Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl XLV:
Packers 31, Steelers 25

Not your father's Steelers

By Mike Batista

I've watched my last Steelers game.

My last Steelers game before turning 40, that is.

If you're a Steelers fan younger than 40, you probably didn't really get a chance to witness the Steelers' dynasty of the 1970s. Or if you did, you probably couldn't describe the difference between a free safety and a strong safety.

A win in Super Bowl XLV would have provided this generation of Steelers fans with an experience similar to the glory days of the 1970s. I gladly would have accepted three championships in six years as a feat comparable to four in six years.

But these aren't your father's Steelers. They just don't make Steelers Super Bowl teams like they used to. In the post-Steel Curtain era, the Steelers sometimes lose the Super Bowl.

Out of miracles

A lot has happened since Ben Roethlisberger threaded the eye of a needle for the game-winning touchdown to Santonio Holmes in Super Bowl XLIII. The Saints succeeded the Steelers as champions, and we learned (if we didn't know already) that Roethlisberger is not exactly a saint.

Even if Roethlisberger has changed his ways, here's why he still falls short of sainthood: You need two miracles to qualify as a saint. And there would be no second Super Bowl miracle for Roethlisberger.

Sure, it was great theater to see Roethlisberger again assigned the task of leading the Steelers the length of the field with two minutes left in the Super Bowl. But if you keep putting yourself in that spot, sometimes you're going to lose.

A lot has to go right for these epic, career-defining drives to come together. Like Thomas Edison's inventions, some of them just don't work out.

It wasn't a good sign when Mike Wallace, the Steelers' top receiver Sunday with nine catches for 89 yards and a touchdown, had no idea what he was supposed to do on second-and-five from the Steelers' 33. Roethlisberger had to throw the ball away. Then on third down Roethlisberger threw a ball that wasn't close to anyone. The grace of that winning drive in Tampa just wasn't there.

On fourth down, the Packers' sealed their championship when Tramon Williams broke up a pass to Wallace.

The final drive seemed doomed from the start when Keyaron Fox was called for a personal foul on the kickoff, dragging the Steelers from the 26 to their own 13.

Fox joined the Steelers in 2008 and contributed to their championship season as a special teams ace. Unfortunately, he seems to have gone bad. This wasn't the first time he's been flagged this season on a special teams play.

But it wasn't just Fox. Penalties were a problem all season for the Steelers, and they were a problem again Sunday. A blocking-above-the-waist infraction on Ryan Mundy set the stage for the Packers to take control of the game in the first quarter.

That penalty came on the kickoff after the Packers took a 7-0 lead on Aaron Rodgers' 29-yard pass to Jordy Nelson. It put the Steelers on their own 7. Roethlisberger threw the ball on the first play of the drive, but was hit, causing the ball to wobble in the air. It looked like Nick Collins was catching a fly ball in center field for the Brewers as he easily picked the ball off and ran it in 37 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 Packers lead.

Mistakes, they had a few

Every Steeler is to blame for this mistake-riddled performance. But the penalties by the special teams muckers ultimately will be forgotten. Super Bowl XLV will be remembered by Steelers fans for Roethlisberger's two interceptions and Rashard Mendenhall's fumble.

Roethlisberger's second pick was a throw into double coverage. Jarrett Bush came up with it.

Troy Polamalu then tried to keep the Steelers in the game with his biggest hit of the night. Unfortunately, it didn't do much good because it came in the end zone after Rodgers completed a 21-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings for a 21-3 Packers lead.

I was obviously way off on my prediction of Polamalu being the MVP.

Polamalu hasn't done much in any of the three Super Bowls he's played in, even though the Steelers have won two of them.

The Steelers probably don't get anywhere near the Super Bowl without Polamalu's heist in Baltimore nine weeks earlier. The 2010 Steelers season hinged on that play. The Steelers needed a similar rescue in the Super Bowl.

But it never came.

Troy a hair out of place

With the Steelers down by 18, I started to worry that this would turn into one of those vintage 1980s and early 1990s Super Bores, when the Goliaths of the NFC annually dominated the AFC's best offering. There hadn't really been a Super Bowl blowout in eight years. Were we due for one?

The Steelers didn't allow that to happen.

When facing a big deficit in the first half, the first thing you want to do is get points on the board before halftime. The Steelers did just that. A 37-yard pass to Antwaan Randle-El put the ball on the Packers 40 and sparked a touchdown drive that culminated in an 8-yard TD pass to Hines Ward.

That made the Steelers' halftime deficit a manageable 21-10.

Then in the second half the officials decided to start calling penalties on the Packers. Five of their seven penalties came in the third quarter, including a face mask on a punt that gave the Steelers the ball at midfield.

From there they ran the ball five times, Mendenhall twice, Isaac Redman twice and Roethlisberger once. Mendenhall took it in through traffic from the 8 for a touchdown, cutting the Packers' lead to 21-17 with more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

The Steelers made it a game again.

I would rather have not seen the Steelers burn two timeouts in the third quarter, having more than one timeout might have come in handy on the final drive. It was also hard to watch Shaun Suisham attempt a 52-yard field goal. Did anyone really think Suisham was going to make that?

Polamalu looked like he could have had an interception with about two and a half minutes left in the third quarter. Had he been a couple of steps to his left, he might have picked off a third-down incompletion right around the Steelers' 20 with room to run. Even though the Packers were forced to punt, Polamalu had his head in his hands at the end of that play. Like most of the night, he was out of position.

Despite all that, the Steelers' defensive muscle in the third quarter forged a field-position advantage.

With the Packers pinned at their own 13 late in the period, the Steelers forced a three-and-out. On the punt, the Packers were penalized and had to re-kick from their 8. The Steelers were in business at the Packers' 41, and Mendenhall ended the third quarter by picking up eight yards.

Fourth-quarter flop

Many Steelers players participated in the universal football ritual of holding up four fingers at the start of the fourth quarter, a signal that if you want to win the game, this is the time to do it.

Mendenhall didn't get the message. He got the ball again to open the final quarter, and Clay Matthews popped it loose. Desmond Bishop (not Bishop Desmond) recovered the fumble.

The Packers, who didn't turn the ball over in the game, scored for the third time off a Steelers turnover. Rodgers threw an 8-yard TD pass to Jennings, making it 28-17 with 12 minutes left.

Starting with the AFC championship game, Mendenhall played like a top-tier running back for seven quarters. He ran for just 63 yards in the Super Bowl, but at a clip of 4.5 yards a carry. Finally it seemed that Mendenhall would be the guy to provide the Steelers with a productive, clock-grinding ground game in the coming years. But that fumble again planted some seeds of doubt.

So it was back to disaster recovery for the Steelers. And recover they did. They got to within a field goal halfway through the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Wallace and followed that with a pretty option pitch to Randle-El on the two-point conversion.

Ziggy Hood sacked Rodgers to start the ensuing possession, and the Packers eventually were staring at a third-and-10 from their own 25.

Momentum once again belonged to the Steelers.

That's when Rodgers showed why he's the Super Bowl MVP.

He threw to Jennings up the middle for 31 yards. Polamalu might have made his biggest impact of the night when he got his hand on Jennings' leg to stop him. It likely prevented a touchdown.

The Packers ran the clock down and got to the Steelers' 5. But the Steelers defense had enough fight left to hold them to a field goal and give
Roethlisberger a chance to win it.

But as a new generation of Steelers fans has learned, you can't win 'em all.


  1. Never fun to lose but easier to take knowing if they played 10 times they would probably split the games. Just one play. That's all they needed. Don't fumble. Hit Wallace on the corner route for 7 instead of missing a 52 yd FG. Block in the back on special teams after 45 yd return. Recover the muff on the first punt. Block on the throw from the goal line and don't let Ben's arm get hit. Any one of those plays and we may be buying new "7" stuff instead of wearing SIX TIME SUPER BOWL gear. Still, SIX TIME SUPER BOWL CHAMPS is not too shabby.

  2. You would never have believed me if I told you in August that Ben would sit out 4 games, Colon, Starks, Smith and Sepulveda would be lost for the season and Legursky would end up starting at center, but we would make the Super Bowl. Really an amazing tribute to the grit and determination of the staff and players. We'll be back.