Sunday night was tough for the Pittsburgh Steelers right from the onset. Center Maurkice Pouncey’s first snap sailed over quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into the end zone, where Cleveland recovered for a touchdown. Roethlisberger then went on to throw three first-half interceptions.
With just under two minutes left in the first quarter, the Browns were up 28-0 — the biggest first half by a road team in NFL playoff history. Despite a valiant effort in which Pittsburgh outscored Cleveland 37-20 the final three quarters, the Browns held on for a 48-37 win — their first postseason victory since 1995 and first playoff road win since 1969.
The Browns advance to face the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET, while the Steelers are left to wonder what went wrong during a season in which they started a franchise-best 11-0.
The loss perhaps stings most for Roethlisberger, 38, the six-time Pro Bowler who returned for his 17th season after missing most of 2019 due to elbow surgery. In the losing effort Sunday, Roethlisberger threw for a personal playoff-best 501 yards, completing 47 of 68 passes (both career highs), including four touchdowns. But his four interceptions, especially those in the first half, put his team in a spot it could not recover from.
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“I don’t have any magical answers,” Roethlisberger said in his postgame press conference. “We just didn’t put it together. Tonight, the glaring issue is we turned the ball over.”
That’s the most interceptions he’s ever thrown in 22 playoff games (which include two Super Bowls wins after the 2005 and ’08 seasons). Only once in 255 career games (regular and postseason) has Roethlisberger thrown more picks in a game (five, Oct. 8, 2017).
Trying to get a feel for if Roethlisberger had just played his last game, one reporter asked in the postgame media session if he still enjoyed playing the game. He said he did, though he took the blame for this loss.
“I do. I enjoy the guys,” Roethlisberger said. “I miss the fans this year, obviously that’s a big part of this game and we’ve got the best fans in the world. So I need to apologize to them for tonight and to the rest of my teammates for the way I played. Very disappointing and I hate it for our fans and I hate it for my teammates. But I do, I still enjoy playing this game for those reasons.”
Later, he was asked how he will make a decision on whether or not he comes back for an 18th season.
“It’s going to start between me and God, a lot of praying,” Roethlisberger said. “And then a lot of it is talking with my family — discussions, decisions. I still have a year left on my contract. I hope the Steelers still want me back, if that’s the way we go. There will be a lot of discussions, but now is not the time for that.”
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