Ben Roethlisberger ready for next chapter after Steelers’ career ends with playoff loss to Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ben Roethlisberger tried to motivate his teammates by downplaying their chances against the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC wild-card game.

He labeled the Steelers the worst of the 14 teams that extended their season into mid-January. He talked of wanting to keep the game against the second-seeded Chiefs close and for the Steelers not to get blown out by 20 to 30 points.

For all of his tongue-in-cheek comments, Roethlisberger, though, was merely predicting what was in store for the end of his 18-year NFL career.

The Steelers sustained a 42-21 loss at Arrowhead Stadium, and Roethlisberger, looking every bit his 39 years at times, was powerless to prevent it.

“It’s tough,” Roethlisberger said. “But I’m proud to play with these guys. God has blessed me with the ability to throw a football and blessed me to play in the greatest city in Pittsburgh with the greatest fans and the greatest football team and players.

“It’s been truly a blessing.”

After the Steelers won back-to-back games to close the regular season – and got some outside help along the way – to make the playoffs for the 12th time in Roethlisberger’s 18 seasons, they were no match for the Chiefs. The loss was as decisive as the 36-10 defeat the Chiefs handed to the Steelers three weeks earlier.

Roethlisberger finished with 215 yards passing and two touchdowns, but he had only 24 yards in the first half as the Steelers got two first downs and didn’t score an offensive touchdown for the seventh time in eight games.

“We thought last week was going to be the end and got blessed to play another football game,” Roethlisberger said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but it’s a blessing to play this game.”

Roethlisberger’s final pass was an 11-yard completion to tight end Zach Gentry that came up three yards short of the end zone. Roethlisberger then met at midfield with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a former NFL MVP who is trying to get Kansas City into the Super Bowl for the third year in a row. Mahomes carved up the Steelers defense with five touchdown passes.

“He said he’s got to get a jersey,” Roethlisberger said. “I said I gotta get one (of yours), too.”

Roethlisberger then left the field for the final time.

“I’m just so thankful,” he said. “I hope that I’m able to pass the legacy on to what it means to be a Steeler.”

In his final act as franchise quarterback, Roethlisberger turned the keys of the franchise over to defensive captain Cameron Heyward, the second-longest tenured player on the team.

“Once you start to lose the old regime, you’ve got to find a way to pass it down,” he said. “We’ve got some guys in there that will continue to do that. I gave Cam a big hug and said it’s on him now. It’s his job to keep teaching and holding guys to the Pittsburgh standard.”

Heyward was nearly overcome by emotion by the gesture.

“I’m appreciative of that man,” Heyward said. “The way he’s battled, the way he is always giving us a chance. When you talk about having toughness as a quarterback, you talk about a guy giving you everything he’s got, you can’t ask for anything more from that man right there.”

It was one final chance to catch passes from Roethlisberger that led wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to return for the playoff game after missing three months with a shoulder injury. The duo connected on five completions.

“Honestly, I can give that guy my whole career,” Smith-Schuster said. “I appreciate all the quarterbacks I’ve played with in the past, but he’s one special, unique guy. When I first came in, I told everybody I always watched Big Ben, but I always wondered what it felt like to be in that huddle, to go down and drive and score the winning touchdown.

“Fast forward about 10 years, and I’m in the huddle and hearing him say what he says, and we go down and win the game. I can give my career to that man.”

Roethlisberger said he’s nervous and excited about the next phase of his life.

“I get to go home,” he said. “We’ve got snow, so the kids are already planning tubing and sledding. Being a husband and father, you never take a day off, you’ve got to keep going.

“As we move from one chapter to the next, it’s going to be different, but it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a new challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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