It is time to hop back into the black and gold Delorean and venture back to a time in which “Grenade” by Bruno Mars was the No. 1 song on the charts, the psychological thriller The Roommate was tops in theaters and deadly unrest in Egypt was dominating the news. Meanwhile, the Steelers played in their most recent Super Bowl and were questing for their 7th Lombardi Trophy.
Pittsburgh came into the contest at 12-4 and allowed the fewest points in the NFL in 2010, with a mere 232. Defeats of Baltimore and the New York Jets made up the black-and-gold road to the Super Bowl. Their opponents, the equally legendary Green Bay Packers, came in at 10-6 but those losses were only by a combined 20 points. The Pack beat the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears to get to Dallas on this day. The 6th-seeded Packers offense ranked 9th in yards per game, 10th in total points, & 5th in passing yards, while the defense led by Clay Matthews Jr, B.J. Raji, A,J, Hawk and Charles Woodson ranked 5th in yards allowed and finished 2nd in points allowed. Despite the records, the game shaped up to be a dandy on paper, but would that be the case in stadium?
Welcome to February 6, 2011
Pittsburgh won the opening coin toss and elected to receive, but defense ruled the day as the first three drives of the game ended with punts. The cause of those kicks included a 3rd and 7 Aaron Rodgers pass that went through the arms of Jordy Nelson at the Green Bay 47 and a 3rd and 1 incompletion from Ben Roethlisberger that went high to Heath Miller at their own 44. With 3:51 remaining in the first Green Bay sowed the seeds for a potential runaway after completing an 80-yard drive with Rodgers’ 3rd and 1 touchdown pass of 29 yards to Nelson, who just inched past William Gay enough to make a leaping catch for glory. It got decidedly worse on the first play after the ensuing kickoff. With Maurkice Pouncey’s absence at center due to a knee injury in the AFC Championship Game against the Jets, Howard Green blew past Chris Kemoeatu and Pouncey’s replacement Doug Legursky and disrupted Ben on his long throw to Mike Wallace. The ball was way too short and was thieved by Nick Collins and returned 37 yards for a touchdown, giving Green Bay a 14–0 lead. Fortunes looked dark in Dallas for a black and gold victory.
An 18-yard scramble on 3rd and 9 by Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger on the next possession helped the Men of Steel find a way to respond on their next possession though, but it was merely a field goal when Mike Wallace fell short of moving the sticks at the Packer 15 to cut the score to 14–3. After forcing a punt, the Steelers had momentum slowly shifting in their favor. However, Emmanuel Sanders suffered a foot injury as the Texas native and rookie out of SMU would not return to the big game in Dallas. Not just the injury bug would hit, but the turnover bug would continue plaguing the Steelers again when Roethlisberger’s pass was intercepted by Jarrett Bush at the Green Bay 47 with 4:28 to go in the quarter. That pick gave the Pack another score as Rodgers, in only four plays (a run of 12 by James Starks and collaborations with Greg Jennings and Jordan) reached the end zone with 2:31 left in the half. The scoreboard was fortuitous to Mike McCarthy’s Packers, but the injury list grew as Green Bay would lose major players in the form of Donald Driver (ankle injury) and Charles Woodson (separated shoulder) with neither returning. Down 18, the Steelers would provide fans with some hope before the Black-Eyed Peas would take the stage at intermission. With the ball back and a ticking clock close to the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger threaded a 37-yard completion to Antwaan Randle-El on their first play and the legendary Hines Ward caught three passes for 39 yards on the drive, the final one an 8-yard touchdown catch with 37 seconds left in the half, making the score 21–10 at halftime.
Green Bay had a chance to do damage after the break, but the Steelers defense forced a punt after clamping down on A-A-Ron and company. Starting at midfield after a facemask penalty was called on Tom Crabtree while tackling Antonio Brown on the punt return, the Steelers took to the ground and reached the end zone on nothing but runs starting with a Rashard Mendenhall 17-yard dash, Isaac Redman for 3 yards, and Roethlisberger calling his own number for 6. But the big play occurred on 3rd and 1 when Redman tried to run up the middle, but it looked like a no gain, but he so room to his left and broke free for a 16-yard gain to the 8-yard line. Then Mendy took it the rest of the way for the remainder and found pay dirt for 14 unanswered to make the score 21–17. After forcing a punt, Pittsburgh mounted an offensive attack that advanced to the Packers 29-yard line, but Green Bay’s defense stiffened, and a Frank Zombo sack of Roethlisberger backed up the Iron City offense to the 34. Suisham sauntered out for an attempt of a 52-yard field goal, but the Steelers did not get any points for their offense as their kicker went severely wide left with the miss.
The defensive smackdown of the Pack did continue on the next drive and a short Tim Masthay punt gave the Steelers a chance to pursue their first lead of the game starting out at the enemy 41 with :11 left in the third. Bruce Arians’ offense that had success on the ground two possessions earlier, kept to it on this series. Mendenhall gained 8 yards right away and it all appeared to be game-on. But on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Steelers lost their third turnover when No. 34 fumbled the ball while being tackled for a 5-yard loss by Clay Matthews Jr. and Ryan Pickett. After Mendenhall was cracked by that particular defensive duo, Desmond Bishop recovered the ball and returned it 7 yards to the Packers 45. On the next possession, Rodgers, on a 3rd and 1, completed a 38-yard pass to Nelson at the Steelers 2. Despite LaMarr Woodley’s sack of Rodgers on the next play, No. 12 in green and gold rebounded to throw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jennings to extend the Packers lead to 28–17. Tomlin’s team was not ready to concede however, and Ben led the Steelers right back by connecting on 6 of 7 completions to the likes of Matt Spaeth, three collaborations with Wallace, a 15-yard completion to Ward and topping it all off with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Wallace. On the two-point conversion play, Roethlisberger faked a hand-off to Mendenhall, ran forward and pitched the ball to Antwaan Randle El, who dashed down the left sideline to trim the Steelers deficit to 3 points at 28–25 with 7:40 to go in Super Bowl XLV.
Green Bay came out and the Steelers found new life by forcing a 3rd and 10 after just two plays, but a major straw was added to the pile on the black-and-gold backs of the Steelers Super Bowl Title hopes when Rodgers kept the drive going with a 31-yard completion to Jennings over the middle, Starks then ran for 14 yards to the Steelers 30 and James Jones caught a 21-yard throw at the 8. The Steelers defense kept the Pack from scoring and stayed alive by forcing a 23-yard field goal by Mason Crosby for a 31–25 lead with 2:07 left on the clock. Following a debilitating penalty on Keyaron Fox for unnecessary roughness, the Steelers started out on their own 13-yard line. The fortunes looked promising for Pittsburgh on their first play as Roethlisberger hooked-up on a 15-yard pass to Heath and a 5-yard reception by Ward. But Big Ben’s next three passes to Wallace were incomplete, turning the ball over and allowing the Packers to run out the rest of the clock.
The Steelers could not muster the magic that they enjoyed two years earlier in Tamps, as the Dallas night belonged to the Green Bay Packers. The game for the Steelers was winnable as dropped balls by the Packers and dominant defense at times by Pittsburgh kept the black and gold in it. But turnovers killed big chances, and despite a valiant effort and an entertaining contest, this showing ranks high as one of the biggest disappointments in Super Bowl history.
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