Collier: Turnover virus was Steelers' downfall

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Green Bay Packers rang up 111 points off turnovers this season, launching them into an exclusive status as the only team to attain the top five in that category in three consecutive years, so it shouldn't be a shock to anyone that they slapped 21 more on the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

No shock, perhaps, but plenty of awww ...

That's the kind of thing that isn't supposed to happen to, um, anybody, really, but especially not to a Steelers team that hadn't turned the ball over three times since Nov. 22, 2009, at Kansas City, 25 games ago.

So how does a 14-4 team that has won eight of its past nine, a team carrying the banner of the NFL's only six-time Super Bowl champion, walk out onto football's grandest stage and flash a drop-dead impersonation of the perfect Packers victim?

Let us count the ways, slowly, and as the case may be, painfully.

The first one probably wasn't Ben Roethlisberger's fault, but I'm not sure the same could be said for offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Green Bay had just taken a 7-0 lead, and Ryan Mundy had just committed Sunday's first deadly special teams penalty to pin the Steelers offense at its 7.

Arians rarely does the safe thing in these situations (see Ben in the shotgun in his end zone to set up a Jason Taylor safety vs. the New York Jets, Dec. 19), and the play caller's first-and-10 selection was a deep throw to Mike Wallace outside the left numbers. Near the top of his throwing motion, Roethlisberger was impacted by 340 pounds of Howard Green, altering the trajectory of a pass that fell into the hands of safety Nick Collins at the 37, about 12 yards short of the target.

Collins returned it for a touchdown, followed by an excessive celebration, but you'll have to excuse him for that. He probably knew that every team that has ever returned an interception for a touchdown in the Super Bowl has won the thing.

Yeah, I'm sure he knew that.

The second interception was all on Ben, who fixated on Wallace as he crossed in front of the coverage right to left, ignoring a wide open Heath Miller down the seam. Roethlisberger also forgot to account for Jarrett Bush, who caught it at the spot to which Wallace was headed. Four plays later, Aaron Rodgers zipped one 21 yards to Greg Jennings for the touchdown that made it 21-3.

But that wasn't the worst pass Big Ben would throw on a day when his passer rating came home at 77.4, not as dreadful as the 35.5 he posted against the Jets in the AFC championship game, but certainly forgettable. Though he commonly jokes that Wallace's speed is so great he can't be overthrown, Roethlisberger picked a terrible time to ruin that line. Trailing 21-17 with 6:50 left in the third quarter, Wallace scalded Packers safety Charlie Peprah on a streak toward the left pylon from the Green Bay 44.

Roethlisberger's throw cleared him by 5 yards.

Over the wrong shoulder.

And it brought a rare public look-at-that from Arians.

"We had a chance for a touchdown pass to take the lead," Arians said, "but we just missed it."

But in betraying their own status as a plus-17 team when it comes to turnover ratio, the second best such figure in the league, the Steelers undoubtedly saved the worst for last, and there was plenty of blame to spread around on this one.

Rashard Mendenhall, who played an effectively robust game despite getting only 14 carries against a middling Packers rush defense, took a handoff and headed between the tackles at the Green Bay 33.

Momentum, it appeared, had shifted the Steelers' way inalterably behind a defense that forced Green Bay's attack to look like this to that point in the second half: three and out, three and out, four and out, three and out.

But Mendenhall had the ball for less than a second before he had linebacker Clay Matthews on his hands as well, and Matthews was quickly joined by 340-pound defensive end Ryan Pickett. The ball popped free like a bar of soap, and linebacker Desmond Bishop scooped it for a short return to the 45. The entire right side of the Steelers' formation failed on that play, as well as the running back.

"Late in the game, especially when Pittsburgh made that run, I mean any great team is going to make a run and we knew that," said veteran Packers safety Charles Woodson, who hurt his shoulder defending Wallace and missed all of the second half. "They made some plays but when we had to, we made the stops and came up with the turnovers. That's what we've done all season."

Maybe we should have known the Steelers were coming down with something, as there was that postseason turnover virus going around. They had seven in three playoff games, more than in the entire second half of the season.

The Steelers kept the ball for nearly 34 minutes in Super Bowl XLV, making MVP Rodgers a spectator the majority of the time. Had they just not spent so much of their possession time de-possessing.

Gene Collier: . First Published February 8, 2011 5:00 AM


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