Monday, November 02, 2015

Division is done; big blame is on Ben

Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws a fourth-quarter interception against the Bengals on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, at Heinz Field.

The Standard is the standard. Defense wins championships. And it's a quarterbacks' league. So how come the Steelers are already out of the AFC North race with half of their season remaining?
They're the standard. Theirs is an improving defense. And Ben Roethlisberger is their quarterback.
Seriously, what gives?
Roethlisberger, as it turns out.
On Sunday, he gave the division title to the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals. The blame for a 16-10 loss at Heinz Field belongs on the shoulders — and at the battered left leg — of the best quarterback in the AFC North.
Franchise quarterbacks are supposed to win big games. Instead, whenever the Steelers defense treated him to an extra possession, Roethlisberger tricked them into needing another stop by forcing or floating passes.
Coach Mike Tomlin would acknowledge only that his team must “do a better job of taking care of the football to have a chance to beat good people.”
Since he brought it up, it sure seems like forever since Roethlisberger helped the Steelers beat good people.
The Bengals intercepted him three times, including twice in the fourth quarter, which the Steelers entered with a 10-6 lead. Those were interception Nos. 4, 5 and 6 for Roethlisberger in his past two home games against division rivals.
You might remember the last one.
It was the AFC wild-card game in January. The Baltimore Ravens exorcised a couple of decades worth of demons by picking off Roethlisberger and shutting down the Steelers offense in a 30-17 win.
Le'Veon Bell was hurt for that one. He's hurt again. Same right knee, too.
Oh well.
The NFL isn't a running backs league. It's not a wide receivers league, either.
The NFL is all about quarterbacks, and the Steelers are supposed to hold a significant advantage over just about everybody because Roethlisberger is their quarterback. Maybe there are a few better than him, but there aren't any he couldn't best in a one-and-done spot.
Thing is, because Roethlisberger has been spotty in the one-and-done spots, the Steelers haven't accomplished squat for going on half a decade.
Four seasons have passed since they won a playoff game. Roethlisberger has thrown four touchdowns and seven interceptions in the past four postseason contests.
Sure, he's over 40,000 yards passing for his career. He passed that plateau on a magnificent opening drive Sunday. Roethlisberger hit on six short passes, including a 1-yard scoring dart to Antonio Brown, marching the Steelers 80 yards on 12 plays.
His was the type of excellence that made you think he's worth every bit of $100 million — per season.
There aren't 30 starting-caliber quarterbacks in this quarterbacks league. Were there, a merely good quarterback such as the Bengals' Andy Dalton couldn't command the cost needed to fund a political action committee.
Roethlisberger isn't good. He isn't great. He's elite, a future Hall of Famer, a three-time Super Bowl starter, two-time Super Bowl winner. The guy has thrown for over 36,000 yards and 220 touchdowns in his last nine seasons.
He's a game-changing player at the game's most pivotal position. Long gone are the days when Roethlisberger was tasked only with managing games for the defensively dominant Steelers.
And isn't that some kind of irony considering the Steelers could have used that Roethlisberger on Sunday?
Ridiculed, doubted and banged up, the Steelers defense did proud by its predecessors against the Bengals. Battles in the trenches were won. Hard hits were delivered. Pressure was applied. Turnovers were created.
“We were opportunistic,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “We just needed one more stop.”
Heyward has become a great player and a greater leader, but he spoke far too diplomatically after the loss. Listen to the Big Man, big guy.
“Awesome,” Roethlisberger said of the Steelers defense, which limited the Bengals to 296 yards by picking off two of Dalton's passes and sacking him three times.
“That's what's frustrating about it. They did more than enough to help us and let us win that game, and it was awesome to see. But we didn't take advantage of that offensively.
“Like I said, I will take the blame.”
He's always good for owning it. He'll surely be better next week.
He'd better be.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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