For a change, Steelers fall short in the face of adversity

ARLINGTON, Texas -- For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl XLV followed almost the same pattern as the rest of their season.

They screw up. They dig themselves a hole. They have to fight their way out.

From the very start of the season, the Steelers had to overcome some serious adversity, beginning with their starting quarterback's suspension for the first four games. They fought through key injuries throughout the regular season. They battled back from a huge early deficit in their divisional-playoff victory against the Baltimore Ravens. They overcame the loss of their starting center and other challenges to beat the high-flying New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.

In Super Bowl XLV, it looked as if the Steelers would do it again.

But Ben Roethlisberger's two interceptions -- including one that was returned for a touchdown -- did a whole lot of damage, as did Rashard Mendenhall's fumble and some uncharacteristic failings of that usually-dominant Pittsburgh defense. The 21 points that resulted from the those three turnovers would have been too much against practically any opponent. Against the Green Bay Packers, it proved to be downright suicidal, as the Steelers fell 31-25 on Sunday before a crowd of 91,060 at Cowboys Stadium.

Even so, the Steelers still had a chance with 1:59 remaining, trailing by six points with one timeout and the ball at their own 13-yard line. Nobody at Cowboys Stadium -- or anyone else -- would have comfortably assumed that Big Ben couldn't make some of his magic work again.

"It was going to be tough," Roethlisberger said. "But you never stop believing."

Said coach Mike Tomlin, "Whenever there's time on the clock and we're inside of a one-score game, I feel pretty confident that we're capable of doing the job. We've been in that situation a bunch. We practice that situation a bunch. Quite frankly, we're probably fully capable of executing it."

But they didn't. The Steelers never made it past their own 33, leaving the Packers to kill the final 49 seconds and take the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to the town where it was born.

In the end, the Steelers simply weren't able to do enough to undo all that they had done to squander a chance to win their second Super Bowl since the 2008 season and third since 2005.

"When you get to this game and get an opportunity to win a world championship, then come up short, it is tough on your soul," veteran inside linebacker James Farrior said.

Despite all of that Super Bowl experience that Farrior and several of his teammates had, the Steelers looked like the team that had never been here before. They showed a lack of composure, especially in the first half.

They repeatedly made big mistakes and didn't perform with the soundness that had been their calling card, even through all of those rough times.

"Absolutely, it's incredibly humbling," strong safety Troy Polamalu said. "We were unable to get any turnovers on defense. That was the difference. They made plays on defense, and we didn't."

It wasn't a particularly good night for Polamalu or outside linebacker James Harrison or other prominent Pittsburgh players. But no Steeler seemed less equipped to handle the pressure of the game than Roethlisberger. Which was surprising, given that he owns two Super Bowl rings and had pretty much taken a been-there-done-that approach to the game that seemed like it would serve him and his team well.

All of that appeared to change after kickoff.

"I don't put a blame on anybody except myself," Roethlisberger said. "I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, the fans, my coaches, my teammates, and it's not a good feeling. We turned the ball over, and a lot of that's my fault."

Roethlisberger said he was particularly disappointed because of the feeling that he had "let a lot of people down," especially those who had stepped up to replace injured starters. Among the names he mentioned was Doug Legursky, who took over at center after rookie Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey injured his ankle in the AFC title game.

This was Tomlin's blunt description of Roethlisberger's performance: "It was a losing one, just like mine."

The coach's low point came with just fewer than five minutes left in the third quarter. With momentum on the Steelers' side, he chose to attempt a 52-yard field goal rather than punt and trust his defense. Shaun Suisham was wide left, and the Packers had great field position. They didn't score, but the important thing was that Tomlin had demonstrated a sense of panic.

Pittsburgh would seemingly take its most devastating knockout punch when Mendenhall's fumble led to a Packers touchdown that gave Green Bay a 28-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.

But the Steelers picked themselves up again and kept on battling.

"That's what makes this team special; we're going to fight to the very end," tight end Heath Miller said. "We just came up a little short tonight."

For a change.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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