TAMPA, FLA. - The final numbers don't show how tough a game the Super Bowl was for Larry Fitzgerald, just as the final score doesn't show how close the fifth-year wide receiver came to wearing a championship ring.
"It was like getting a chair pulled out from under you," the Arizona Cardinals receiver said after his team's 27-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. "It just hurts to be able to get so close and fall short of your ultimate goal."
With the help of quarterback Kurt Warner, Fitzgerald helped the Cardinals overcome a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit. He scored two touchdowns in a five-minute stretch of the fourth quarter, only to watch the Steelers take back the lead in the game's final minute.
The Steelers won their sixth championship despite Fitzgerald's best efforts. He finished last night's game with 127 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions. That means that in four postseason games, Fitzgerald has 30 catches, 546 yards and seven touchdowns - all NFL records for a single postseason.
For much of the evening, it certainly didn't look as if Fitzgerald were primed for the type of performance that would rewrite record books. Until the final minute of the first half, in fact, Fitzgerald didn't have a catch. Even worse, entering the final quarter, that's all he had: just one reception for 12 yards.
The Steelers had two men on Fitzgerald for much of the game. The Cardinals took advantage by going to other receivers in the flat, but they struggled to get Fitzgerald involved in the offense.
"When I was younger, I would have probably lost my cool and got a little upset," Fitzgerald said. "But in a game of this magnitude, I knew we were going to call my number and eventually there were going to be some balls thrown my way."
The Cardinals took advantage of the longer halftime, which is a full half-hour in the Super Bowl, to strategize for the second half.
"We obviously didn't execute the way we wanted to the whole half, but in the second half we put Larry more on the intermediate routes in the middle of the field because they were trying to push everything to the sideline," Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.
Finally in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals' offense began to click. Warner switched to the no-huddle and began making calls at the line. He hit Fitzgerald four times on an 87-yard drive down the field. Fitzgerald's 1-yard touchdown catch made it a one-possession game, cutting the Steelers' lead to 20-14.
Then, with only 2:47 remaining, Warner hit Fitzgerald midstride on their second play from scrimmage and there was no stopping the sprinting receiver. The 64-yard touchdown gave the Cardinals their only lead of the game. The long score also meant 115 of his game-high 127 yards came in the game's final 11 minutes.
Fitzgerald had to watch from the sideline, though, helpless as another quarterback marched his team down the field to answer.
"It hurts so bad to be so close to being a champion," he said when it was over, "and have it snatched away from you."