With it being Super Bowl week, much of the talk in the City of Pittsburgh has not to do with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, but with rehashing some painful memories of a Super Bowl that slipped away — literally — for the Pittsburgh Steelers some 12 years ago.
That would be the Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers in Dallas, 31-25, in which Ben Roethlisberger threw a pick-6 and Rashard Mendenhall had a late fumble that ultimately sealed the Steelers’ fate.
All these years later, that game remains a talking point around this time of the year. With that, it’s bringing new information to light, that’s painting some key figures in Steelers history in a bit of a negative light.
Former Steelers offensive lineman Max Starks raised questions about the game plan against the Packers just a few days ago, and on Wednesday, NBC Sports analyst Mike Florio piled on, stating to the 93.7 the Fan PM Show with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller that he heard former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was forced out after that season due to the game plan designed to get Roethlisberger the Super Bowl MVP trophy.
“I’ve heard that from players on the team, after Super Bowl XLIII when it should have been Ben (Roethlisberger) instead of Santonio Holmes (as Super Bowl MVP), as the argument goes,” Florio said to Fillipponi and Mueller Wednesday, according to audio via 93.7 The Fan. “This was the opportunity for Ben to be Super Bowl MVP. Him and his good friend (offensive coordinator Bruce Arians), who was retired one year later and would go on to win a Super Bowl with another quarterback a couple of years ago. They constructed a game plan aimed at making Ben the MVP of the game to the detriment of the team, absolutely.”
In that Super Bowl loss to the Packers, Roethlisberger threw the football 40 times, going 25-for-40 for 263 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. It wasn’t that large of a gap between runs and passes, with the Steelers attempting 40 passes and 23 rushes.
Of course, that number of attempts was a bit higher because the Steelers found themselves in a 21-3 hole late in the second quarter, forcing the offense to play in catch-up mode late in the first half and into the second half. More passes than runs in those situations is normal.
But, Roethlisberger was throwing early, too.
Two of the first three plays of the game were passing attempts as the Steelers went three-and-out. On the next drive, Mendenhall got going, ripping off runs of 15 and 9 yards, but the Steelers went back to the passing game, eventually punting the football away a few plays later.
Very next drive, Roethlisberger was picked off by Packers’ safety Nick Collins, who returned it 37 yards for a touchdown, giving Green Bay a 14-0 lead before the Steelers ultimately answered with a field goal, largely going away from the run after early success on the drive again as Roethlisberger used his arm and legs — including an 18-yard scramble – to set up the score.
The Steelers eventually got back into the game, but not before Roethlisberger’s second pick of the first half, this time to Jarrett Bush, eventually leading to the Packers’ 21-3 lead.
Roethlisberger, to his credit, played much better after that, finding Hines Ward for a touchdown late in the first half to make it 21-10 at the half, before a Mendenhall 8-yard touchdown run in the third quarter made it a 21-17 game. But, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Mendenhall coughed up the football, the Packers took a 28-17 lead, and went on to win 31-25.
Ultimately, the game plan all these years later was confusing for the players, especially considering Mendenhall’s success on the ground in a limited capacity against the Packers. That night, Mendenhall rushed 14 times for 63 yards and a score, adding runs of 17 and 15 yards on the night.
The Steelers were never committed to the run though, and it ultimately cost them a seventh Super Bowl — the last one they’ve been to — and led to Arians retiring/being forced out in the offseason before he eventually went on to win one more Super Bowl as a head coach in Tampa Bay.
According to Florio, that relationship with Arians and Roethlisberger, which remains close today, had to be broken up by the organization.
“The belief in the organization was they were too close and they had to break that up,” Florio said. “The biggest problem that relationship manifested, was Super Bowl XLV.”