Until the postseason, Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams was the guy who played opposite Charles Woodson, the guy opposing teams threw at if they wanted a chance to win.
But when Woodson went down with a broken collarbone, it was up to Williams to make the big plays — just like he has throughout the playoffs.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a natural for MVP of Super Bowl 45. He threw lasers all over Cowboys Stadium Sunday night, three going for touchdowns in Green Bay's 31-25 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rodgers, by the way, now has as many Super Bowl rings as Brett Favre.
None of that would have been possible, however, if not for Williams and his bookend big plays.
One saved the Packers a catastrophic start. The other clinched the victory.
The clincher you'll see on all the highlights. With Pittsburgh facing fourth-and-5 at its 33 and 56 seconds left, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw high to Mike Wallace. Wallace got both hands on the ball. Williams got one, and that was enough to bat the ball away. The Steelers, who spent the whole game digging out after landing in a 14-0 first-quarter hole, were finished.
Williams' first big play of the day, however, might be forgotten but shouldn't. He nearly fumbled away the Packers' first possession inside their 20. As teammate Sam Shields barely avoided running into him, Williams muffed the catch and wound up on the bottom of a pile of players that took officials 30 seconds to unpile. When they finally had, Williams was came out with the ball.
The crowd inside Cowboys Stadium revealed itself as a majority Steelers crowd later in the game. But if Williams hadn't covered his mistake there, that discovery would have been made much earlier and the game might have been much different.
All of which capped an amazing postseason performance for Williams, whose interception in the end zone clinched the Packers' first-round victory at Philadelphia. His interceptions on consecutive possessions at Atlanta — the first in the end zone, the second returned for a touchdown as time expired in the first half — turned that game into a rout.
The Steelers' Troy Polamalu might have the best mane; the Packers' Clay Matthews had the best game.
The discussion of who has the better mane can rage on. As for who had the better game, the Packers linebacker, a Suave shampoo spokesman, scored a decisive victory over Steelers safety Polamalu, a Head & Shoulders spokesman. Neither was particularly active in the first half. And for a while, the Steelers were succeeding with a plan of neutralizing Matthews by running right at him. That's where Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall broke several of his better runs.
But Matthews came alive in the third quarter. His first big play slowed momentum built from consecutive touchdown drives that pulled Pittsburgh to within 21-17. On first down at the Packers 29, Matthews recovered from Roethlisberger's bootleg fake in time to jump high and bat down a pass. The drive stalled and Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham's missed a 53-yard field goal.
Matthews' biggest play set up the Packers' only touchdown of the second half, forcing Mendenhall's fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter. Eight plays later, Rodgers tossed a 8-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings and Green Bay 21 points off Pittsburgh turnover.
That TD pass was the low point in a forgettable performance for Polamalu, whose aggressive, instinctive play is the hallmark of what will be a Hall of Fame career. But on Sunday, he too frequently seemed a step late — burying Jennings with a bruising hit after Jennings' first TD catch. His fatal mistake was guessing wrong on Jennings' last TD, expecting a seam route straight down the field only to watch the Packers receiver get behind him in the corner of the end zone. The Blitzburgh defense pressured Rodgers plenty, forcing him to rush plenty of throws, but Polamalu was no factor in the Packer backfield.
*Rodgers has become known for his “championship belt” end zone celebration. Rodgers now has a real life championship belt of his own. When he scores big touchdowns, Rodgers flashes an imaginary wrestling championship belt. After he was awarded the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award and a Chevrolet Camaro, a teammate draped a wrestling championship belt over his shoulder....
*Funny quote from Packers safety Nick Collins on his 37-yard interception return for a touchdown: “Oh man, that was the highlight my day right there.”
With Roethlisberger pressured in his own end zone and looking for Wallace on a streak route, Collins grabbed the floater and made the game's best broken-field run.
*With Collins and Jennings' touchdowns, the Packers had 11 different players score touchdowns in the playoffs, which is an NFL record.
*Packers linebacker Frank Zombo now ranks last alphabetically on the list of players who have participated in a Super Bowl. He displaces former Broncos linebacker Gary Zimmerman, who won Super Bowl XXXII over the Packers in 1998.
*The Packers became the second No. 6 seed to win the Super Bowl, and the first NFC six seed to do so, with Sunday's 31-25 win over the Steelers. The last six seed to take home the Lombardi Trophy? The Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL. No. 6 seeds are now 2-0 in Super Bowls.
*The Packers are the first Super Bowl champion to go an entire regular season and postseason without trailing by more than seven points at any time. The 1969 Minnesota Vikings were the last team to accomplish the feat in the regular season, but that team lost Super Bowl IV to the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-7.
*Mike McCarthy became the third Packers coach to win the Super Bowl, after Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren. The only two other teams with three Super Bowl-winning coaches are the Cowboys (Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer) and the Steelers (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin).
*Green Bay played the first half nearly penalty free. The second half was a different story. The lone mark against the Packers in the first half came when Collins was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after his interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter. By the end of the game, the Packers had seven penalties for 67 yards.
Green Bay was flagged for three penalties for 30 yards on its first drive of the second half, and late in the third quarter after the Pack had stopped Pittsburgh with a three-and-out, Williams was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty. That cost the Packers 12 yards and forced them to start their next drive on their own 13. Five more yards were lost when Packer linebacker Diyral Briggs was called for being an ineligible man downfield.
Staff Writer Jason Kersey contributed to this story.