CLEVELAND – Over the past 50-plus years, the Steelers and Browns have played some outstanding football games.
Cleveland’s 20-14 victory Sunday was not one of them.
The Steelers turned the ball over an astounding eight times, converted only one of nine third-down attempts, averaged 2.5 yards per carry – when the running backs weren’t fumbling – and still had an opportunity to win this game.
Yes, the Browns weren’t much better.
This was the kind of game that those who interrogate prisoners should use to force them to talk. Then again, it might be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
And it’s been the same thing each week for Pittsburgh without star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The defense is playing ridiculously well, allowing a combined 438 yards and 33 points in losses to Baltimore and Cleveland.
But the offense hasn’t come close to being efficient, producing 17 points and turning the ball over 11 times in those two games.
It’s no secret that Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback. But how in the wide, wide world of sports do the Steelers expect to win when they turn the ball over 11 times in two games?
“We own it,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “If you turn the ball over the way we did, you’re not going to beat anybody. That’s just the reality of the National Football League.”
The other reality is that things aren’t going to get any better until Roethlisberger returns from the shoulder and rib injuries that have kept him out of the past two games.
There is hope that he could return for Pittsburgh’s next game, Sunday at Baltimore. Roethlisberger said he will attempt to play.
Despite the Steelers having their record fall to 6-5, Roethlisberger’s teammates don’t want him to rush back.
“We don’t know when he’s back. Ben’s a special player,” said safety Ryan Clark. “You look at the AFC Super Bowl representatives the last few years, there’s three names. It’s (Tom) Brady, it’s (Peyton) Manning and it’s Roethlisberger. Whenever you’re included in that bunch, you’re a special guy. We know that we have to find ways to win without him. It’s going to be tough. There’s a reason why he’s a franchise guy. But we can’t lean on that. We can’t expect him to come back early or when he’s not ready. We need to win games so that he can feel comfortable rehabbing until he’s healthy, so that he can come in and be the Ben that we need.”
Veteran backup Charlie Batch showed some flashes against Cleveland, and though he threw three interceptions, one came on a ball over the middle that wide receiver Mike Wallace bobbled into the air. Another came on a deep throw late in the game.
Those kind of things can occur, even to Roethlisberger. After all, he’s had three-interception games in his career.
But, these Steelers aren’t able to overcome those kind of things.
“We knew coming in that we needed to play good football around the quarterback,” Clark said. “Running backs needed to play well. The defense needed to give the offense the ball in position to score, so that it didn’t need to make a long drive. I don’t feel like we did that enough. When you’re down a special guy, which we are, that’s what you have to do as a team.”
Football is often called the ultimate team sport. And while that’s true, the quarterback position is a very important one. The Steelers are finding out just how important Roethlisberger is right now.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.