Tim Benz: Are the Steelers liars or just dumb?
Let's stop overcomplicating what happened with Ben Roethlisberger's injury situation on Sunday during the Steelers' season-altering 24-21 loss in Oakland.
Many are doing that in Pittsburgh because the more we layer the explanation, the less we are forced to acknowledge one of two clear-cut descriptions of what took place when it came to Roethlisberger being stashed on the bench.
The Steelers either were ...
1. Stupid ...
Neither option is pleasant to admit. Yet one of the two has to be true. You can believe either one, based on how you choose to reconcile your fandom of a team that normally should be held in high regard. But, in this situation, there isn't a more plausible third option.
Simply put, either coach Mike Tomlin was ignorant about the game situation. Or, he and his quarterback aren't being forthcoming in their explanation to you, the fan.
There is no middle ground.
I'm going to go with Option 1. And I say that with more than two decades of experience covering pro and college teams telling white lies, veiled versions of reality and textured presentations of truth.
I'll get to why I think that in a minute. First, let's investigate Option 2.
If Roethlisberger is lying when he said he was "just let(ting) coach tell me to go," then we must assume that he is telling a different version of what really happened in the locker room or on the sideline. Thus, he's totally hanging his coach out to dry.
Under lesser circumstances, that wouldn't be hard to believe. But this is much bigger than whether "Coach Todd" allowed a quarterback sneak in the playbook, or if Antonio Brown didn't run his pattern shallow enough in Denver, or how they botched the anthem silliness in Chicago.
Or if he really had broken toes in 2004, or if James Washington should've jumped for the ball down the sideli ...
OK, maybe I'm making a case for the other side here by accident.
But the point is, the franchise quarterback is telling the world he was ready to play and never got a green light from the Super Bowl-winning coach in a game that resulted in a loss that may cost the organization a spot in the playoffs.
If that's a false version of what took place, I'd imagine that would fracture the Tomlin-Roethlisberger relationship beyond repair. If Big Ben isn't being truthful, Tomlin should've told his own version. Or he better do so at his own news conference on Tuesday.
If that happens, I'll retract all of this on Wednesday. And we'll have a mushroom cloud over the South Side.
Furthermore, for a guy who normally explains his own injuries in extreme detail, wasn't it odd that Roethlisberger suddenly deferred all medical explanations to Tomlin? It struck me as forcing the coach to verbalize why a tolerable, managed injury kept the starting quarterback sidelined.
Plus, we've seen Roethlisberger play through more obvious injuries than this. Remember when he re-entered the 2015 playoff game in Cincinnati with a bad shoulder and started the next week against Denver? How about when he played through that bad ankle in San Francisco in 2011 and refused to exit a blowout loss? Or when he had to enter the game as an injured backup against Cleveland in 2015 when Landry Jones got hurt on the second drive?
Based on how he performed in this game against the Raiders when he came back, did he look worse than any of those times to you? Because he didn't in my eyes.
That's why I go with Option 1. It was just a dumb decision to keep Josh Dobbs in the game for — as Tomlin said — an extra "possession or so" beyond when Ben Roethlisberger was capable of coming back onto the field.
It seems to me that — for whatever reason — the line between trailing and being ahead was really thick in Tomlin's eyes. Apparently, in Tomlin's opinion, that "possession or so" wasn't all that crucial because they were winning by four points at the time.
Based on the play of Tomlin's fourth-quarter defense of late, that narrow lead shouldn't have given him comfort in his analysis.
During three-game losing streak, the Steelers defense has given up drives of 73, 75, 79, 79 and 64 yards in fourth quarters, including two for game-winners in the final minute.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) December 10, 2018
If the Steelers are up by four in the fourth quarter of any game, Tomlin should coach as if they are down by three. Because those numbers indicate that eventuality will soon be the case.
Also, I have no idea what "rhythm and flow" Tomlin was trying to protect with Dobbs on the field when none of his four second-half possessions resulted in points. That was a strange explanation since he had no issue putting Roethlisberger back in during the Baltimore game after Dobbs completed a 22-yard pass from his own end zone.
I think Mike Tomlin foolheartedly believed he could "get by" or "stay afloat" with Dobbs against a bad Raiders club. He naively did so despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary when it comes to his club's historical ability to put away heavy underdog Oakland teams.
That should make every Steelers fan angrier than a massaged version of the truth. We should be used that. Coaching negligence is a different story.