Route to success

The Baltimore Sun

TAMPA, Fla. - If the Ravens want to take the next step to the Super Bowl, they need to make a catch - a young, playmaking wide receiver.

With Santonio Holmes and Larry Fitzgerald going back and forth with jaw-dropping catches in Sunday night's fourth quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals put together one of the most exciting finishes in Super Bowl history and revealed the Ravens' most glaring hole.

The Ravens lacked that type of receiver who can will a team to victory at the end of games.

It's a receiver like Fitzgerald, who scored two touchdowns in the Cardinals' fourth-quarter comeback. It's a receiver like Holmes, who responded by pulling down the winning 6-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds left in the game.

Holmes became the sixth wide receiver in the 43-year history of the Super Bowl to win the Most Valuable Player award.

"Santonio is a guy who just loves to deliver in big moments and big games," coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers delivered a 27-23 win and captured their sixth Super Bowl title.

The Ravens' only consistent receiver is Derrick Mason, who was the only player on the team with more than 41 catches.

But Mason's worst quarter this past season was the final one. In the fourth period of games, he had his fewest receptions (15) and receiving yards (239) of any quarter.

The same goes for Mark Clayton, the Ravens' No. 2 receiver. He had six catches for 111 yards in the fourth quarter of games this season, his least productive period.

Though the Ravens ran the ball heavily in the final moments of wins, their receivers had several chances to lift the team to victory. Four of the team's six losses (including playoffs) were determined by single-digit margins of defeat (a combined 19 points).

To advance past the AFC championship next season, the Ravens might need to find a clutch receiver similar to Holmes and Fitzgerald, both of whom were drafted in the first round.

Through the first three quarters Sunday, Fitzgerald was a nonfactor, making one reception for 12 yards. In the fourth quarter, Fitzgerald helped bring back the Cardinals from a 20-7 deficit by catching six passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

Then, with the Steelers trailing 23-20 late in the fourth, Holmes carried them on the game-winning drive, coming up with four catches for 73 yards.

Before Pittsburgh's game-winning drive - which started at the Steelers' 22-yard line with 2:30 remaining - Holmes told quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to look his way.

They first connected for 14 yards. Then a 13-yarder. A 40-yard play took Pittsburgh to Arizona's 6.

On first-and-goal, Roethlisberger threw to Holmes again, but the 5-foot-11, 189-pound receiver let the ball slip through his hands in the left corner of the end zone.

On the next play, Holmes went up for the ball in the right corner of the end zone and didn't drop this opportunity.

"It can be thought of as redemption," he said.

Holmes' season could be considered one of redemption.

Three months ago, Holmes was benched against the New York Giants for a drug-related offense. He was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana after police found marijuana-filled cigars in his car after a traffic stop.

A few days before the Super Bowl, he revealed he spent a year selling drugs while growing up in Belle Glade, Fla.

Asked about the benching, Holmes said: "After [the arrest] happened, I had a meeting with Coach Tomlin. He told me how he felt and how he would handle the situation. At first, I didn't want to hear that from my head coach. I was hoping that he would trust my word that nothing went wrong. But I see that he put me in a better situation by getting the distractions away and allowing me to come to the team the following week."

The Steelers might have had trouble reaching the Super Bowl without Holmes.

In three playoff games, he had 13 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns and returned a punt for a touchdown. His 65-yard touchdown catch against the Ravens in the AFC championship game staked the Steelers to a 13-0 lead.

"In big moments, we know what we can get from him," Tomlin said.

The Ravens have a similar makeup to their AFC North rival.

They both have young head coaches and dominating defenses. They both have big-armed quarterbacks.

But the biggest difference is the Ravens' Joe Flacco has fewer options in the passing game. A wide receiver like Holmes has yet to surface for them.

"The sky's the limit for that guy," Roethlisberger said of Holmes. "He has the potential to go where no receiver has ever gone."

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