Steelers fumble away a chance for Super Bowl rally

BY foxsports • February 7, 2011

Clay Matthews looked like he knew what was coming.

Actually, he did.

Reading the play perfectly, the Green Bay linebacker arrived in the backfield at just about the same time Rashard Mendenhall was taking the handoff. The ball popped loose and the Packers recovered, setting up a crucial touchdown drive. And when the Super Bowl was done, they celebrated a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.

''I saw the play coming back my way,'' Matthews said. ''Fortunately, through film work, I was able to tell my defensive end what to do and I was able to make the play. It was key at the time. They were driving on us. We were able to get that turnover and turn it into points, which was the difference in the game.''

Indeed, heading into the fourth quarter, the Steelers had all the momentum. The Terrible Towels were out in full force around Cowboys Stadium. Down 21-3 in the first half, Pittsburgh had cut the gap to 21-17 and was looking for the go-ahead score, facing second-and-2 on the Green Bay 33.

That's when Matthews delivered the big hit, separating the ball from Mendenhall, and Desmond Bishop scooped it up for the Packers. It would be the biggest mistake by the Steelers on a night filled with them.

Pittsburgh turned it over three times, and all three miscues were followed by Green Bay touchdowns. The Packers didn't give it up once, allowing them to prevail when they were outgained (387-338 in total yards), had the ball nearly 7 minutes less than the Steelers and barely mustered a running game (50 yards on just 13 carries).

''When you turn the ball over like we did,'' Mendenhall said, ''you put yourself in a bad position.''

Of course, let's not forget Ben Roethlisberger throwing two interceptions, including a pick that was returned 37 yards for a touchdown by Nick Collins to give Green Bay a 14-0 lead less than 12 minutes into the game. The Packers stretched it to 21-3 - scoring again after Big Ben's second interception - before the Steelers made a game of it.

''There's a lot of what ifs. There's a lot of throws I'd like to have back,'' Roethlisberger said. ''We turned the ball over. A lot of that is my fault.''

He hooked up with Hines Ward for a touchdown that made it 21-10 at halftime. Mendenhall rumbled into the end zone from 8 yards out to bring Pittsburgh even closer, 21-17. Then, as the final period started, the fateful play.

Before Sunday, Mendenhall had been a safe choice to handle the ball. The third-year back fumbled just twice in 324 carries during a 1,273-yard season. He had another in the divisional round playoff win over Baltimore, but bounced back to rush for 121 yards against the Jets in the AFC title game.

Matthews was waiting on the first play of the final period. He drove his right shoulder into the runner's midsection, and massive Ryan Pickett dived in to complete a 595-pound sandwich. The result of that fearsome collision: The ball came flying out, and Bishop picked it up with a couple of Pittsburgh linemen standing nearby, unaware there had been a fumble.

''We could see the counter (play),'' Bishop said. ''Me and Clay talked about it before the snap. We thought they would come back our way. I read it and I was just relentlessly pursuing to the ball. It happened to pop out. I scooped it up and tried to score.''

Bishop made it only 7 yards before he was tackled at the 45. Good enough. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense took care of the remaining 55 yards, scoring the touchdown that provided some breathing room.

The Steelers never quit, answering with a TD of their own to make it close again, but Green Bay held on the final possession to send the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to the home of the coach whose name it bears.

''If you win the turnover battle,'' Bishop said, ''there's a direct correlation to winning.''

There certainly is - especially when a pick is returned for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, as Collins did with a soaring dive into the end zone.

For the Steelers, that left only the most dreaded of questions:

What if?

''I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down - the fans, the coaches, my teammates,'' Roethlisberger said. ''It's not a good feeling.''

Imagine how Mendenhall was feeling.

''I just got hit and the ball came out. It just happened, and it should not have happened,'' he said. ''It's tough. We did it to ourselves. We didn't play well enough to win, and it is a long ride home.''



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