It became clear in just a handful of plays that it wasn't going to be the Steelers' night in the AFC Championship Game in Foxborough. Again. Tom Brady led an up-tempo, no-huddle offense that had the Steelers on its heels from the very first drive.
"The first drive hit us by surprise," Steelers second-year linebacker Bud Dupree said days after the 36-17 loss, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They came out firing and they caught us off guard. We were checking and they were checking at the same time. Hats off to that team. They had a great preparation."
Tens days later, and some 72 hours before the Patriots face the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared on Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari's podcast. Not surprisingly, the Patriots came up.
"I'd say there is more respect than hatred," Roethlisberger explained of the rivalry -- if you can call it that.. "I don't think there is a hatred there. We've played them twice in my 13 years in the championship game. Obviously, they've gotten the better of us in two championship games. They've kind of had our number. We're like the little brother trying to keep up with the big brother, in a sense."
Roethlisberger isn't wrong. Brady and the Patriots are now 10-2 against the Steelers, 5-0 at Gillette Stadium and 3-0 in the conference championship game where Brady has five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 118.6 passer rating.
"Every mistake is magnified," Roethlisberger told Calipari, explaining what happened in Foxborough on Jan. 22. ... "When we played in that championship game, they didn't make very many mistakes."
These comments echo those Big Ben made in the moments after the game.
"We talk about how sometimes it's just one play here, one play there. Tonight we didn't make those plays," Roethlisberger said at the time. "Was [the moment] too big? I don't know. We need to make every single play in a game like this, in a moment like this. Hopefully, this is a learning game for guys to understand this isn't promised to anybody. Tomorrow isn't promised. Just to make the playoffs isn't enough."
Days after the loss, Roethlisberger hinted that he might have played his last NFL snap. Calipari didn't bring up retirement but Steelers president Art Rooney II addressed the topic earlier in the week. He said he had a "good conversation" with the future Hall of Famer and expects him to return in 2017. And maybe that'll be the year the Steelers can finally get past the Patriots.