Steelers fumble away chance for ‘Seven’

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Three critical turnovers and penalties at critical times led to the Steelers losing their second Super Bowl in eight tries 31-25 as they handed the Green Bay Packers 21 of their 31 points via two interceptions and a fumble.

Take away the turnovers and its 25-10, a blowout. With 25 players with Super Bowl experience, most felt the Packers would struggle early but it was the Steelers who choked, handing the Packers a 21-3 halftime lead.

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COMEBACK FALLS SHORT—Steelers’ running backs Isaac Redman (33) and Rashard Mendenhall walk off the field after the NFL Super Bowl XLV Feb. 6, in Arlington, Texas. Green Bay won 31-25. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

They thoroughly outplayed the Packers in the second half 22-10 but with the momentum in their favor, Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble ended any chance of a comeback victory. It was one of three mistakes on a night filled with them for the Steelers. The Packers hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

“We don’t grade on a curve,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re not interested in moral victories and things of that nature. We didn’t play well enough to win, and Green Bay did, and we tip our hat to them because of that.”

The Packers didn’t give it up once, allowing them to prevail when they were outgained (387-338 in total yards), had the ball nearly 7 minutes less than the Steelers and barely mustered a running game (50 yards on just 13 carries).

“When you turn the ball over like we did,” Mendenhall said, “you put yourself in a bad position.”

Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions; including a pick that Nick Collins returned 37 yards for a touchdown to give Green Bay a 14-0 lead less than 12 minutes into the game. The Packers stretched it to 21-3—scoring again after Big Ben’s second interception—before the Steelers made a game of it.

“There’s a lot of what ifs. There’s a lot of throws I’d like to have back,” Roethlisberger said. “We turned the ball over. A lot of that is my fault.”

Roethlisberger hooked up with Hines Ward for a touchdown that made it 21-10 at halftime. Mendenhall rumbled into the end zone from 8 yards out to bring Pittsburgh even closer, 21-17. And, as the final quarter started, the Steelers had second-and-2 at the Green Bay 33.

Mendenhall took the handoff, but Packers linebacker Clay Matthews drove a shoulder right into the runner almost as soon as he took the ball, and massive defensive lineman Ryan Pickett dived in to complete a 595-pound sandwich. The result of that fearsome collision: the ball came flying out, and Bishop swooped in to scoop it up for Green Bay.

“I saw the play coming back my way,” he said. “Fortunately, through film work, I was able to tell my defensive end what to do, and I was able to make the play. It was key at the time. They were driving on us. We were able to get that turnover and turn it into points, which was the difference in the game.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense took care of the remaining 55 yards, scoring the touchdown that provided some breathing room. The Steelers never quit, answering with a TD of their own to make it close again, but Green Bay held on the final possession to send the Lombardi Trophy back to the home of the coach whose name it bears.

“I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down — the fans, the coaches, my teammates,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not a good feeling.”

On defense Troy Polamalu was nearly invisible but James Harrison made his presence felt. However, the secondary once again showed why the Steelers must make cornerback their top priority during the off season. The Packers went right at Bryant McFadden and William Gay, even without Donald Driver, as they were consistently burned by Rodgers and his wide receivers.

“It’s incredibly humbling,” Polamalu said. “Toughest loss I’ve ever had in my life.”

Harrison stood in front of his locker, his head down and his voice barely above a whisper.

“I don’t feel anything but pain,” he said.

And that from a guy who’s accustomed to dishing it out.

“I just feel frustration, anger,” Harrison said. “We just lost a Super Bowl. How the hell do you think I feel?”

He let the fans know, going on Twitter shortly after the game and typing out one simple word: “Sorry.”

“They were hitting the big plays downfield,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “We let them out of third-down situations. When you let a team like that out of third-down situations, you lose the game like we did tonight.”

The Packers were 6 of 13 on third-down conversions, including a 29-yard touchdown catch by Jordy Nelson that put Green Bay ahead 7-0.

“We weren’t able to get any turnovers on defense,” said Polamalu. “That was the difference.”

“I had some opportunities to make some plays,” Polamalu said. “I was just off a step here or there.”

“I mean, everybody is probably going through a little bit of, ‘If I had done this, or what if I had done that?’” Harrison said. “I guess everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what that one is right now.”

For some reason the Steelers did not pass the ball as often as they have in the past. Probably because they were having success running the ball, but at some time you must go back to what you do best, especially when two of the other teams’ starters are on the sideline with injuries.

When it’s all said and done, the Steelers with a few minor adjustments could easily be back to the big dance next season. Remember, they played without their All-Pro rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, and two other starting offensive linemen, Matt Starks and Willie Colon.

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