SPORTS FOCUS: Steelers’ loss is AFC North’s gain

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

Ben Roethlisberger was to the Pittsburgh Steelers as Tom Brady was to the New England Patriots and Aaron Rodgers is to the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers should take a long look at what Rodgers chooses to do in the offseason; because, Green Bay is a winner as long as Rodgers is on the roster.

The future of the Pittsburgh Steelers is in limbo, much like the franchise experienced when Terry Bradshaw retired in the early 1980s.

Who would have thought that Roethlisberger, a product of Miami University (not the one from Florida), would become a franchise quarterback for nearly 20 years? People became believers very quickly. In Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the Steelers were 15-1 and lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

The following season Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl. The Steelers won another Super Bowl three years later and lost to Green Bay two years later in the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh made it to the AFC title game only one more time (in 2016), but as long as Roethlisberger was behind center, everyone on the field (and in the stands) knew that the Steelers were in every game they played.

That can’t be said for nine-tenths of the teams that play in the NFL on a weekly basis.

And, while Steelers Nation is in a state of mourning, other teams in the AFC North are rejoicing (some secretly, others more openly).

The Baltimore Ravens found out what it was like without their franchise QB, Lamar Jackson. Jackson, who suffered a foot injury midseason, and the Ravens were in the driver’s seat in the AFC with an 8-3 record. Six games later and an overtime loss to Pittsburgh on the final day of the regular season, Baltimore was 8-9 and out of the playoffs.

There isn’t a quarterback on Pittsburgh’s current roster who will effectively take Roethlisberger’s place. Somehow, the Steelers’ front office will have to make lightning strike twice and draft the quarterback of the future who will guide one of the NFL’s most successful teams in the past 50 years into another Golden Era.

No quarterback could withstand the physical beatings, thread the needle in traffic, or quietly motivate the offense the way Big Ben could. He never whined when he took a hit (legal or otherwise). He enjoyed the grind like no other player in his position. He will be missed perhaps more than any quarterback can be missed by a fanbase and a team.

Much of Roethlisberger’s early career – he was the 11th pick of the 2004 draft and the third quarterback (behind Eli Manning and Philip Rivers) – was defined by his off-the-field conduct. He seemed to learn from his mistakes and carried on with more determination to keep his legacy between the lines and not outside of Heinz Field.

During Roethlisberger’s tenure Pittsburgh did not have a losing season. That’s 18 years and a lot of spoiled fans who have experienced years of futility like the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns.

One can only speculate if Pittsburgh will begin to descend into mediocrity. They lost a huge piece to the winning puzzle. Questions surrounding head coach Mike Tomlin’s ability to mold players and keep their loyalty won’t go away. Tomlin inherited Roethlisberger; he took over a winning franchise.

But it was the team’s ownership and front office that maintained the team’s tradition of winning, not Tomlin. Tomlin is an effective overseer, a steady voice who makes the noise go away until the next situation arises that makes people wonder if he is the coach of the future.

Pittsburgh has choices to make going forward, some painful ones to ensure that the Steelers remain an elite team in a league that is experiencing a metamorphosis away from New England and into a realm highlighted by the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams.

One thing is for certain: the Steelers will do everything in their power to make sure the humiliating losses to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021 won’t happen again, and the name Joe Burrow will be an afterthought and an enigma and not the marquis name occupied by Roethlisberger since 2004.