The Pittsburgh Steelers lost Sunday in Miami. That was a setback, and it should be pretty embarrassing to the Steelers, given that the Dolphins entered the game with a 1-4 record and had much of South Florida clamoring for Coach Adam Gase to bench quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
But at least the Steelers’ season did not come completely undone.
Pittsburgh, despite Sunday’s poor showing, has an offense good enough to make possible a run deep into the AFC playoffs. But that only works if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is healthy and in the lineup, and that was in serious doubt Sunday when Roethlisberger exited the field during the first half and went to the locker room after suffering an injury to his left knee.
A crisis was averted, however, when Roethlisberger returned to the game in the second half. That wasn’t all that positive for the Steelers on Sunday; Roethlisberger had a mostly miserable passing day in which he threw two interceptions in a 19-for-34, 189-yard outing that produced a passer rating of 57.1. Those numbers were far worse, too, before a late touchdown throw in the 30-15 defeat. But it certainly was positive for the Steelers in the bigger picture.
Roethlisberger, until Sunday, had played well enough this season to be in the league MVP conversation. With him in the lineup, the Steelers can throw the ball effectively and can run the run the ball when needed with tailback Le’Veon Bell. Sammie Coates has emerged as a big-play threat at wide receiver to complement Antonio Brown. There are times when Pittsburgh’s offense looks next to unstoppable.
But it only works with Roethlisberger playing. Backup Landry Jones is not capable of making the Steelers a Super Bowl threat.
Roethlisberger undoubtedly knows this. Yet he vowed in training camp not to change his sometimes-rugged playing style in an effort to avoid injuries.
“You always want to be on the field, obviously,” Roethlisberger said then. “Any time you’re not on the field, you’re hurting yourself and your team. But the hard part about that is, I play the game one way. I’ve played it that way for 13 years now, and I don’t know any other way to play it. So I’ll do everything I can to stay on the field but to play the game the way I know how.”
The Steelers have a list of issues to address. Their past two road games have resulted in poor showings, first a 34-3 defeat at Philadelphia and now this dud of a performance in Miami. The Pittsburgh defense allowed the Dolphins to run the ball virtually at will, with Jay Ajayi rushing for 204 yards and two touchdowns, while Tannehill had an efficient passing day.
But Roethlisberger apparently escaped a serious injury, and that means there could be better days ahead for the Steelers in what remains of the season.