ARLINGTON, Texas – For once things didn't work out for Ben Roethlisberger(notes). He had no more indictments to dodge; no cheering crowds to serenade him as he left the Cowboys Stadium field. Once again, the Super Bowl came down to him, to a final 2:07. Only this time he couldn't deliver the championship.
His knees hurt, though he wouldn't say so. Receiver Hines Ward(notes) later said someone from the Packers took a shot at the Steelers' quarterback's legs, twisting a knee. "A warrior," Ward called him. It was clear, given the affection the Pittsburgh players have shown Roethlisberger in recent months, that he has won them back after the late-winter romp last year through that little town in Georgia.
For a stretch, Roethlisberger had reasons to be thankful.
(Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)
Still he seemed to comprehend his role as a key culprit in the Steelers' loss as he shaved the beard he nurtured all postseason and labored to pull on a blue dress shirt, then a brown and blue pinstriped suit. He was silent.
Outside in an interview area, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked about his quarterback's performance.
"It was a losing one just like mine," he replied.
On this Super Bowl night Roethlisberger did not get a pass from his coach. Someone asked Tomlin about the combination of Roethlisberger and receiver Mike Wallace(notes) – one so efficient during the regular season.
"In instances [the combination] was dang good and in instances it was below the line," Tomlin said. "One of the many reasons we came up short."
He was not the Big Ben that the Steelers have come to expect in the biggest games over the years. This much was obvious when his passes floated wild at the start of the game. Too far. Too high. Too short. He seemed distracted, unsure what he wanted to do. Bruce Arians, the team's offensive coordinator, blamed a broken foot suffered by receiver Emmanuel Sanders(notes), an injury that he said threw the rest of the Steelers' receivers into roles they were not accustomed to playing.
But an injury to a receiver who caught just 28 passes in the regular season was not the real culprit on Sunday. Neither was center Maurkice Pouncey's(notes) high ankle sprain that never got well enough to play. The Steelers' coaches said Doug Legursky(notes) played well in Pouncey's place. This one was on Ben.
His 263 yards passing could not override the two interceptions – both of which resulted in Green Bay touchdowns – and the countless balls that were never close to being caught.
"I put it on my shoulders," Roethlisberger said, when a camera crew from the NFL Network cornered him in a locker room alcove. He grimaced.
"No excuses," he added.
Despite his seeming simplicity, Roethlisberger has always been a complicated figure to comprehend – unflappable in crisis on the field, brusque and rogue off it. After the trouble last offseason, he vowed to be a new person and appeared to prove it in public. On the field, he kept delivering victories, mixing enormous comebacks with savvy late-game passes. Everything perfect. Everything precise. Always the conqueror standing triumphant.
Then even after the bad start on Sunday, after all the mistakes, he still had a chance to write the same script. Pittsburgh had the ball, two minutes were left and an empty field spread before him.
Just 87 yards was all that stood between him and increasing Hall of Fame talk. Two years ago he won the Super Bowl in almost the same position.
On the sideline, the Steelers' players noted how calm he looked, like he had so many times before. He offered the same encouraging words, the same vow to make a touchdown happen. They believed what he said. They assumed he was right.
But the third-down pass toward Wallace flew far over the receiver's head and the fourth-down throw to Wallace was again too high.
In this end, Roethlisberger was quiet. As he moved through the Steelers' locker room, three of the league's public relations men shadowed him, protecting him from intrusions. They led him into the stadium's cavernous hallway, taking him to an interview stand where he mumbled the same things about not making excuses.
"There are a lot of throws I'd like to have back," said Roethlisberger, who had prevailed in his previous two Super Bowl appearances. "Like I said, I don't put blame on anybody but myself. I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, the fans, my coaches, my teammates.
"It's not a good feeling."
Then a public relations man ended the interview and Roethlisberger was moved into oblivion on the night he wouldn't be able to deliver the Super Bowl. No cart came to pick him up the way they do for the winners. Nobody doused him in glittering confetti. No one called his name.
All that waited was a long, cold march to the bus. On one side walked David Lockett, the Steelers' communications coordinator. On the other walked tight end Heath Miller(notes). The two men formed a sort of protective cocoon for their quarterback who had been so much the scorn and joy of Pittsburgh the last 10 months. They didn't need to be there. He was alone now, hobbling down the vast concrete corridors of Cowboys Stadium past this year's winner – Aaron Rodgers(notes) doing a television interview – past the line of riot police, past all the television trucks and out to a waiting bus.
He slumped in a seat five rows from the rear. There he sat by himself, preparing to pull on a giant gold and black set of headphones with a black No. 7 on the side.
This time Ben Roethlisberger couldn't win the Super Bowl.
And for the first time in a long while he didn't matter anymore.