Larry Fitzgerald was virtually unstoppable during the 2008 postseason. In four games, the Cardinals‘ future Hall of Fame receiver caught 30 passes for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. Fitzgerald’s historic playoff run spearheaded the Cardinals’ run through the playoffs en route to the franchise’s first and only Super Bowl appearance.
In Super Bowl XLIII, Fitzgerald’s brilliance was put to the test against a Steelers‘ secondary — a group that included Hall of Fame semi-finalist — Troy Polamalu that allowed fewer than 157 passing yards per game. For three quarters, the Steelers made Fitzgerald a non-factor, holding him to just one catch for 12 yards while building a 20-7 lead. But in the fourth quarter, Fitzgerald broke free while nearly leading the Cardinals to a historic victory.
On Arizona’s second possession of the period, Fitzgerald caught four passes for 31 yards that included his balletic touchdown reception over Pittsburgh corner Ike Taylor. Two possessions later, after the Cardinals’ defense had forced a safety of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Fitzgerald pulled down a slant pass from quarterback Kurt Warner and sprinted past Polamalu and James Harrison — that season’s Defensive Player of the Year — for a 64-yard touchdown. Arizona led 23-20 with 2:47 left.
“It seemed like it happened so fast,” Fitzgerald said of his go-ahead touchdown in an NFL Films documentary. “Just looking up at the Jumbotron, making sure that nobody was closing on me. I remember running into that Steelers end zone thinking, ‘My God, we may have just won the Super Bowl … I thought that was gonna be my little moment there, then Ben and Santonio stole it from me.”
With Fitzgerald and the Cardinals’ offense watching from the sideline, Big Ben led the Steelers on one of the greatest drives in Super Bowl history, a drive that was capped off by Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Holmes that is replayed whenever the greatest plays in NFL history are discussed.
Undaunted, Fitzgerald tried to will the Cardinals back, catching a 20-yard pass that got the ball near midfield with 22 seconds left. Two plays later, however, the Steelers recorded a sack and forced fumble of Warner while ending the Cardinals’ dreams of an upset.
While Super Bowl XLIII hasn’t been forgotten as one of the greatest games in NFL history, Fitzgerald’s performance in that game often is. Fitzgerald, who is now second all-time in career receptions and receiving yards, still hasn’t gotten over how his only Super Bowl appearance ultimately went down.
“It would imagine,” he said, “that it probably hurts more to lose than it feels good to win.”
While Fitzgerald is now hoping to help the Cardinals upset the Steelers this Sunday at home, here are four other Week 14 games of historical significance.
On November 19, 1978, one of the craziest endings in NFL history took place. With the Giants ahead and with possession of the ball, all Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik needed to do was fall on the ball and let the clock expire. But instead of kneeling down, Pisarcik and Giants called a running play, a play that turned into a disaster after Pisarcik and Larry Csonka collided during the exchange. The collision caused a fumble that was promptly scooped up by Eagles defensive back Herman Edwards, who 26 yards into the end zone to give the Eagles a stunning 19-17 victory.
The play, which will forever be known as the “Miracle at the Meadowlands”, propelled Philadelphia to its first winning season under head coach Dick Vermeil, who two years later would help lead the Eagles to their first NFC title.
After the Browns put up 34 points in a Week 6 win over the Bengals during the 2004 season, Cleveland scored 48 points and lost their second game against Cincinnati six weeks later. Despite 413 passing yards and five touchdowns from quarterback Kelly Holcomb, the Browns could not keep pace with a Bengals offense that received four touchdown passes from Carson Palmer and 202 rushing yards and two touchdowns by Rudy Johnson. The Browns were also the recipient of a costly turnover, as Deltha O’Neal’s pick-six of Holcomb 1:43 left iced the Bengals’ 58-48 win.
The 106 combined points scored in this “Battle of Ohio” remains the second-highest scoring game in NFL history.
Speaking of scoring, Dan Marino engineered three late scoring drives in Miami’s improbable comeback win over the Jets in Week 13 of the 1994 season. All three scoring drives ended in touchdown passes to Mark Ingram. But the final touchdown pass between Marino and Ingram continues to live in NFL infamy. With the game clock winding down, Marino faked a spike before hitting a wide-open Ingram to complete the Dolphins’ come-from-behind, 28-24 win over a stunned crowd at the Meadowlands.
Colts vs. Buccaneers
A comeback that was even more impressive was the old Peyton Manning led against the defending champion Buccaneers on “Monday Night Football” in Week 5 of the 2003 season. Trailing 35-14 with 5:09 remaining, Manning engineered three scoring drives in the final minutes to force overtime. In the extra session, a pair of 16-yard completions to receiver Reggie Wayne set up Mike Vanderjagt’s game-winning field goal to give Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy his first win over his former team.
The game was a preview of what was to come for the rest of the season for the Colts’ offense, a unit that scored 79 combined points in their first playoff game en route to an AFC Championship Game appearance.