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WTF happened in fourth quarter?

At the end of three quarters, it looked like the Steelers game plan was working almost perfectly. To wit:

  • Stop the Cardinals running game without trying (check)
  • Use double-coverage to eliminate Fitzgerald from offense (check)
  • Pressure Warner into at least one turnover (check)
  • Execute long drives to reduce chances for Cardinals offense (check)
  • Minimize turnovers so Cardinals must work a long field (mostly)
  • Establish Steelers running game to open passing lanes (kinda sorta)
  • Take advantage of Cardinals' inability to cover tight end (check)

And as a special, unplanned bonus, a 100-yard interception return from Harrison. As a result, we are ahead 20-7. With 13:34 to go, we even get the ball back at midfield after a Timmons near-block forces a crappy punt.

Then, the wheels fall off the wagon. On offense, three consecutive three-and-outs, the third one resulting in a safety. On defense, we give up an 87-yard scoring drive, a 39-yard near-scoring drive (saved by a holding penalty), and a 64-yard pass to Fitzgerald that gives the Cardinals the lead for the first time all game. Only the heroics of Ben and Santonio saved this from going down as the biggest fourth-quarter choke in Super Bowl history.

Maybe someone who knows more about football than I do can explain what happened. The best the announcers could come up with was that Arizona went to a four-WR personnel group with Arrington at RB and went no-huddle. Did this somehow catch the Steelers off-guard? It looked like the Steelers went to a dime package with Timmons at LB, which should have countered this strategy.

On offense, we continued to mix pass and run, but after moving the ball consistently earlier in the game, suddenly nothing was working. Two of the possessions were killed by sacks, and the third one by the holding penalty in the end zone. Then, on the final drive, the Steelers again cut through the defense like a knife through butter. That made it exciting, but a few first downs on any of the previous three drives would have eliminated the need for such excitement. Any ideas why our offense and defense suddenly floundered after playing so well for three quarters?

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