Error-prone Steelers sealed their own fate

Rashard Mendenhall's fumble killed Pittsburgh's drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Matthew Emmons/US Presswire

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The team with the most championship experience committed three ugly turnovers in Super Bowl XLV.

A veteran group that came to Texas with plenty of hardware looked shell-shocked early in the first half, falling behind by 18 points.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, who planned to take advantage of their Super Bowl experience, in many ways played like first-timers in Sunday's 31-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers. With a minus-three turnover margin, Pittsburgh fell to 6-2 in Super Bowls. And for the current core of Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton and James Farrior, this was their first Super Bowl loss in three tries.

Pittsburgh (14-5) hadn't been a sloppy team all season but suddenly became turnover-prone and mistake-laden on the NFL's biggest stage. Pittsburgh's three turnovers led directly to 21 Green Bay points, which was the difference and led to a long flight home and an even longer offseason.

"I'd just rather not be here if I'm not going to take home the trophy," said a sullen Steelers safety Ryan Clark. "Just talking to Troy, it's like 'What do we do now? Where do you go from here?' Nothing separates us from the other 30 teams that weren't here. We're just like them."

Pittsburgh's six-point loss was littered with errors often seen from lesser AFC North teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. The Steelers were careless with the football (two interceptions, one fumble), were flat early and committed six penalties which negated several good plays.

There were hints during the playoff run that the Steelers could have this type of sloppy Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh hadn't put together four solid quarters of football all postseason and it finally caught up to them against the red-hot Packers. The Steelers fell behind big to the Baltimore Ravens in the first half of the divisional round and nearly blew a sizable lead to the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.

The Steelers' poor second half against New York was extended into the Super Bowl, as Green Bay jumped out to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter and never trailed. Had the Steelers won, they would have overcome the largest deficit in Super Bowl history.

The Steelers nearly pulled it off but couldn't overcome their turnovers. Roethlisberger's two picks in the first half led to a pair of touchdowns, and Rashard Mendenhall's huge fumble in the fourth quarter allowed Green Bay to score eight plays later to take a 28-17 lead, essentially sealing Pittsburgh's fate.

Mendenhall has had issues with fumbling throughout his career but improved this season. He only lost two fumbles in 324 regular-season carries but picked an awful time to put one on the ground in his first Super Bowl.

"It just happened and it should not have happened," said Mendenhall, who didn't see Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews on the hit. "When you turn the ball over like we did, you put yourself in a bad position to win the game."

Roethlisberger fell to 10-3 in the playoffs and 2-1 in Super Bowls. He had a chance to win his third ring at age 28 but was inconsistent, throwing for 263 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Roethlisberger's passer rating was 77.4, while Green Bay counterpart Aaron Rodgers (304 yards, three touchdowns) held a 111.5 passer rating.

"If I had played a little bit better, I feel like we would have had a better chance to win the game," Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger wasn't alone as missed opportunities were the story of the game for the Steelers. Pittsburgh's defense blew some coverages and allowed several big passing plays. The coaching staff made a curious decision to try a 52-yard field goal which wasn't close and blew two costly timeouts in the second half. And just about everyone on the team was at fault for Pittsburgh's really slow start.

But anything can happen in a one-game scenario, and Green Bay was the sharper, more efficient team.

Once the immediate disappointment of a Super Bowl loss blows over, Pittsburgh will eventually look back at this season as a major success. Expectations were extremely low for the Steelers. Roethlisberger missed the first four games because of a suspension and many -- including the AFC North blog -- picked Pittsburgh to finish third in the division.

Instead, this talented and resilient group banded together and surprised everyone by winning the AFC North and making it all the way to the title match. But sloppiness in the final game led to runner-up status and Pittsburgh will think about what could have been.

"It was a good year, but this is not the way you want to finish it," Mendenhall said. "At the same time, it is a blessing to have this opportunity and we didn't take advantage of it. You want to grow from every experience and just move on from here."