Nothing lasts forever. The adage has held true over time. And for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, perhaps his run as one of the best in the NFL is also at its end.
For years, you knew you could count on No. 7 to deliver. Sure he had his bad days. Everybody does at some point during a season. But to see Ben struggle like he’s done all year has been a head-scratcher, and not easy to watch.
Roethlisberger had a career day on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but not in a good way. He set a career high with five interceptions, two of which were returned for scores, propelling the Jags to a 30-9 drubbing of the Steelers at Heinz Field.
Coming into the game, the plan for a Steelers win had to lean heavily on Le’Veon Bell. Jacksonville was giving up a hefty 5.7 yards each time their opponents run the ball. It was their pass defense that ranked as the best in the NFL. Bell, coming off his best game of the season last week had to come through with another big effort to ease that burden of passing as much as Pittsburgh might normally do.
But much like they have in each game this year, the Steelers’ offensive woes continued. Even as the opening drive started with a 49-yard pass from Ben to Antonio Brown, there wasn’t much afterwards to celebrate as the drive stalled, ending in the first of three Chris Boswell field goals.
After forcing a Jaguars’ punt, the Steelers started driving again, this time 11 plays, but the final one was Roethlisberger’s first pick of the day. Jacksonville did what it was supposed to, and turned the turnover into a touchdown drive with rookie Leonard Fournette taking it over the top from two yards out for a 7-3 lead.
It was at that moment I got an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach about the day. I’ve seen this building since opening week with Roethlisberger. It’s not just his play that has bothered me, but more or less the circus that has surrounded him all season. From AB’s antics and diva-like behavior, to Bell’s holdout and subsequent slow start, Ben has struggled with it all.
Roethlisberger has also struggled to build good chemistry with the other receivers. Martavis Bryant hasn’t shown much. JuJu Smith-Schuster has shown some promise after a slow start. Jesse James has been quiet after his 2-touchdown effort in a Week 1 win at Cleveland. Outside of Brown, Ben just hasn’t connected with anybody else in his receiver corps.
And let’s be honest, he’s not 23 anymore. As he began his 14th season, it was under the premise that he’s taking the stance of ‘year-by-year’ when it comes to when his career will come to an end. He talked at the end of last year as if 2016 could have been his last. Roethlisberger, of course, didn’t retire, but you have to wonder if this keeps happening, could this be it for Ben?
Simply put, the lack of a running game on Sunday against the league’s worst run defense doomed the black-and-gold. Bell had to be better but he wasn’t, toting the rock just 15 times for 47 yards, or 3.1 yards per carry. That alone is baffling, given how poorly the Jaguars have been this season against the run.
Just look at how the Steelers came out to start the second half, driving down to the Jags’ 5-yard line. With a 1st-and-goal, you pass three times? Where was Bell at that point? That’s something I’d find interesting to hear from Todd Haley, given the fact teams have been able to run on that defense they faced on Sunday.
But you can’t dismiss the five interceptions, nor the look on Ben’s face. A face that looks tired. A face that looks depleted. A face that looks as if he’d rather be somewhere else than on a football field. There are a number of issues this team is facing at 3-2, not to mention heading to Arrowhead Stadium this week for a rather tough contest with the last undefeated team in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Talk of a Super Bowl run can be put on hold for now. And as far as Roethlisberger goes, perhaps his run as an effective, clutch quarterback in the NFL could also be at its end.
John Phillips is the author of this article and former secret member of the Galactic Empire. You can follow JP on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/john.phillips.161009