TAMPA — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was wearing a vest, but he had some tricks up his sleeve.
When the Arizona Cardinals deferred after winning the coin toss, the Steelers pulled out all the stops Sunday night in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium.
There was the 38-yard pass play to the receiver with the bum knee, the bootleg by the quarterback rumored to have sore ribs or a sore back and even an ill-fated attempt at running the Wildcat.
When it came to fourth-and-inches near the goal line, however, the Steelers played it safe and opted to have Jeff Reed kick an 18-yard field goal that tied a record for the shortest field goal in a Super Bowl and gave the Steelers a 3-0 lead.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed a marked improvement from his Super Bowl XL appearance, when he finished 9-of-21 for 123 yards and two interceptions. This time, in the first quarter, he completed 7 of 8 passes for 118 yards.
The Steelers outgained the Cardinals, 140-13, in total yardage and held a 7-minute, 56-second advantage in time of possession.
The Steelers marched 71 yards on nine plays and in 5:15 during the opening drive.
On a second-and-7 at the 31, Roethlisberger ran a play-action fake to running back Willie Parker and rolled right. Roethlisberger found wide receiver Hines Ward — limited in practices by a sprained MCL in his right knee — wide open for a 38-yard pass play to the Arizona 32.
Three plays later, Roethlisberger threaded a 21-yard pass between two defenders to tight end Heath Miller to the 1. Gary Russell was dropped for a 4-yard loss, but Parker gained it back on second down.
On third-and-goal, Roethlisberger ran a bootleg toward the right sideline. Carey Davis and Miller were covered, so Roethlisberger tucked it and cut inside. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett made the hit, but Roethlisberger stretched for the goal line. Center Justin Hartwig assisted, trying to drag the quarterback across the plane.
Officials signaled a touchdown. But Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt challenged the play, and it was overturned after review.
That’s when Tomlin opted to have Reed kick the 18-yarder.
The Steelers’ defense forced a three-and-out, despite quarterback Kurt Warner completing a 9-yard pass to Woodland Hills graduate Steve Breaston on second down.
Roethlisberger remained in rhythm, finding Santonio Holmes in the left flat. Holmes tiptoed the sideline to make it a 25-yard gain to the Arizona 44.
On the next play, Roethlisberger threw a deep post to wide receiver Nate Washington behind the secondary. Rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made a remarkable recovery and deflected the pass at the goal line.
After a short pass to Holmes and a false-start penalty by right guard Darnell Stapleton, Roethlisberger ad-libbed on a pass play. He rolled left, slipped across the pocket to his right, spun to avoid a defender and then threw an 11-yard pass to Miller for a first down.
That’s when Parker took a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation, losing a yard. But the Steelers followed with a slip-screen pass to Miller for an 11-yard gain.
Parker added a 9-yard run, and Holmes had a 7-yard reception on second-and-1 to put the Steelers inside the 10-yard line.