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Winless Steelers prepare to go overseas stuck in a 'deep hole'

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers offensive tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams block for Ben Roethlisberger against the Bears Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, at Heinz Field.

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By Alan Robinson
Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 11:15 p.m.

Never has it been more evident that how Ben Roethlisberger goes is how the Steelers go.

And the quarterback who has won two Super Bowls and owns one of the top 10 winning percentages of all time hasn't experienced anything like this in his 10-season career.

The NFL is sending Big Ben and the winless Steelers (0-3) and Vikings (0-3) to play in the city of Big Ben on Sunday — and the way the two franchises are playing, the league must be wondering if London is far enough away.

With Roethlisberger turning the ball over four times on two interceptions and two fumbles — one of each was returned for a score — the Steelers fell to the Bears, 40-23, on Sunday night in the second-worst home loss of his career. The only bigger margin was a 31-7 loss to the Ravens in 2006.

Asked afterward if he's in shock at how this season has started, Roethlisberger replied, “Yes.”

He's not alone. The Steelers are a whopping minus-9 in turnover differential — they've turned it over nine times, their opponents none — and it's the major reason why they're minus-3 in the win column.

“It just comes from us not playing smart,” receiver Antonio Brown said, though he wasn't speaking directly of Roethlisberger. “Us guys, as individuals, have got to protect the ball. The ball is out there — it's our hopes and dreams — and we've got to protect it.”

History says a team starting 0-3 can only dream about making the postseason. The Steelers never did so the previous 12 times they were 0-3, and only three of 115 NFL teams (2.6 percent) since 1990 accomplished it.

Still, linebacker LaMarr Woodley said “it's realistic” the Steelers could finish 13-3. But probably not with their $100 million quarterback playing this way.

Roethlisberger, at least statistically, hasn't been the same since he injured his shoulder and upper chest against the Chiefs last season.

During his first nine games last season, Roethlisberger completed 66.1 percent of his passes, with 17 touchdown passes, four interceptions, 18 sacks and a 100.0 quarterback rating. The Steelers went 6-3.

In seven games since, he is completing just 58.2 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 22 sacks — plus six fumbles — and an 85.9 rating. And the Steelers are 1-6.

Roethlisberger's only comparable stretch was a five-game run in 2006 in which he threw seven touchdown passes and 12 interceptions, though the Steelers still went 2-3.

“We are frustrated and disappointed, but we are not going to lose our confidence,” Roethlisberger said. “We are going to have to put it together, and put it together fast, though.”

Roethlisberger underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in June, but he said he's in excellent shape after going through an extensive offseason workout regimen.

It hasn't helped that he's had only the semblance of a running game to support him; the Steelers haven't rushed for 100 yards for nine consecutive games, the longest stretch in their history, according to Elias.

Now, the Steelers and their quarterback must go through a two-continent work week to sort out their struggles. If they don't, they could be 0-4 for the first time since they dropped their first six en route to a 2-11-1 record in 1968.

“We are going to have to give it everything we got to get out,” Roethlisberger said. “It's a deep hole and getting deeper. (But) I'm not going to quit.”

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