.
The Steelers answered with Ben Roethlisberger's 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace, then flipped the ball on an option-style play to Antwaan Randle El for a two-point conversion to cut the Packers' lead to 28-25 with 7:34 left.
Rodgers then hit a couple of long passes, but the Packers had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to make the score 31-25 with 2:07 remaining.
The Steelers couldn't rally from there, and the Packers were champions again, ready to celebrate with green-and-gold clad fans who made the trip to Texas, where they were unfazed by the surprising snow. They might even have felt right at home.
''We have the best fans in the league and we couldn't have done it without you,'' team president Mark Murphy said. ''The Vince Lombardi trophy is coming back to Green Bay.''