Commentary

Clock strikes midnight on Big Ben

Ben Roethlisberger throws two costly interceptions, runs out of magic for Steelers

Originally Published: February 6, 2011
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ben Roethlisberger got the ball with two minutes remaining Sunday night in Super Bowl XLV, needing a touchdown to win his third championship ring, and he was thinking what you were thinking at home: Tampa-2.

Not the coverage, the circumstance. As in Tampa, two years ago, when Roethlisberger led one of the most memorable drives in Super Bowl history, marching 78 yards to carry the Pittsburgh Steelers past the Arizona Cardinals in the final seconds. The situation was eerily similar against the Green Bay Packers, with Roethlisberger admitting afterward he thought back to that starry night in Florida.

"You never stop believing," he said.

Except this time, the drive didn't end with Santonio Holmes. It ended with a Go Home.

Roethlisberger had no magic for the Steelers, his mistake-filled night ending 67 yards short of the end zone. He threw two costly interceptions in the Steelers' 31-25 loss at Cowboys Stadium, a small-time performance that left Big Ben beating himself up.

"Personally, I feel like I let a lot of people down," Roethlisberger said. "I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, my coaches, my teammates, my fans. It's not a good feeling."

Roethlisberger, who completed 25 of 40 passes for 263 yards, was badly outplayed by his counterpart, Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers. It was Roethlisberger's second poor outing in three Super Bowls, and it came down to two big mistakes in a nightmarish first half.

Under heavy pressure at his goal line, Roethlisberger threw a "duck" pass that was intercepted by Green Bay safety Nick Collins, who returned it 37 yards for a touchdown to put the Steelers in a 14-0 hole.

In the second quarter, at the Packers' 49, Roethlisberger tried to hit Mike Wallace on a short crossing route, never seeing safety Jarrett Bush. It was a brilliant interception by Bush, who read the play and jumped the route even though cornerback Sam Shields had Wallace in man-to-man coverage. Four plays later, the Packers took a 21-3 lead on the second of Rodgers' three touchdown passes.

Two interceptions, 14 points for the Packers. There was more misery in the turnover department for the Steelers, a trend with a seemingly inevitable outcome -- teams committing more turnovers are now 3-33 in Super Bowls. In the fourth quarter, Rashard Mendenhall lost a fumble, it was recovered by Green Bay's Desmond Bishop, and the Packers converted that miscue into a touchdown eight plays later.

That was pretty much the ballgame.

"There were a lot of throws I'd like to have back," said Roethlisberger, who shaved his scruffy beard after the game.

The Super disappointment ended a tumultuous year for Roethlisberger, who missed the first four games under league suspension for violating the personal conduct policy, stemming from the nightclub incident last offseason in Georgia.

Roethlisberger tried to rehabilitate his battered image by cleaning up his act off the field, and it didn't hurt that he led the Steelers to their third AFC championship in six years. But in the crucible of the Super Bowl, he failed to complete the last chapter of his personal redemption story.

"If I had played a little bit better," he said, "I feel like we would've had a better chance to win the game."

Roethlisberger showed some guts, getting his team back in the game with touchdown passes to Hines Ward (8 yards in the second quarter) and Wallace (25 yards in the fourth quarter), but it wasn't enough to overcome the early mistakes. He looked long for Wallace on his first interception, but he couldn't get anything on the ball as he was drilled by massive defensive tackle Howard Green. For Collins, it was like fielding a wobbly punt.

"I was just reading Ben's eyes," Collins said. "I was able to get a nice jump on the ball and when I saw it floating up there, I just wanted to make sure that I caught it."

Roethlisberger was looking for Wallace again in the third quarter -- deep -- but missed again. Wallace got past the deep coverage and was open for what should have been a 44-yard touchdown, but the pass sailed over his head. That may have been as costly as a turnover because it led to a Steelers' missed field goal.

"It was just a missed connection," said Wallace, who led the Steelers with nine receptions for 89 yards.

Roethlisberger didn't have his A-game, but still landed in another potential dream scenario: Ball at his 13, 2:07 to play, down by six.

"I just had that feeling we were going to do it again," said Ward, alluding to the Super Bowl win from two years ago.

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, in no mood to draw parallels, said, "I can't remember the '09 game. There's a lot of grass between the '09 game and tonight."

When Roethlisberger got into the huddle for the final drive, he told his teammates, "I believe in you guys. We can do this."

He completed the first two passes, but misfired on the next three, ending the Steelers' season 67 yards from history. Might as well been 67 miles.

"Personally," Roethlisberger said somberly, "I let a lot people down."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter