Inside Ben Roethlisberger’s historically awful loss to Jacksonville

Was the Steelers quarterback distracted or is he just done?

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Roethlisberger has had a rough couple of weeks. It ended with a five-interception outing at home for the future hall of famer in what might go down as the most flaccid, inept Steelers loss of the Mike Tomlin era.

One could almost see this coming. Before the Steelers got their collective doors blown off by the Jacksonville Jaguars, word broke that the Gatorade-flipping tirade by Antonio Brown during last week’s Steelers victory may have been because the All-Pro wide receiver felt he was being overlooked by his quarterback after their disagreement over the national anthem.

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported early Sunday that Brown “has been at odds” with Roethlisberger since the Steelers opted to not participate in the national anthem in Week 3. Brown wanted to kneel, but Roethlisberger reportedly pushed for the team to stay in the locker room, before moving them to the tunnel, before telling Alejandro Villanueva it would be fine to walk out of the tunnel during the anthem — against what the team had agreed — before leaving him out there alone, creating a major shitstorm for the team, the city and the entire NFL.

Maybe all of that wasn’t Roethlisberger’s fault. But Sunday’s loss has to be.

Ben was 33-of-55 for 312 yards and five interceptions. Five. The Steelers scored just nine points on the day, while the Jaguars tallied two touchdowns — 13 points after a missed extra point — solely on Roethlisberger interceptions. Seriously, Blake Bortles was 8-of-14 for 95 yards and an interception and he managed to outplay Roethlisberger Sunday. Combined, Heinz Field witnessed the worst display of quarterbacking in NFL history. I’m not even going to look that up to verify it, because I’m sure it’s true without a hint of dramatics or hyperbole.

Somehow Brown managed 157 yards on 10 catches and Le’Veon Bell caught 10 passes for 46 yards in the middle of this terrible day. The rest of Roethlisberger’s completions went to Martavis Bryant (5), JuJu Smith-Schuster (4), Jesse James (3) and Justin Hunter (1) on 25 targets, including three combined incompletions to Vance McDonald and James Conner. So outside of passes to Bell and Brown, Ben was 13-of-25 for 109 yards. Oh, right, and the five passes to the other team, too.

After the game, Brown was asked about his quarterback’s woeful day. He was gracious, saying, “he’s a competitor. He’s the general. He’s going to come to work this week with a lot of intensity. He’s going to hit that film room and make everyone around him execute their level of play.

“He’s going to be a sponge,” Brown added, “and he’s going to bring the best out of all of us, especially after a week like this.”

A sponge, you say?

Yep, that’s pretty much what Roethlisberger looked like on the field Sunday. A beat up yellow sponge. By the time he threw his fifth pick, the game had been long over. Because of throws like this:

And this:

Now, you can make the case a tipped ball could go anywhere, but how can a 6-foot-5 quarterback like Roethlisberger get that kind of pass deflected? He just didn’t see the lineman RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM?

This one…well, there was pressure. So maybe that was why it got intercepted.

Actually the one above feels like a typical Roethlisberger interception in his career. So you can almost excuse that one as “Ben being Ben.” But if that doesn’t articulate how bad Ben’s game was, maybe this will:

When asked after the game about his performance, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network tweeted that Roethlisberger said, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore. I’m not playing well enough.” The follow:

I doubt Roethlisberger gave much thought to his answer if he’s openly doubting if he ‘has it anymore’ before suggesting he has no doubts.

So what about the head coach? Does he have doubts? When asked about Roethlisberger after the game, Tomlin merely said, “he’s not playing well. I’ll let him speak for him.”

Tomlin addressed the overall game in his typical fashion, making pronouncements about needing to respond, not react to what went down.

“For us more than anything it’s not what happened. We saw what happened. We participated in what happened. It’s how we respond to it. And respond — I’m using my words very carefully there in respond — because we don’t need to react to it.”

When asked specifically about if he’s concerned about the offense, Tomlin said, “I’m concerned when we lose. I’m concerned when we don’t take care of the ball. We didn’t do that today.”

Ben’s play should have Tomlin concerned. In three weeks, two losses, he’s completed 73 passes on 124 attempts, a 58.9 percent rate, with two touchdown throws and six interceptions. He’s averaging 254 yards per game over the last three weeks. To be fair, the Jacksonville loss buoyed those numbers to just about his career average, but heading into Sunday his yards per game was down nearly 65 yards from last season and almost 90 from two years ago.

Roethlisberger’s five picks were the most of his career in any game, having thrown four interceptions twice, back in 2008 in a loss to the Giants and 2006 in a loss to Oakland. But in each of those games he had at least one touchdown pass. He’s thrown three interceptions nine times in his career, and had no touchdown passes in three of those games, including a win last year against the Bills. Credit Bell and the defense in that one.

Unfortunately there was no help this time. Bell had just 47 yards rushing on 15 carries and the defense let Leonard Fournette rumble for 181 yards on 28 carries, 90 of which came on his second touchdown run when the Steelers had long-since given up.

And with all that, somehow, the loss still feels worse. How bad? At the very least, it might be time to start talking about relocating the quarterback.