By TomE. Curran
ARLINGTON One tick under two minutes left and 87 yards to cover. With his team trailing by six, Ben Roethlisbergers chance to force his way into the pantheon of all-time great quarterbacks was right in front of him.
Ready or not.
The Steelers mismanaged their final possession, exiting Super Bowl XLV with barely a whimper after mounting a stirring second-half comeback.
The final score? 31-25. The plays made by Roethlisberger to kick the coffee table about? Several.
The final drive of the Steelers season? Sloppy. Aimless. Ill-informed.
With 119 seconds left, the Steelers were first-and-10 on their own 13 with one timeout.
On the first two plays of the drive, Roethlisberger threw in the middle of the field. The first was complete to Heath Miller for 15 yards. The second was complete to a rolling Hines Ward. Tick, tick, tick.
Now there were less than 90 seconds left and the clock rolled on.
Mike Wallace, split out wide to the right, flailed his arms trying to get the call. Roethlisberger didnt see him. Shortly before the snap, Mewelde Moore saw Wallace and told Wallace the play.
Wallace ran a go-route. Roethlisberger under duress threw it into the third row.
By the time the ball hit the ground, just 62 seconds remained. It was third-and-5. Fifty-seven seconds had been burned. Twenty yards had been gained. No clock-stopping spike after the first completion. No timeout when they were disorganized.
On third down, Roethlisberger threw a low-percentage pass, inside the numbers that skipped past Wallace on the right.
With 56 seconds left, it was fourth-and-5. Pick up the first down, your season continues. Fail and the Packers are Super Bowl champions.
Roethlisberger threw high and hard to Wallace, who failed to come up with it, and the game was over.
Its funny, we get into these conversations every year about this time. Whos an elite quarterback? Brady or Manning? Is Manning the greatest ever? Is Brees better than Brady? So much of it seems to hinge on these Sundays in February.
If these games are the measuring stick, then consider this: In Peyton Mannings two Super Bowl appearances, hes won in a forgettable performance and thrown a game-sealing interception in the other. A loss.
In Roethlisbergers three Super Bowls, hes played awful and won. Hes played brilliant and won. Hes played awful and lost.
Tom Brady? He was brilliant in three Super Bowls and in the one he lost, he was merely average. Still, in the one he lost he not only threw a touchdown pass in the final four minutes to give the Patriots the lead, he threw a 70-yard bomb on the final drive of the game that ticked off the fingers of Randy Moss. He didnt go quietly.
Roethlisberger did. And he went down unprepared. Sitting at the podium Sunday night, he didnt even know how many timeouts the Steelers had.
Its disappointing to lose, but its more disappointing to let other people down . . . said Roethlisberger, who finished 25-of-40 for 263 yards with two touchdown passes and two costly picks, both of which led to Packers touchdowns. I turned the ball over. You cant do that. Starting the final drive you feel pretty good, you like your chances. We had one timeout or no timeouts. It was gonna be tough but we never stopped believing.
Why the throws into the middle of the field and the apparent time wasting?
They did a great job of taking away deep things and taking away the outside, Roethlisberger explained. We stuck with very limited options there with that much time and no timeouts left.
Told that they did have a timeout, Roethlisberger shrugged.
If I had played a little bit better, I feel like we would have had a better chance to win the game, Roethlisberger sighed. Yeah. Probably.
Roethlisberger is an excellent player. A unique player. But the its not always pretty, draw-it-up-in-the-sand approach doesnt float when youre operating like that on the final drive of the Super Bowl. And thats what it felt like.
Roethlisberger has given his teammates and the football-watching public plenty of reason to think that the Packers were in trouble when he began the final Steelers drive.
I was like, Here we go again, " said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. But it didnt happen. We were scrambling a little bit because we lost Emmanuel Sanders, one of Pittsburghs wideouts. Guys were in a little bit different positions and we lost a little bit of time to set up.
The turnovers Roethlisberger responsible for two and running back Rashard Mendenhall the other (a fumble that also turned into seven for Green Bay) were the common lament after the game.
I had a feeling we were going to do it again, said Steelers receiver Hines Ward. Weve been in those situations, those two minute drives but we should have never been in that situation. Thats the discouraging part. We turned the ball over. You cant beat a team like the Packers turning the ball over.
The first pick wasnt all on Roethlisberger. He had pressure in his face and was unable to step into a throw intended for Wallace. Nick Collins picked it off and went the distance to make it 14-0. The next pick was a force. A throw into a well-covered Wallace was intercepted by Jarrett Bush and turned into a touchdown four plays later.
Those are sins of commission. Not knowing the timeout situation, not being attuned to the clock on the final drive? Thats a sin of omission and its hard to forgive.
Im sure there will be many instances where we can look back at this game and wish that we had done things differently, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin answered when asked about the final drive. Im at the front of that line. Im not going to dispute any of those suggestions.
We had 1:59 left a timeout and a bunch of grass in front of us, he acknowledged. Weve been in that situation a bunch, weve practiced that situation a bunch and quite frankly were fully able to execute it. But Sunday night we didnt.
Asked to assess Roethlisbergers performance, Tomlin said without flinching, It was a losing one. Just like mine.