By Rob Rossi
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws under pressure from Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Paul Kruger (C) and outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard in the fourth quarter. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer) October 12, 2014 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Clevelan
CLEVELAND — A franchise quarterback should be his team's best player. Ben Roethlisberger isn't that right now for the Steelers, and a maddeningly mediocre football team is doomed if that does not change.
The Steelers are probably doomed anyway. They lost to the Browns, and anytime that has happened since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999, the Steelers have missed the playoffs.
So there's that.
On Sunday afternoon after a 31-10 loss, there was a lot of this from an emotionless-sounding Roethlisberger:
“I didn't play well enough.”
“I just need to get better.”
“Missed some throws. Didn't make some good calls at times. Just need to be better. I hold myself to a higher standard, and I've got to be better.”
Yes. Yes. Yes.
There is almost nothing to like about the Steelers right now, from their easily rattled defense to their more easily shaken offense, from coach Mike Tomlin's lack of solutions (or his inability to correct problems) to a bunch of young players who haven't been adequately developed or never should have been drafted.
Still, this was supposed to be the season the Steelers would fully realize the benefits of having a franchise quarterback. They would get from Roethlisberger what Indianapolis used to get from Peyton Manning, receive what New England has received from Tom Brady, welcome what New Orleans has welcomed from Drew Brees.
Roethlisberger finally was going to do what his fellow future Hall of Fame franchise quarterbacks have done: be The Man, and elevate a team.
He has thrown for eight touchdowns against three interceptions and completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 1,593 yards, and … so what?
The Man doesn't misfire on throws like Roethlisberger misfired to Antonio Brown a few times before the Browns went from minus-1 yard at the end of the first quarter to a 21-3 lead at halftime on Sunday. The Man also doesn't need until the score is 31-3 to deliver a touchdown drive — a short-field, garbage-time one at that.
The Man doesn't throw only three touchdown passes over a span of his past nine quarters against opponents ranked 27th (Browns), 30th (Buccaneers) and 32nd (Jaguars) in pass defense. The Man also doesn't fail to lead his offense to a touchdown drive in 15 of 24 quarters on the season.
This was it, man.
It was plain to see how the Steelers would get back to the playoffs after missing the last two seasons. They would fatten their record against an early slate of beatable opponents.
They had two games against the Browns, who they usually sweep. This defeat may very well start the Browns on a successful stretch given Cleveland's next three opponents are Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay — three teams so sorry that the 2015 draft class already is a preferred topic of conversation.
The Steelers did spark the Ravens, to whom they lost 26-6 only a few days after Ray Rice was fired and Baltimore was Battleground Zero in the NFL's domestic violence mania. The Ravens were 0-1 and reeling when the Steelers visited. They're now 4-2.
The Steelers' home loss to Tampa Bay looks worse with every blowout loss by the beleaguered Buccaneers (1-5). A road win at Jacksonville did little to inspire confidence, probably because the Steelers are the only team not to paste the Jaguars (0-6) by at least 17 points.
Maybe the Steelers are closer in talent to the Buccaneers and Jaguars, who are at best equal in talent to the Browns and Ravens, and probably lesser in talent to the Panthers.
Know what they have that those opponents don't?
A Canton-bound, two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback.
Roethlisberger plays for an organization that wants to run in a passing league. His owners keep putting off his contract extension. His head coach's background is defense. His coordinator's offenses have been feast or famine for going on three seasons.
Again, so what?
The Steelers are 3-3, and they would be better if Roethlisberger was what he isn't right now.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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