Super Bowl XLV: More clunker than classic

Ben Roethlisberger (7) and Clay Matthews collide while chasing down a ball that fell incomplete.
Ben Roethlisberger (7) and Clay Matthews collide while chasing down a ball that fell incomplete.
Posted: February 07, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas - A Super Bowl plagued all week by Texas-sized problems had fans on the edge of their seats - if they had seats, that is.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers took the field with just under two minutes left and 87 yards to travel for another game-winning touchdown.

"I thought it would be another one of those magical moments," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "Two minutes, one time-out, needing a touchdown. We just didn't finish the job."

After being investigated for sexual assault, suspended for four games, and humiliated, Roethlisberger could have written a compelling end to this chapter of his life and career.

He won his first Super Bowl with one of the worst performances ever by a winning quarterback. He won his second, beating the Arizona Cardinals, by leading an epic comeback drive. His game-winning touchdown pass won wide receiver Santonio Holmes the most valuable player award.

Win with another last-minute comeback and Roethlisberger would write his name next to the likes of Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and John Elway as all-time clutch QBs. It is going too far to say a championship would have brought redemption, but it wouldn't have hurt.

On fourth and 5, Roethlisberger tried to find wide receiver Mike Wallace. His throw, like much of his performance, was not good enough. Packers cornerback Tramon Williams - yes, the same guy who ended the Eagles' season with an interception off Michael Vick - slapped the ball away and the Packers' sideline erupted in towel-tossing celebration.

"It is not a good feeling," Roethlisberger said. "I feel like I let down the city of Pittsburgh and my teammates and our fans. I can't blame anyone but myself."

It wasn't great football that created the drama in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday. It was the suspense over which of the two teams could self-destruct more thoroughly. In the end, the Steelers won that battle and lost the chance to win a league-best seventh Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers turned all three Steelers turnovers into touchdowns to claim their fourth Lombardi Trophy.

"You can't turn the ball over in the Super Bowl," Ward said, although the Steelers proved you certainly can.

The Packers tried valiantly to blow a 21-3 first-half lead. Bonehead penalties, dropped passes, and play calling that recalled Andy Reid in his foggiest fog-of-war moments gave Packers fans enough anxiety to curdle their cheeseheads.

Green Bay's 31-25 victory will not be remembered as a classic Super Bowl. Outside of Wisconsin and North Texas, which endured a miserable week frozen in the national spotlight, it will not be remembered at all.

Roethlisberger has more to forget than most. While being hit near his own goal line, he uncorked a doomed pass that was easily intercepted by Green Bay's Nick Collins and returned for a touchdown. The Packers scored again after picking off another Roethlisberger pass.

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy called the game as if his team were trailing, and, pretty soon, it almost was. His pass-heavy play calling emboldened the Steelers' pass rush, leading to a crisis atmosphere for most of the second half. The Packers dropped passes, committed penalties, and gave up sacks. The Steelers seized momentum and cut the lead to 21-17.

But Pittsburgh had answers for every Green Bay gaffe.

First, coach Mike Tomlin elected to try a 52-yard field goal rather than play it safe and punt. Kicker Shawn Suisham missed badly.

Then, as they were driving toward another score against an injury-depleted and worn-down defense, the Steelers coughed up the ball again. This time, running back Rashard Mendenhall fumbled in his own backfield. Green Bay recovered and turned the gift into another touchdown for a 28-17 lead.

"It just came out," Mendenhall said.

A Super Bowl that shaped up as the restoration of defensive football to its rightful place deteriorated into a shoot-out. The Steelers threw because they had to. The Packers threw because they chose to.

Ultimately, Aaron Rodgers was the superior quarterback. The man who waited three long years to succeed Green Bay legend Brett Favre met the challenge of his first Super Bowl with aplomb. Rodgers was sharp early in building a lead, lost his rhythm for a while (with plenty of help from clumsy receivers), and then made enough throws to close the deal.

This Super Bowl matched two of the NFL's most historically significant franchises in one of the world's most garish and overdone facilities. The teams represented the league's storied past. The venue represented the high-tech and ostentatious present.

The future is as cloudy as the weather in North Texas was for most of the week. The looming labor war means this could be the last NFL game for a long time. It wasn't a classic, but it will have to do.

Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter: @SheridanScribe. Read his blog at http:// or his recent columns at


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