KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger raised some eyebrows ahead of their wild-card game against the defending AFC champion Chiefs on Sunday night when he admitted that “we probably aren’t supposed to be here.”
He wasn’t wrong.
After taking an early lead on T.J. Watt’s fumble return for a touchdown, the Steelers watched Patrick Mahomes effortlessly guide the Chiefs to five consecutive touchdown drives.
So by the time Roethlisberger finally led Pittsburgh past midfield for the first time, midway through the third quarter, the outcome of what’s likely his final game was already decided.
The Chiefs advanced to face Buffalo in the divisional round next Sunday night with a 42-21 blowout of the Steelers.
It was their fourth straight loss in the playoffs — the Steelers’ last win came in the divisional round in Kansas City almost five years ago to the day — and in each of them they trailed by at least 21 points. Two of those defeats came at home when Pittsburgh was a heavy favorite, including a wild-card loss to the Browns last season.
The difference this time? For Roethlisberger, it appears there won’t be a next time.
“As opposed to coming in here and talking about the things we didn’t do, I’d just expressed it to the football team,” Roethlisberger said, “I think the classy thing to do is compliment the Kansas City Chiefs. They have a really good football team, they have an explosive football team, and they did a really good job tonight.”
The six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who returned the Steelers to prominence with a pair of Super Bowl wins, has made it clear he expects this season to be his last. And if that’s the case, the performance by the 39-year-old Roethlisberger in his 23rd career playoff start — tied for fourth with Joe Montana among all NFL quarterbacks — will be one to forget.
His passes fluttered. They floated. They certainly lacked the zip they had early in his career.
They also didn’t produce enough offense.
The Steelers went three-and-out on their first three series. They punted on their first seven, a streak only interrupted by Najee Harris losing his first career fumble. Indeed, it wasn’t until there were 6 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, and the Chiefs already led 35-7, that Roethlisberger even managed to move Pittsburgh past the 50-yard line.
He was actually quite sharp on that drive, hitting all eight of his throws with a TD pass to Diontae Johnson. But the rest of the game, Roethlisberger was about as dull as could be. He was 29 of 44 for 215 yards passing.
He came into the game with 5,757 yards passing in the postseason, and needed just 99 more to leap Montana and Brett Favre on the career list. But it looked like that would be a stretch at halftime, when Roethlisberger was 5 of 14 for 24 yards.
He finally got the yardage he needed on a throw to Chase Claypool with 12 1/2 minutes left in the game. It was good for one more line in his career portfolio that is already full.
“I just told him I have so much respect for him,” Mahomes said. “I watched him growing up and the way he plays the game, he competes to the very end. And he did that this whole entire season and who knows what the future is, but it was great to be here and witness him.”
Roethlisberger won 165 games, threw for more than 64,000 yards, and he kept the success going through hundreds of teammates and plenty of controversy and drama. His career began with winning the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year award and it ended with Roethlisberger leading a team few thought playoff-worthy to the postseason.
Turns out he was among them.
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