TAMPA, Fla. — TAMPA, Fla. - One of the greatest finishes in Super Bowl history redeemed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and placed the Pittsburgh Steelers in a class of their own.
After struggling in his first Super Bowl three years ago, Roethlisberger carried the Steelers to a stirring, 27-23 triumph last night over the resilient Arizona Cardinals before a crowd waving Pittsburgh's signature Terrible Towels.
Roethlisberger's 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left in the game lifted Pittsburgh to its sixth Super Bowl title - the most by any franchise.
But this championship might go down as the Steelers' most thrilling one.
Down 23-20 with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining, Roethlisberger methodically marched the Steelers the length of the field, completing 5 of 7 passes for 84 yards.
His game-winning touchdown pass - and his first in the Super Bowl - went over three Cardinals in the right corner of the end zone and into the outstretched hands of Holmes, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, whose toes tapped just inbounds.
"My feet never left the ground," Holmes said. "All I did was extend my arms and use my toes as an extra extension to catch the ball."
It was an amazing turnaround for Roethlisberger, who was 21-for-30 yesterday for 256 yards passing. In January 2006, he had the worst quarterback rating of any Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
As the Ravens have seen over the years, Roethlisberger seems to be in a comfort zone when trailing. Since 2004, he has led 18 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, which is the most of any NFL quarterback during that span.
"I said that it's now or never," Roethlisberger said in the huddle before the game-winning drive. "I'm really proud of the way they responded."
The Steelers' dramatic touchdown answered an improbable comeback by Arizona.
Looking to become the first team to win a Super Bowl after trailing by 10 points, the touchdown-underdog Cardinals scored 16 straight points in the fourth quarter to turn a 20-7 deficit to a 23-20 lead.
Kurt Warner's 64-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald dented the NFL's top-ranked defense and gave Arizona its first lead of the game with 2:37 left.
After beating cornerback Ike Taylor off the line, Fitzgerald caught the pass at the Arizona 45-yard line and outran three Steelers (linebacker James Harrison and safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark) for 55 yards to the end zone.
But Roethlisberger's finish tarnished the performance of Warner, who became the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards in three Super Bowls.
The Super Bowl began as a battle of streaky quarterbacks.
On its first two drives, Pittsburgh marched down the field 71 and 69 yards for scores primarily because of Roethlisberger, who completed eight of nine passes for 122 yards.
The first possession ended with what appeared to be a Roethlisberger touchdown, but the officials overturned the call. It was ruled that he had a knee down before the ball crossed the plane of the goal line.
The Steelers had to settle for an 18-yard field goal from Jeff Reed.
On the second series, Roethlisberger hit six quick passes for 59 yards to move Pittsburgh to the Arizona 1-yard line. Backup running back Gary Russell powered his way into the end zone to stake the Steelers to a 10-0 lead only 59 seconds into the second quarter.
Warner then took over as the hot quarterback up until the final seconds of the second quarter.
The 2000 Super Bowl MVP answered the Steelers' touchdown by completing seven straight passes. His last went to tight end Ben Patrick for a 1-yard touchdown.
It was the first touchdown of the season for Patrick, who played with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco at Delaware, and closed the Cardinals to within 10-7.
Arizona seemed poised to take its first lead of the game after linebacker Karlos Dansby intercepted Roethlisberger's deflected pass with two minutes left in the first half.
Taking over at Pittsburgh's 34-yard line, Warner completed passes of 10, 12, 7 and 4 yards. But he made his biggest mistake on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Harrison jumped in front of a pass to Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin at the goal line and ran 100 yards down the sideline for a touchdown as the half expired.
The score was reviewed by the officials because it looked debatable whether Harrison was down before the ball cracked the goal line. But the touchdown was upheld, giving Pittsburgh a 17-7 lead at halftime.
The Steelers extended the lead to 20-7 in the third quarter with a drive that was helped by the Cardinals' mistakes.
Three personal fouls accounted for 35 of the series' 79 yards.
The 16-play drive (which was one play shy of tying a Super Bowl record) ended with a 21-yard field goal from Reed.
Like they did in the first half, the Cardinals came back with Warner. Going to a no-huddle offense, he completed all eight of his passes and accounted for all 87 yards on the drive to pull Arizona to within 20-14 with 7:33 in the fourth quarter.
Fitzgerald, who had been silent most of the game, caught half of Warner's passes in that series, including the 1-yard touchdown. Isolated on one side with Ike Taylor, Fitzgerald leaped over the Steelers cornerback in the right corner of the end zone.
The margin was narrowed to 20-16 when the Steelers gave up a safety. Pittsburgh center Justin Hartwig was flagged for holding in the end zone, which led to the sixth safety in Super Bowl history.
That set up a breathtaking finish, which ended with another Steelers' championship.
"It's going to go down in history as one of the greatest games ever played in the Super Bowl," said Holmes, who finished with nine catches for 131 yards. "We finished it up the way we needed to and brought another championship back to Pittsburgh."