Ben Roethlisberger brought his team to the line in a two tight end set with Rashard Mendenhall lined up behind his fullback in the backfield. Linebacker Ray Lewis lined up directly across from the ball behind Defensive Tackle Haloti Ngata.
The play was an isolation run between the A gap to the left side. On the snap of the ball Bart Scott burst through said gap and disrupted the run forcing Mendenhall to cut back to the other side of his center. Mendenhall hit the hole hard where he found Ray Lewis.
Lewis stopped Mendenhall for only a 2 yard gain but the then rookie had bigger problems.
Lewis had broken Mendenhall's shoulder and ended his season, costing him a trip to the Superbowl in 2008.
The former Illinois standout was starting his first ever game for the Steelers in that week 4 matchup and carried the ball 9 times for 30 yards. Mendenhall has come a long way since that disappointing day as he has starred for the Steelers this season.
Mendenhall averaged 3.9 yards per carry this season, finishing the regular season with 1'273 yards and 13 touchdowns. Mendenhall has run hard all season but there has been a purpose to his running during the playoffs that reflects the determination of a man with a point to prove.
The former first round draft pick fought through two of the toughest defenses in the league to lead his team to their third Superbowl since 2005. He scored 2 touchdowns against a vaunted Ravens defense including the game winning touchdown run where he sidestepped three Ravens defenders, including the aforementioned Ray Lewis, at the goal-line. That performance was followed up by a season high 127 yards rushing against the New York Jets.
Mendenhall's talent has never been in question and his determination this year can be traced back to the disappointment of missing the 2008 season. He has repeatedly spoken of his desire to earn this season's ring opposed to the previous one which he felt was handed to him.
After that 2008 injury Mendenhall was accused of not caring enough or being completely focused by various pockets of the media because of his decision not to remain with the team. It's hard to believe that about such a tough runner and you can tell his coach does not share the sentiments as he shouted from the locker room after the Ravens game "Hey 34 forget about it. I forgave you as soon as you ran in that touchdown!"
Tomlin, the Steelers' coach, was referring to the fumble that Mendenhall had lost during their first playoff game. While his teammates celebrated he could only shake his head in frustration at the mistake. Fumbling had been a problem for the running-back during his second season but that was only his third of the season out of 397 touches.
Motivation is not lacking for any player approaching a Superbowl but for Mendenhall there is an extra incentive to winning this year's ring.
The huge performances will need to continue for at least another week as the impressive Green Bay Packers defense excels against the pass but should afford him his chances to do what he does best.