DALLAS -- His nose was red and his eyes were wet. Either Ben Roethlisberger had come down with the flu, or he'd been crying after the Steelers' 31-25 loss to Green Bay on Sunday night in Super Bowl XLV.
I promise you, he'd been crying.
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The doors to the Pittsburgh locker room opened about 15 minutes after the game ended, and Roethlisberger was the lowest, the slowest, the most somber person in the room. And that's saying something, because this was one somber room.
"We just lost the Super Bowl," Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "Nobody's happy in there."
But Roethlisberger, I said to Sanders. He looks ... decimated.
Roethlisberger had just given an interview to NFL Network inside the locker room, and although I was standing five feet away, I couldn't hear a word he said. Forget words -- I couldn't hear even his voice.
After that interview, I followed Roethlisberger down the hall and into a chance meeting with Sanders, who was waiting for a golf cart to drive him and his injured right foot to the team bus. Sanders tried to shake Roethlisberger's hand, but Roethlisberger was having none of that. He grabbed Sanders around the shoulders and hugged him, talking for nearly a minute into his teammate's ear. Sanders listened, nodding. Then Roethlisberger was gone.
Decimated, I told Sanders. Roethlisberger looks decimated.
"Yeah, he is," Sanders said. "He puts the whole team on his shoulders, and when we lose, he's torn up."
On Sunday, Roethlisberger had reason to blame himself. His overall numbers were borderline respectable -- he was 25-for-40 for 263 yards, with two touchdowns -- but he threw two early interceptions, both of them leading to Green Bay touchdowns, and was unable to direct a two-minute drive late.
The first of Roethlisberger's two interceptions was a Green Bay touchdown, a pass for Mike Wallace that wobbled to Packers safety Nick Collins after Roethlisberger was hit by Packers nose tackle Howard Green. Collins returned the ball 36 yards for a touchdown, giving the Packers a 14-0 lead only 24 seconds after their first touchdown had made it 7-0.
Later in the first half, on another pass intended for Wallace, Roethlisberger instead hit Packers defensive back Jarrett Bush between the numbers.
"If I'd played a little better," Roethlisberger said, "we'd have had a chance to win the game."
Roethlisberger wasn't the only one who felt that way. Look, it was obvious. His numbers were, as I said, respectable -- his passer rating was 77.4, which is about a C-minus -- but with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing for 304 yards, three touchdowns and an 111.5 passer rating, Roethlisberger needed his A-game. Without it, especially with those two early interceptions, the Steelers weren't going to win. And the Steelers knew it.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was complimentary of several of his players, most notably linebacker LaMarr Woodley -- "I thought Woodley had a heck of a ballgame," he said -- but wouldn't give the same credit to his quarterback. Whereas Tomlin was defiant about Woodley, noting that "I'm not willing to concede that he didn't play winning football," Tomlin wasn't willing to say the same of Roethlisberger.
Asked to assess his quarterback's performance, Tomlin blurted out, "It was a losing one, just like mine."
Steelers receiver Hines Ward listed several areas where the Steelers played well -- he called the offensive line "phenomenal," credited the way running back Rashard Mendenhall carried the ball and said the defense was "solid" -- but he didn't include the passing game. Not a word about the receivers. Not a word about Roethlisberger when he discussed Pittsburgh's positives.
Nor did Ward mention Roethlisberger when he discussed the negatives, though he clearly was including his quarterback in that group when he said, "Turn the ball over three times against the Packers? Not too many teams are going to beat the Packers with three turnovers."
Two of those turnovers were passes Roethlisberger threw directly into the arms of a Green Bay defensive back. The other turnover was equally costly, given the timing. After falling behind 21-3, the Steelers had pulled within 21-17 entering the fourth quarter. The Packers were losing players to injury on almost every series, and they were committing stupid penalties. Pittsburgh had all the momentum, and it had the ball at the Green Bay 33 when two Packers defenders sandwiched Mendenhall, popping the ball loose.
Green Bay drove for a touchdown to make it 28-17, then added a field goal to make it 31-25 with 2:07 remaining. The Steelers had one last shot, from their own 13, with 1:59 to play and one timeout. Roethlisberger managed only one first down before throwing an incompletion on fourth-and-5 with 49 seconds left.
In more than a minute, he had driven the Steelers only 20 yards. He continually threw the ball into the middle of the field, and he never called a timeout. I'm not sure he knew he had that timeout.
"We had no timeouts," he said of that final drive.
Wrong. There was one timeout. But it's a moot point the way he was throwing the ball. Other than the Steelers' touchdown drive late in the first half, when he was 5-of-7 for 77 yards, Roethlisberger was severely outplayed by Aaron Rodgers. And again, Roethlisberger knew it.
"I don't blame anybody," he said, "but myself."
And then he stepped off the podium, limping away on a sore knee and ankle.