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Through an outstanding team effort and the now routine excellence of Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers have their fourth Super Bowl victory. The game itself unraveled as a microcosm of the entire season, with our star players making star-studded plays, heart-breaking injuries ravaging our starting lineups, and the individual efforts of "replacement players" galvanizing the team to a victory that would not be denied. The consistently superb play of Rodgers aside, I would like to devote a few lines to several other individuals whose performances stood out the most to me.Greg Jennings: Yes, we expect him to be a star, but there is no denying that he delivered on this perception in spades for Super Bowl XLV. With 4 receptions on 7 targets, Jennings had two beautiful touchdowns and one critical 3rd down conversion. On the final Packer drive with over 6 minutes remaining , facing 3rd and 10 from the GB 25, Rodgers fired a laser down the middle and Jennings plucked it out of the air in full-stride. He gained 31 yards, but more importantly the Packers gained another set of downs. Crosby got us an extra 3 after we milked the clock enough to only allow Pittsburgh one final chance to make some magic. Without that 3rd down catch, Pittsburgh's playbook would have been completely open. I also loved Jennings' deferential comments immediately after the game, calling DD "our number one receiver".
Jordy Nelson: He had the drops (3 or 4 obvious ones by my count), but he also had some clutch grabs. Nelson had 9 receptions on 15 targets for 140 yards and the Pack's first touchdown, but again, I think his 3rd down grab was just as big. A 38 yard reception in the 4th quarter on 3rd and 10 setup Jennings' second touchdown of the game. Without that conversion, we wouldn't have even gotten a field goal out of that drive. Props to McCarthy and Co. for making Nelson such a big part of the game-plan.
James Starks: 11 carries for 52 yards doesn't sound like much, but he had two great carries that were crucial. On the first scoring drive, Green Bay faced the dreaded 3rd and 1, from their own 29 yard line no less. But Starks took it around the right end and came away with 8 huge yards. Rodgers and Nelson finished the job soon after. Later, on the final field goal drive, milking the clock was critical and a 14 yard scamper on 1st down stole another 40 seconds, as well as deflated the defensive verve of an already bruised Pittsburgh defensive unit.
Jarrett Bush: Who would have ever guessed we would be praising Jarrett Bush, in the Super Bowl no less? I believe that qualifies as irony. Bush just whiffed on downing Masthay's first punt at the Pittsburgh 2, and he did blow a catch over the middle to Ward - immediately followed by a lob to Ward into the corner of the endzone - but his positive impact still trumped these disappointments. His amazing (and awkward) interception in the 2nd quarter gave us 7 points and a shot of momentum. But the way he took over the blitzing roles of Woodson and Shields in the 2nd half was the true stand-out feature. Kudos to Capers for putting Bush in a position to utilize his speed in the most effective way. The stats read only 1 QB hit, but Bush got in Roethlisberger's face several times and was never more than half a step from plowing him to the turf when he was sent on a blitz. Well done, Jarrett Bush.
Frank Zombo: Taking over for Walden, I think Zombo did a fine job. On Pittsburgh's first possession of the game, Zombo dropped Mendenhall for a loss of 4 on 2nd and 6, inspiring a key early defensive stop. In the 3rd, Pittsburgh looked poised to mount an easy comeback in light of the injuries to Woodson and Shields. Their first possession of the second half, they literally ran GB's defense over for a touchdown. But on their next possession, the clamps came down. Matthews batted down Roethlisberger's 1st down pass, Bishop dropped Miller in the backfield the next play, and Zombo finished the deal with a most opportune sack of Roethlisberger on 3rd down. Zombo finished with 5 tackles, all solo.
Desmond Bishop: He didn't have a flashy game, but Bishop was consistently in the fray. Finishing with 8 tackles, 6 were solo and 3 were for losses. Of course, Bishop also covered up that vital 4th quarter fumble after Matthews popped Mendenhall in the backfield. Bishop (like Peprah) was always there to make the tackle.
Tramon Williams: I absolutely love the player he's become, so I'm a little biased, but our defense does not survive those injuries without Williams anchoring our secondary. He played outstanding coverage the entire game. I wasn't keeping a perfect tally, but I counted 7 times Roethlisberger targeted Williams' man only to have the pass bounce happily off Tramon's backhand or fingers and harmlessly to the turf. Of course, there was none bigger than the final pass of the game. 4th and 5 at the Pitt 33, Roethlisberger short left for Wallace; and it's carefully shooed away by Williams' outstretched fingers. Outstanding.
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Donald Driver and Charles Woodson: Their presence meant everything. Driver had a big 3rd down grab in the 1st quarter and Woodson had his infamous leap to defend Roethlisberger's bomb in the 2nd; both watched the 2nd half from the sideline. But we all know, at least a little bit, what their presence meant to those other guys on the field. These are faces of the franchise and the elder statesmen of the 2010 Green Bay Packers. Their grit and determination, even when injured, is surely remarkable.
Here's to an amazing 2010 season, and to the Lombardi trophy staying home for 2011.