Ben Roethlisberger drew attention recently when he went on a Pittsburgh radio show and described the various ways other members of the Steelers had contributed to a tough loss at Denver. On Wednesday, the veteran quarterback was far from apologetic for those comments, telling reporters that he has “earned the right” to publicly criticize his teammates.
“Being around for a long time and dealing with a lot of different players, you have to know how to motivate different guys in different ways,” the 36-year-old said Roethlisberger, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think that’s part of being a leader, being a captain, just understanding players. Sometimes you just grab them off to the side and sometimes you have to be honest with them."
He continued: “I think I’ve earned the right to be able to do that with as long as I’ve been here. I’ll be just as critical on myself in front of you guys, as well.”
Roethlisberger threw for 462 yards and a touchdown, but he also tossed two picks in the Steelers' 24-17 loss to the Broncos. One of those interceptions came with just over a minute left from the 2-yard line, when defensive lineman Shelby Harris got in the way of a pass meant to reach Antonio Brown in the end zone.
Speaking Tuesday on 93.7 The Fan, Roethlisberger claimed that even if Harris hadn’t intercepted the ball, Denver cornerback Chris Harris “would’ve had a chance” to do so, because Brown’s route-running allowed the man covering him to get into an advantageous position. Roethlisberger said he told Brown, a six-time Pro Bowler, after the play: “AB, you have to come flat. You can’t drift in the end zone, because those undercuts can happen.”
Roethlisberger also faulted the Steelers' play-calling after they got that close to the end zone, saying of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, “I think we should’ve went to him four straight plays.” In his radio appearance, he also called out another Pittsburgh wide receiver, rookie James Washington, for what he saw as an unnecessary dive for a third-quarter pass that resulted in an incompletion rather than a long gain.
“He has to make it,” Roethlisberger said of Washington’s failed attempt at a catch. “I just think he didn’t trust his hands. For some reason, he jump-slash-dove. I’m not really sure what he was doing. … James needs to run through that, and it’s a touchdown.”
“Yes, he’s a rookie, but you can’t be out there if you’re not going to make those plays for us,” Roethlisberger added.
“Maybe it’s his way of challenging guys, letting them know we’re not perfect as a team,” Steelers guard Ramon Foster said of Roethlisberger (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). “I guess, more or less, it’s that he sees the opportunity. Whether he’s talking to them directly or through the media, we need to realize that we’ve got to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Foster added that players “listen” when the quarterback has something to say, "because he’s the guy that controls where the ball goes.”
“He’s a 15-year vet. He’s a Hall of Famer. What makes it that he can’t say something, but the guys that sit on TV can say something?” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said of Roethlisberger. “I’m so confused on that.”
Asked how he thought other Steelers players might take his critical comments, Roethlisberger replied: “Go ask them, I have no idea. You’ll have to ask them.
“I would hope they would understand that, as a quarterback and a captain, that I have the right to do those things,” he continued. “I don’t feel I abuse that situation."
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