Big Ben challenges teammates to pick it up
Meet Ben Roethlisberger, version 2.0: father, thirty-something quarterback and stand-up leader.
Roethlisberger, accustomed to the Steelers peaking in December rather than dealing with the piques of players such as unhappy running back Rashard Mendenhall, delivered a strong message Wednesday apparently aimed at his teammates.
To Roethlisberger, it's time to push aside all that's gone wrong during an uneven season and start getting it right with three games remaining. He especially doesn't want excuses about the depleted secondary, unreliable running game, player suspensions or injuries ripping apart the offensive line.
Instead, he wants to hear how the Steelers (7-6) are going to beat the Cowboys (7-6) on Sunday in Dallas before they start looking ahead to important AFC North games against the Bengals on Dec. 23 and Browns on Dec. 30.
There are multiple routes for the Steelers to get into the AFC playoffs, and beating the Bengals and Browns isn't the only one.
“Every game right now for us is big. It doesn't matter if it's AFC, NFC, Cincinnati, whoever it is. This is a big one for us,” Roethlisberger said. “We need to come out and play ball. I don't want to use the word desperation — I don't feel desperate — I just feel like we need to put it together and play ball the way we know how to play ball.”
Three days after the unexpected — and unexpectedly bad — 34-24 loss to the Chargers, Roethlisberger still looked troubled by it.
He acknowledged he aired out some teammates at halftime, disappointed not only with his own performance in his first game in four weeks but also theirs.
The fans already had expressed their displeasure by booing receiver Mike Wallace for dropping a deep pass.
“I laid into the whole offense, not just Mike,” Roethlisberger said. “I think we all deserved to get booed, which I feel like we did.”
So how do the Steelers rebound from one of the worst regular-season defeats of the six-season Mike Tomlin era?
“We're going to settle back and take it into four-wheel drive,” Roethlisberger said. “It's just a feel. It's that time of the year, and from me in particular and some guys that have been around here, you're going to see a different mindset.”
When Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith populated the locker room, such a message didn't require public delivery. Now, with finding-their-way players Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, David DeCastro, Will Allen, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen in key positions, Roethlisberger wants them to know what's expected.
DeCastro, for example, is all but certain to make his first NFL start at right guard in Dallas, with Ramon Foster shifting to left guard to replace the injured Willie Colon.
“Knowing he's going to be in there and be the guy … now he has no choice. He has to be ready to go,” Roethlisberger said.
Like Roethlisberger, safety Ryan Clark dismissed the Mendenhall and Alameda Ta'amu suspensions for conduct detrimental to the team and the fumble-related running back benchings for causing the Steelers to lose focus.
“If we win three games more, it's not talked about as much. It's more talked about the way we overcome adversity,” Clark said. “We haven't had a meeting. We haven't closed the doors to talk about it. We're going to go out and practice and move along and work the way we do.
“For good or bad, we don't panic around here.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.