The Arizona Cardinals came within minutes of a Super Bowl win after a magical playoff run
In just over 24 hours, the NFL will crown a new champion, though “new” might be a bit of a misnomer if the Patriots win. New England will play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday to decide who the king of the professional football hill really is for the 2016 season. Atlanta is seeking the franchise’s first Super Bowl win, while the Patriots are going for their fifth in the past 16 years.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Arizona Cardinals were in the same position as the Falcons. They were also looking for the team’s first championship of the Super Bowl era, and had to go through an NFL powerhouse to get it.
Against the backdrop of a national recession, the Cardinals met the Pittsburgh Steelers for all the marbles in Super Bowl XLIII. The Steelers finished the regular season at 12-4, won their division, and got a bye in the playoffs. The Cardinals, however, went 2-4 down the stretch, finished 9-7, and had to win three games to get to the big one.
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As the game unfolded, it began to play out just like most predicted. The favored Steelers jumped out 10-0 early, with scores on each of their first two drives. Pittsburgh then grabbed all the momentum just before halftime. Kurt Warner threw for the endzone, but instead of a go-ahead touchdown, the pass was intercepted by James Harrison, and returned it 100 yards for a score, giving his team a 17-7 lead.
The Cardinals entered the fourth quarter down 20-7, but then things began to happen. A Darnell Dockett sack stopped a Pittsburgh drive, and Arizona scored on a Warner pass to Larry Fitzgerald. With three minutes to go, the Steelers were called for holding in the endzone, resulting in a safety, and on the first play of the next drive, Larry Fitzgerald took short pass for his second touchdown, and a 23-20 lead.
The final drive of the game belonged to Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger. Holmes had receptions of 14 yards, then 13 yards, before taking a short pass 40 yards to set up one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history. With 42 seconds to play, Roethlisberger found Holmes one more time, in the endzone for the game-winner. It was a close play, with replay needed to confirm things. It wound up being upheld, and the Steelers won the game.
Kurt Warner threw for 377 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Larry Fitzgerald totaled 127 yards and 2 touchdowns on seven catches in the losing effort. On defense, Darnell Dockett had a great game, logging 6 tackles, including 3 sacks.
It was a devastating loss for the Cardinals, and for fans. The team would make the playoffs the next season, but fall short of the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, that would be followed by four straight seasons where they missed the playoffs.
The Cardinals have, more recently, gotten back to their winning ways. In 2015, they made the NFC Championship game, but lost to the Carolina Panthers. It looks like the team, in its current incarnation, has one more run in it. In 2017, they’ll gear up and try to send their veterans out in style, and make a return trip to the Super Bowl. Tomorrow, the Falcons get their shot at their first ring. Next year, the Cardinals would like to get a second shot at one.