Plenty of blame to go around for Steelers' Super Bowl bust

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger had such a late start to his season, it's no wonder he tried to stretch it all the way to the Steelers' final series in February.

He wished he could have led one more drive -- a victory parade down the packed streets of Pittsburgh with a seventh Super Bowl trophy along for the ride.

Instead, the Steelers remain stuck on six.

One day after the Steelers' 31-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV, the gloomy weather seemed fitting for a city dealing with a rare loss in the big game. If there's one franchise that isn't used to this feeling, it's the Steelers. Sure, they lost a Super Bowl before, but they've won two since and own six in their collection.

What's more, Roethlisberger lost his chance to join rarified air and become one of the few quarterbacks with three Super Bowl rings -- think Troy Aikman, Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw. Instead, Roethlisberger threw two picks against the Packers and saw one returned for a touchdown.

"I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, the fans, my coaches, my teammates," he said Sunday night after the loss.

The Steelers can only hope they won't hear a similar speech this offseason from the maligned quarterback.

Roethlisberger shamed the organization last offseason with his behavior in a Georgia nightclub that resulted in a sexual-assault allegation. He wasn't prosecuted, but he receive earn a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy.

Roethlisberger told the Steelers on the final Super Bowl drive that he believed in them and they could win the game. But he could only move them 20 yards, before turning the ball over on downs, while another one of the NFL's iconic franchises celebrated.

Normally, when a topic like Roethlisberger's third title pops up, the old NFL adage that "there's always next year" would surface.

But that might not be the case this year.

The collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the day on March 3, and barring an agreement before then, owners are threatening to lock out players. Therefore, Sunday's Super Bowl could be the last game played this calendar year.

"I don't think it's even a 'possible lockout.' I feel that it's something that is definitely going to happen," Steelers linebacker James Harrison said. "I hope it doesn't, because it's going to take a lot away from the fans. When it comes down to it, it's a business move for (the NFL), and if it's the way they say it is, I don't see any other option. They still will make their money and not have to pay anything."

If that's not the case, and the 2011 season goes on as planned, the Steelers will return in great shape.

Roethlisberger and wide receiver Hines Ward will be back. So, too, will a young skill-position core that should keep the Steelers among the AFC's contenders. Team president Art Rooney certainly believes the franchise has the right players in place for a Super Bowl championship.

"I feel good about our team," he said. "We'll go into next year feeling like we'll take another shot at it. It takes a few days to recover from this game, so we'll lick our wounds for a couple of days and then get back to work next year."

There's plenty of blame to pass around for the way this season ended, though.

The Steelers were let down by a defense picked apart by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Harrison and NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu, the Steelers' super safety, failed to deliver the big plays and hard hits that had defined the season. Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP, took aim at Pittsburgh's suspect secondary and connected for several clutch plays.

"(Green Bay's) defense," Polamalu said, "outplayed our defense."

The Steelers, who weren't available to the media Monday, returned to Pittsburgh without a parade to plan. Street vendors hawking Steelers merchandise offered blowout sales on "last day to buy!" signs. And airport kiosks were quiet without any Super Bowl-champion T-shirts to sell, as shoppers lingered in novelty stores without the pressure to buy.

At Primanti Brothers restaurant -- a Pittsburgh tradition that has fed many a Steelers fan -- folks noshed on their pastrami-and-cheese sandwiches, paying no attention to the muted Super Bowl highlights at a television hanging near the counter.

A silver lining for the black-and-gold faithful is all the "Seventh Heaven" merchandise still will be good for at least another year.

And linebacker James Farrior -- a veteran spokesman for the defense -- believes the Steelers will be in the Super Bowl mix next season.

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"I think so," he said. "I love this group. I think it is a heck of a group. There is a lot more football left in us. We just have to stay together. Hopefully, everything works out in the offseason and we get back here next season."

But it's the season after Super Bowls, more than the game itself, that has given the Steelers fits recently. In fact, Pittsburgh failed to make the playoffs after each of its last two Super Bowl titles, finishing 8-8 in 2006 and 9-7 in 2009.

Rooney doesn't seem worried, though.

"I don't think we'll be sitting there saying we're going to make a lot of changes," he said. "We'll prepare for the draft and add some players here and there, and be ready to go."

"Seventh Heaven" still awaits.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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