Super Bowl XXX was the first time the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a championship game in their illustrious history. Their opponents were the Dallas Cowboys. Troy Aikman was the victorious quarterback. The Steelers started off slow in that game but mounted a furious comeback that was ultimately undone by one too many mistakes.
Fifteen years later, the Steelers found themselves in Super Bowl XLV. Ironically, it took place at Cowboys Stadium. Troy Aikman was there calling the game. And, once again, the Black and Gold staged a valiant comeback which was ultimately thwarted by too many miscues.
You can only dig so many holes. Eventually, you run out of shovels.
The Steelers lived dangerously throughout this year’s playoffs. Gave up a huge lead to Baltimore. Ben Roethlisberger played lousy against the Jets. Yet they found a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Against the Green Bay Packers, they tempted fate once too often.
This performance was pretty much a Cliff’s Notes version of everything which had led to this point. The Steelers went into halftime staring at a 21-10 deficit. Ben made a handful of plays but played poorly overall. The secondary, a question mark all season, broke down at inopportune times. And if this game doesn’t signal the end of the Bruce Arians era, he must have pictures of Art Rooney II cross-dressing at a Lady Gaga concert or something.
I said in my game preview the Steelers would be well-served to emphasize the running game like they did against New York. On their second possession of the game, Pittsburgh lined up with David Johnson at fullback and ran the ball down Green Bay’s throat. Then, on 3rd and 1, Arians went with his beloved empty backfield and the pass fell incomplete. They wouldn’t return to a consistent ground attack until the second half.
Backed up at their 7, Arians dialed up a deep bomb to Mike Wallace. He was open but Ben’s arm was hit on release and the duck was picked by Nick Collins. Collins returned it for a touchdown. A few drives later, Ben tried to squeeze a pass to Wallace between two defenders. Jarrett Bush snatched the ball away from Flash for the second costly turnover of the half.
Why were we throwing so much against what is generally considered the strength of the Packers defense? WHO KNOWS. Why does the rain in Spain fall mostly on the plain? WHO KNOWS. Do androids dream of electric sheep? WHO KNOWS.
I’m taking nothing away from the Packers. They played like the Super Bowl veterans while Aaron Rodgers earned a well-deserved MVP award. This game could have been uglier than Fergie’s outfit during that debacle of a halftime show if not for the Packers young receivers repeatedly dropping his perfect passes. So to say the Steelers beat themselves would not be fair because most of those drops would’ve went for long gains.
In a happier alternate reality, Wallace would have been the MVP after being left wide open time and time again by a badly banged up Green Bay secondary playing without Charles Woodson. Ben’s throws were routinely off-line, missing a streaking Wallace on a sure touchdown early in the third quarter being perhaps the most egregious of his errors. Every game has bounces that go one way or the other. The outcome hinges on who makes the plays when they need to be made. When the chips were down, Rodgers made the plays. Ben did not.
Neither did Dick LeBeau‘s defense. They didn’t play badly but they didn’t play particularly well either. Troy Polmalu was a total non-factor. They failed to generate a single turnover. And they wilted toward the end of the game, surrendering a 31 yard pass to Greg Jennings and a 21 yarder to James Jones when they desperately needed to get off the field. Granted, they eventually forced a field goal but by then the clock had been milked past the two minute warning while Green Bay’s lead had been upped to six points.
Despite all the errors, the proud Steelers did not go quietly right up to the final drive of the game. Although the game really turned when they rediscovered the running game in the second half and it allowed them to cut the 11 point deficit to 4. As the fourth quarter began, the Black and Gold had the momentum and were driving when Rashard Mendenhall was double-humped by Clay Matthews and Ryan Pickett and the ball popped loose. A lot of football was left to be played but that ultimately proved to be one mistake too many.
Congratulations to the World Champion Green Bay Packers. Also, a heartfelt thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Losing the Super Bowl sucks. No way around it. But when you consider the adversity they faced this season, from the unfair persecution of their starting quarterback, to the injuries to key personnel, to being targeted by a corrupt commissioner and being victimized by blatantly biased officiating, there really is no way to consider this year a failure regardless of how the journey ends. So, thank you, Black and Gold, for playing with the heart of a champion even if you eventually fell short of that goal.
There’s always next year…
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