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Big Ben looks back after playoff loss to Chiefs: 'It was meant to be that I was going to wear black and gold'

Ben Roethlisberger's final pass of the 2021 season ended up past the sticks, but short of the goal line. It will have little effect on how he's remembered.

Roethlisberger is expected to retire following the 2021 season, which officially came to an end for him and his Pittsburgh Steelers with Sunday night's 42-21 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Super Wild Card Weekend.

He finished Pittsburgh's 2021 campaign with a decent stat line, completing 29 of 44 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns while also battling the struggles -- drops on the part of pass catchers, for example -- that typified Pittsburgh's first season under offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

If it is the end, Roethlisberger leaves a two-time Super Bowl champion, a three-time AFC champion, the 2004 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, a six-time Pro Bowler and a two-time NFL passing yards leader. He has two rings to keep in his jewelry case at home, and countless more memories of the many good times he helped create in the Steel City.

"Man, he was [No.] 7," coach Mike Tomlin said of Roethlisberger's career following Sunday night's loss. "It's been an honor and a pleasure, man, I don't have the words."

Roethlisberger was left to process the gravity of the moment Sunday night.

"It's tough but I'm proud to play with these guys," Roethlisberger said. "God has blessed me with an ability to throw a football and has blessed me to play in the greatest city in Pittsburgh with the greatest fans and the greatest football team and players and it has just truly been a blessing and I'm so thankful to Him for the opportunity that He's given me."

Roethlisberger's final couple of seasons were far from perfect, but still good enough to help the Steelers reach the postseason twice, once via an AFC North title, and another via an unlikely wild-card berth. Both ended in the same fashion: a loss on Super Wild Card Weekend, with Roethlisberger left to wonder what could have been while his opponents celebrated their victories.

Well before those defeats, Roethlisberger was the face of one of the NFL's most consistent title contenders. Pittsburgh reached three Super Bowls, winning two, and made many more deep playoff runs during his career, which began with an emphatic introduction in 2004, a season in which Roethlisberger started 13 regular-season games and won every one of them. That campaign ended in a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots, but was the beginning of what will one day be known as a Hall of Fame career that also elevated the Steelers to the elite class of the NFL for nearly two decades.

"I've been here a long time and it's been a lot of fun," Roethlisberger said in reflection. "Like I said, God has blessed me. We joke a lot about the Browns and going there but it was meant to be that I was going to wear black and gold.

"Draft day, I had a black suit on with a gold tie. I'm just so thankful. I hope that I'm able to pass the legacy of what it is to be a Steeler from Dan Rooney, you know? We all miss him, anyone who knew him misses him and so, it's just, hopefully I could pass some of that on to the guys and continue the tradition of what it means to be a Steeler."

Roethlisberger ends 2021 with 64,088 career passing yards, 418 passing touchdowns (with 211 interceptions), a career passer rating of 93.5, a win-loss record as a starter of 165-81-1 and 53 game-winning drives to his name. Though the Steelers fell short of the same goal shared by all 32 teams at the start of each season, Roethlisberger was unafraid to commend his teammates for their efforts.

"I will say that I'm really proud of the way guys fought," Roethlisberger said. "We had guys, whether it's linemen or backs or receivers, tight ends, I mean, guys stepped up and literally fought to the end. Tonight, guys just never quit literally until the last second. Even when it's out of grasp, guys don't quit. ... I'm just so proud to call these guys brothers and to play for 'em."

If it is the end for his NFL career, Roethlisberger will ride off into the sunset with plenty of reason to be proud of those final statistics and the many triumphs he led the Steelers to in his 18 NFL seasons.

"It was an honor to coach against Ben in his last game," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Sunday, via KSHB's Aaron Ladd, with Reid adding he believes Roethlisberger will one day have a place in Canton.

Pittsburgh will be left to find a satisfactory replacement for No. 7. He leaves massive shoes to fill.

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