This upcoming Sunday is the most important day of Landry Jones's professional life...and the most important day of the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers season. Why? Well, depending on how Jones performs, it could lead to situations which could sink the Steelers for good, even in a suddenly weak-looking AFC North.
Now, while not too many of us here predict that the Steelers will defeat the New England Patriots, if Jones has a good showing (let's say he has numbers like 21 for 30, 255 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions), the Steelers could start Jones in Baltimore after the bye week, thus giving Big Ben an extra week to get well, especially if the ESPN report about the lingering 2015 bone bruise being an issue along with the meniscus surgery is true.
Roethlisberger would then make his comeback against the Dallas Cowboys, who are looking hot right now, but by then, defensive end Cam Heyward would likely be back as well, so there would be a chance to actually slow down the Cowboys' running game with rookie Ezekiel Elliott and Roethlisberger should be good enough to at least hang with rookie Dak Prescott. As for Jones, if he looks adequate to even competent in those two starts against the Patriots and Ravens, Jones will secure his NFL future beyond this season. Backup quarterbacks can have long careers, and Jones might be the next one who can be a QB2 for five or more years beyond 2016 if he looks competent and confident this Sunday.
It might not be with the Steelers but rest of the league will be paying close attention and a solid performance this Sunday regardless of the final score could make Jones a wanted free agent next March.
Now, if Jones performs poorly, then the team (and Big Ben) will try to rush back for the Baltimore game after the bye week and might risk further damage to his already balky knee. In this scenario the Steelers could lose another game to Baltimore in Baltimore, a place the team has not won since 2012, and Roethlisberger hasn't won since 2010. Since that 2010 game (thanks, Troy Polamalu), Big Ben has played four games in Baltimore (missing the 2012 game that was won by Charlie Batch as the starter) and has thrown 3 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Since that 2010 win, the Steelers have averaged a paltry 14.6 points per game in Baltimore over the course of five games there.
Yes, Baltimore looks average at best, winning and losing close games in every matchup thus far (the largest margin of victory and defeat this season for the Ravens is 6 points). However, this is still a rivalry game and the Steelers, for incomprehensible reasons, just do not play well there, especially on offense. As for Jones, if he plays as badly as expected, chances are his NFL career will be effectively over, much to the delight of many within the Steeler Nation.
While a monumental upset over the New England Patriots this Sunday would be thrilling to witness, a competent performance by Jones can alleviate fears and subdue panic within the Steelers’ front office and coaching staff. It would also likely provide Ben Roethlisberger an additional week to get healthy (which he might desperately need regardless of his legendary toughness) and play his first game back from injury at Heinz Field where he has dominated in the previous seven games (at least three touchdown passes in six consecutive home games and seven consecutive wins going back to the 2015 season) instead of coming back in what might be considered a panic move on the road in Baltimore.
The Steelers are tied to the hip with Landry Jones at this juncture, and how he looks this Sunday, win or lose, will determine the Steelers’ 2016 hopes much more than previously anticipated. Even if the Steelers end up being 4-4 going into week 10 matchup against Dallas, a healthier Roethlisberger playing at home nearly four weeks after surgery is a much rosier circumstance than a still-balky franchise quarterback making his return in Baltimore influenced by an unprofessional performance by Jones.