KANSAS CITY, MON — Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger raised some eyebrows ahead of Sunday night’s wild-card game against the defending AFC champion Chiefs as he admitted “we probably shouldn’t be here.”
Well, he wasn’t wrong.
After taking an early lead on TJ Watt’s fumble return for a touchdown, the Steelers watched as Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to six straight touchdown drives. When Roethlisberger finally put Pittsburgh past midfield for the first time midway through the third quarter, the outcome of what was likely to be his last game was decided.
The Chiefs took on Buffalo in a 42-21 blowout against the Steelers in the divisional round next Sunday night.
“I mean shoot, we thought last week was the end,” Roethlisberger said. “We have been blessed to play another game of football. It didn’t end the way we wanted, but it’s a blessing to play this football game. How lucky are we that we can play football to make a living? We must count our blessings.”
Still, it was the Steelers’ fourth straight playoff loss — their last win came almost exactly five years ago in the divisional round in Kansas City — and in any case, they trailed by at least 21 points. Two of those losses came at home when Pittsburgh was a heavy favorite, including a wildcard loss to the Browns last season.
The difference this time? There seems to be no next time for Röthlisberger.
The six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who brought the Steelers back to prominence with two Super Bowl victories, made it clear he expects this season to be his last. And if that’s the case, the 39-year-old Roethlisberger’s performance in his 23rd career playoff start — with Joe Montana ranked fourth among all NFL quarterbacks — will be unforgettable.
His passports fluttered. They floated. They certainly lacked the clout they had earlier in his career.
They also didn’t produce enough offense.
The Steelers went three-and-out in their first three series. They poked at their first seven, a streak only broken by Najee Harris losing his first career fumble. In fact, Roethlisberger was only able to put Pittsburgh over the 50-yard line with 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Chiefs already leading 35-7.
He was actually pretty sharp on this drive, hitting all eight of his throws with a TD pass to Diontae Johnson. But the rest of the game Roethlisberger was as boring as could be. He was 29 of 44 for 215 yards over.
“He’s a special, unique guy,” said Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. “When I first came in, I tell everyone, I’ve watched Big Ben and I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be in that scrum, to go out on the field and get that winning touchdown. Fast forward 10 years and I’m in this mess. I can give this man my career, everything he has ever done. I appreciate him so much.”
Roethlisberger came on with 5,757 yards in the postseason and needed just 99 to overtake Montana and Brett Favre on the career list. But by halftime it looked like this was going to be a stretch as the Chiefs dominated Pittsburgh’s offensive line and Roethlisberger was 5-of-14 for 24 yards.
He finally got the distance he needed to throw Chase Claypool with 12 1/2 minutes left in the game. It was good for another line in his already full career portfolio and could one day land him in the Hall of Fame.
“I just told him I have so much respect for him,” said Mahomes, who reached out to Roethlisberger after the game. “I’ve seen him grow up and how he plays the game, he plays to the end. And he’s done that all season and who knows what the future holds, but it’s been great to be here and see him.”
Roethlisberger won 165 games, threw for more than 64,000 yards, and sustained success through hundreds of teammates and plenty of controversy and drama. His career began by winning the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and ended with Roethlisberger leading a team that few considered playoff-worthy into the postseason.
“I have to say I’m really proud of how the boys fought,” he said. “We’ve had guys, whether it was linesmen or defenders or receivers or tight ends, who stood up and literally fought to the end. Guys never give up, even to the last second, even when it’s out of our reach. I’m just so proud to call these guys brothers and play for them.”
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