PITTSBURGH – As the Steelers limp into their final game of a forgettable 2012 season, they have plenty of questions to be answered.
But perhaps the biggest dilemma facing the team is the one regarding what happened to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger down the stretch?
Normally one of the game’s brightest stars, Roethlisberger stumbled badly in December as the Steelers (7-8) went from being in charge of their own playoff destiny to being out of the postseason altogether following losses to San Diego, Dallas and Cincinnati.
“A lot of it has to do with my play or not playing well down the stretch,” Roethlisberger admitted Wednesday. “I didn’t play well enough.”
The Steelers have lost five of their past six games heading into Sunday’s season finale at Heinz Field against the Cleveland Browns, a slide that coincided with Roethlisberger suffering shoulder and rib injuries in a 13-10 win over Kansas City Nov. 12 that left Pittsburgh with a 6-3 record.
With Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, the Steelers went 1-2, with Batch leading the team to a rousing 23-20 win in Baltimore that had fans thinking everything would be better when Roethlisberger returned the following week.
But that hasn’t been the case as Roethlisberger, who threw 17 touchdowns passes with four interceptions and had a 100.0 passer rating in Pittsburgh’s first nine games, has looked pedestrian since his return.
In the three games he’s started since his return, he has six touchdowns and four interceptions for an 82.5 passer rating, well below his career mark of 92.5.
“You can attribute it to whatever you want,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “Obviously, the play is what it is. It hasn’t been consistently good enough for us to win.”
Two of Roethlisberger’s four interceptions since his return directly led to the game-winning points in games against Dallas and Cincinnati as he failed in opportunities to lead his team to a fourth quarter win.
“I feel good enough to play,” said Roethlisberger when asked if he was playing injured.
“It’s unfortunate. Injuries are never fun, but I won’t make excuses. I needed to step up and perform afterwards, just as I did before.”
Opponents have defended the Steelers a little differently since the game against the Chiefs, copying Kansas City’s game plan. The Chiefs played a lot of press coverage and took away many of the quick throws the team had used so successfully in the first half of the season.
But Roethlisberger said that offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s game plans weren’t an issue.
“I think it works for us,” Roethlisberger said. “When we’re executing, it works.”
And when they’re not, things look ugly.
“In the past, I’ve prided myself that we’ve been good in fourth quarter comebacks since I’ve been here,” said Roethlisberger. “This year, it just wasn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason why. We had eight years where I was pretty good at it. (We had) one year I wasn’t. It’s no reason to panic. I thought we played some good football other than that.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers placed tight end Heath Miller (knee), corner Ike Taylor (ankle) and running back Baron Batch (arm) on injured reserve Wednesday, signing tight end Jamie McCoy, linebacker Marshall McFadden and safety Damon Cromartie-Smith off their practice squad to take their roster spots. … Miller said Wednesday that he will have surgery today to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee suffered in Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati.