Brentaro Yamane | Staff Writer
Jan. 13, 2022
As Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sat on the Heinz Field bench crying after losing to the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 10, 2021, in the opening round of last season’s NFL Playoffs, it was widely believed that he might have played his final game in the National Football League.
However, during last year’s offseason, Roethlisberger decided to return for an 18th season in 2021, hoping to make one last run at the playoffs and a Super Bowl title.
During many points throughout the season, Roethlisberger struggled, finishing with under 250 passing yards in seven of the 16 games he played in. Despite the inconsistency, Roethlisberger and his team found a way to stay alive.
Going into Week 17, the Steelers held a 7-7-1 record. In order to still have any shot at earning a playoff spot, they would have to beat the rival Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on Jan. 3, in a Monday night contest that pitted them against the same team that ended their season a year ago.
Just days before the game, Roethlisberger made it known that this would likely be his final regular-season home game at Heinz Field.
With the slimmest of playoff possibilities still existing, Roethlisberger would play at Heinz Field one final time in front of a flurry of Steelers fans who showed support for him with posters and chants, knowing very well that it could be the final game he ever played in Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger’s home career, in all likelihood, ended on a high note. It wasn’t flashy, but his 123 passing yards and a touchdown, coupled with a strong rushing performance from running back Najee Harris (188 yards and a touchdown), helped the Steelers defeat the Browns 26-14, keeping their playoff hopes alive for another week.
In the final week of the regular season, Pittsburgh’s path to the playoffs seemed nearly impossible.
First off, they needed to win a road game against the Baltimore Ravens. It took until the late stages of overtime, but Pittsburgh kicker Chris Boswell’s 36-yard field goal led the Steelers to a 16-13 victory.
Next up, they needed the 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars to beat the Indianapolis Colts. Jacksonville, who entered the game as a 14-point underdog, handled Indianapolis from start to finish en route to a 26-11 win.
Finally, Pittsburgh had to wait until the late hours of Sunday night and the early hours of Monday morning to ensure Sunday night’s game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders didn’t end in a tie.
It took a game-winning field goal from Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson as time expired in overtime, but what seemed impossible became a reality.
Everything that Pittsburgh needed to happen found a way to happen. And now, Roethlisberger has a chance to win his third Super Bowl title and first since 2009.
There were numerous occasions this season in which Pittsburgh didn’t look like a playoff-caliber team. They finished just 2-5 against teams who qualified for the postseason. They lost road games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs, who each won their respective division, by a combined 57 points.
Even a tie against the (at the time) winless Detroit Lions at home in Week 10 led many to question the talent and productivity of the Steelers, although Roethlisberger missed that game due to Covid-19 protocols.
But they got the job done and found a way to earn the AFC’s final wild card spot.
The next challenge for Roethlisberger and the Steelers comes in the form of Patrick Mahomes and the second-seeded Chiefs. For the second time in four weeks, the Steelers will head to Arrowhead Stadium to clash with the back-to-back conference champions on Sunday night, with Pittsburgh looking to avenge its 36-10, Dec. 26 loss at the hands of Kansas City.
In a season marked by inconsistency and skepticism, a handful of memorable plays helped the Steelers earn a playoff spot for the sixth time in eight seasons.
Whether it was Chris Boswell’s game-ending field goal in overtime over the Seattle Seahawks (Week 6), the Chicago Bears missing a game-winning field goal as time expired at Heinz Field on Monday Night Football (Week 9), beating the Ravens by one point thanks to Baltimore failing to convert the potential game-winning two-point conversion (Week 13) or Pittsburgh cornerback Joe Haden stopping Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine just short of the first-down marker on a fourth down play with 27 seconds left en route to a six-point win (Week 15), the Steelers have had their fare share of drama.
It can be hard to beat a team twice in one season, especially at the same stadium. With Pittsburgh having faced Kansas City recently, odds are that this week’s performance can’t get any worse than the 26-point drubbing that Pittsburgh, who is a 12.5-point underdog, endured less than a month ago.
The last time the two teams faced off in the playoffs was in the 2017 AFC Divisional Round, when the Steelers traveled to Arrowhead Stadium and Boswell kicked six field goals to beat the Chiefs 18-16.
If the Steelers find a way to win this week, they’ll travel to Nashville to take on the top-seeded Titans next weekend.
However, if Sunday’s game in Kansas City is the last that Roethlisberger will play in a Steelers jersey and in the NFL, he went out on a very-high note.
While so much of Roethlisberger’s legacy has already been written, the season isn’t over yet. It’s unlikely that the Steelers go far, but there’s a reason they play the games.
No matter how his career ends, Roethlisberger’s resiliency in the season’s final stretch is emblematic of his 18-year career.