Big Ben Comes Up Small in Super Bowl
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ben Roethlisberger was supposed to be the unflappable quarterback. The born winner who always made the big play in the big spot. A win Sunday would have meant a third Super Bowl title, and only four members of his profession have ever done that. Plans were being made to carve him right into that Mount Rushmore alongside Bradshaw, Montana, Aikman and Brady, and some were even putting forth the preposterous notion that a victory in Sunday night's football game might somehow offer Roethlisberger some form of "redemption" for the reprehensible offseason behavior that almost got him drummed out of Pittsburgh and the NFL last year.
And then he went out and played a rotten game, throwing two interceptions and badly mismanaging the two-minute drill at the end when he still had a chance to march down the field, win the game and put a sweet coat of varnish on his Hall of Fame resume.
So what do we do with Ben Roethlisberger now?
"Personally, I feel like I let a lot of people down," Roethlisberger said when it was all over. "You can't turn the ball over, and I did."
And in somewhat spectacular fashion. His first interception, courtesy of Nick Collins, was run back 37 yards for a touchdown and gave the Packers a lead larger than any that has ever been overcome in a Super Bowl. His second interception led, four plays later, to the touchdown that put the Packers up 21-3 in the second quarter. Those accounted for 14 of the 21 points the Packers would score off turnovers in this game. And while it looked for much of the second half -- right up until his fourth-down pass to Mike Wallace fell incomplete in the final minute -- as if Roethlisberger was going to bring the Steelers back against a shredded Green Bay secondary, he didn't.
"I don't put blame on anybody but myself," he said. "I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down -- my teammates, my coaches, the fans, everybody. And it's not a good feeling."
If we're going to canonize the quarterback who wins the big games, we also have to hammer the guy when he comes up small in the winnable ones. It's often pointed out that Roethlisberger played poorly in his first Super Bowl-winning effort, but part of his legend is that he's the guy who gets it done when it counts, even if it's not pretty along the way.
This one was just the opposite. Roethlisberger was set up to add Sunday to his winner's resume. Charles Woodson was out. Sam Shields was banged up. For the final few minutes of the first half, there was a parade of Packers defensive backs to the locker room with injuries, and not all of them came back. If ever a team were to come back from 18 points down to win a Super Bowl, it was this one, and the reason was to have been Roethlisberger.
But in the end, he simply had a lousy game at the worst possible time. He seemed as if he couldn't (or wouldn't) make the right decision when he rolled out to throw, as he so often does. He showed no urgency when he got the ball back down six with 1:59 left on the clock, as if the idiotic personal foul penalty by Keyaron Fox that forced him to start on his own 13 had somehow rattled him. He got excellent performances from a host of injury-replacement guys he didn't hesitate to name as he offered his postgame mea culpa.
"I feel like I let a lot of people down today that stood up to fight," he said. "People like Doug Legursky, Antwaan Randle El, Trai Essex and Ramon Foster. Those guys gave everything they had, and I let them down."
He wasn't alone in deserving blame. Rashard Mendenhall's second-half fumble was as crushing and inexplicable a turnover as either of Roethlisberger's. There were penalties and miscommunications that cost them chances to score. It was a jarringly poor performance by a team that should have been the composed one.
"I really thought we were mentally prepared to be on top of our game," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. "And then to come out and execute the way we did, it's totally uncharacteristic."
But in case you haven't heard yet, it's Big Ben who feels like he let some people down. And he should. Such is the life of the quarterback. This crummy Super Bowl game he just played goes into his ledger along with the two wins. And yes, it scuffs it up a little bit. After all, the whole point of Roethlisberger has been that he gets it done, that he's a winner, that he makes the play when he has to make it. The Steelers like to keep it simple when they talk about what makes their quarterback great, and so it was fitting that they kept it simple Sunday when explaining why he wasn't. Asked how he would describe Roethlisberger's performance, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin couldn't have put it any more simply.
"Just like mine," Tomlin said. "A losing one."