Roethlisberger accepts blame for Steelers' fall
Ben Roethlisberger believes the Steelers' lone late-season collapse of his career should be remembered as just that — one bad year.
Not the start of a trend, not a reason to panic.
But even Roethlisberger is having trouble explaining how the Steelers — and their franchise quarterback — fell so far so quickly.
In mid-November, the Steelers were 6-3 and Roethlisberger was being mentioned as an NFL MVP front-runner. Now, they must beat the Browns (5-10) on Sunday just to avoid the first losing record of Roethlisberger's nine-season career.
They've lost five of six, their first such late-season debacle since they dropped seven of their final eight in 1999, five years before Roethlisberger arrived.
How did it happen, so suddenly and inexplicably?
“I think a lot of it just has to do with my play and not playing well enough down the stretch,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “Fourth-quarter drives, last-minute throws, not making it happen. I guess my best answer to you is I didn't play well enough.”
What especially perplexes Roethlisberger: He has directed 29 game-winning drives and 22 fourth-quarter comebacks, yet his interceptions directly accounted for losses to the Cowboys and Bengals the last two weeks. He's been at his worst when he's normally at his best.
“In the past, I've prided myself, and us, in fourth-quarter comebacks,” he said. “We've been good at it and this year (I) just wasn't, and I don't think there's rhyme or reason why. It just was a year when I wasn't. I don't think there's any reason to go panic. I've been pretty good for eight years doing it, and (now) I've had one not-so-good year.”
But, Roethlisberger said, “I played pretty good football other than those (comeback) situations, so there's not going to be any panic.”
Still, the Steelers are 23rd in fourth-quarter offense and 26th in fourth-quarter passing, numbers that equate to losing football for a team that has played nine games decided by four points or fewer. They've lost five.
“All the games we lost, we let them get away from us at the end,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “Maybe San Diego was the only game that (the opponent) really controlled the game. Usually we win in the fourth quarter, and this year, we lost in the fourth quarter.”
There will be a multitude of theories why Roethlisberger's play plateaued after he returned from his midseason 3 1⁄2-game injury layoff. He refuses to blame the injury for an across-the-board fall-off in his play, but he won't say if his shoulder is continuing to bother him.
“I'm not going to make excuses. I've got to be able to step up and perform afterwards just as well as I did before,” Roethlisberger said. “We can talk about that (injury) in the offseason maybe. I feel good enough to play.”
As for any philosophical disagreements with offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Roethlisberger said the Steelers' success earlier in the season convinced him the offense “works for us. When we're executing, I think it works.”
Roethlisberger said a full offseason working with Haley should be productive.
“We need to continue to grow, and we need to get better every week,” he said. “I know in the offseason it's not like every week is a game, but we need to get better and grow in all aspects — our run game, our pass game, every position needs to get a little bit better.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.