Steelers and Big Ben far from done in 2021

Watch Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) in action on Thursday Night Football as they travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings (5-7), live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am on Friday morning

Last Updated: 09/12/21 3:26pm

Can Ben Roethlisberger lead the Pittsburgh Steelers back to the playoffs in what could prove to be his last season in the NFL?

The Pittsburgh Steelers, seemingly, are not going anywhere. Nor Ben Roethlisberger. Not yet.

Concern has grown over the future of the storied franchise, and particularly at the quarterback position, as they first limped out to a 1-3 start on the season and then, having rallied briefly with four-straight wins, they tied with the then-winless Detroit Lions, lost to the Los Angeles Chargers and were blown out 41-10 by their AFC North division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals.

T.J. Watt is having an incredible year, with the Pittsburgh pass rusher leading the NFL with 16 sacks and even being talked up as a potential league MVP candidate, but elsewhere the defense has slipped from top three in all major categories last season to 22nd in total defense, 21st in scoring defense and 28th in takeaways in this campaign.

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In defeat to the Bengals, it was in run defense where they got sliced open, to the tune of 198 total rushing yards. It was a performance that prompted this outburst from former Steelers safety Ryan Clark, a Super Bowl winner with the team in 2008, on ESPN: “There’s absolutely no physicality,” he said. “There’s no energy defensively. There’s no tone-setters.

Former Steeler @Realrclark25 went OFF on Pittsburgh ?

“They’re not my beloved Steelers anymore. NOBODY is scared to play this team! … You better change something … or this WILL be Mike Tomlin’s first losing season.” pic.twitter.com/Bpt1CYiJMt

— Get Up (@GetUpESPN)

November 30, 2021

“Pittsburgh football ain’t about having fun. Pittsburgh football is about dominating people on the field because of your physicality.

“But that ain’t what y’all want. What y’all want to do is show up, and y’all want to live on the backs of legends.”

Clark’s assessment went viral, and it didn’t exactly look wide of the mark when second-year receiver Chase Claypool then suggested “music would help” make practice more fun in the lead up to last week’s huge divisional matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.

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Watch all of the highlights from the Week 13 matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburg Steelers.

Watch all of the highlights from the Week 13 matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburg Steelers.

This, after all, is a team which stumbled to four defeats in five to end last season during which Claypool’s fellow wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster was being criticised for riling up the opposition by making TikTok dance videos on the field pre-game.

Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward fumed at Claypool’s suggestion, saying: “I hope he was kidding, because as soon as he said it I was literally about to rip the speaker out.

“That is not what we need right now. It’s X’s & O’s and it’s execution.”

And the team certainly executed their game plan to perfection against the Ravens last Sunday, edging a defensive battle 20-19 to get their season back on track.

The Steelers, no matter how bad they’ve looked at times over the last year, are simply a team that won’t go away. Head coach Mike Tomlin has yet to return a losing record in his 14 years in charge – and all 14 of those with a certain ‘Big Ben’ at quarterback.

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Former NFL receiver Dante Hall looks at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ struggles this season and whether he feels it’s the end of the road for veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Former NFL receiver Dante Hall looks at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ struggles this season and whether he feels it’s the end of the road for veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Not helping Pittsburgh’s preparation for that Ravens clash, though, was a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter last Saturday that Roethlisberger had “told former teammates and some within the organization that he expects this to be his final season playing quarterback for the Steelers”.

Yet the Roethlisberger that showed up against the Ravens a day later looked far from one distracted by such speculation, contemplating his footballing mortality, as he efficiently completed 21 of 31 passes for 236 yards and tossed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to Diontae Johnson when, typically, coming up clutch down the stretch.

Big Ben now has led five such game-winning drives this season, tied with Justin Herbert for most in the NFL, and 51 for his whole career, the same mark as Tom Brady (third all time).

Good Morning Football (Sky Sports NFL, weekdays, 12pm) presenter Kyle Brandt said on Wednesday: “Last week was perfect [for Roethlisberger].

“The report comes out that it was his last year, he was done, and he’s playing Lamar [Jackson]. Here he is about to go quietly away, but no he won’t do it.

“I still think, with as many great AFC quarterbacks as there are out there – young, exciting talents – if it’s a third-and-eight in the cold, give me Roethlisberger.

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“Not all season. Not to start a franchise with. One play, give me him over [Joe] Burrow, Herbert, Lamar.

“And I think it’s going to come down to that. I can’t quit the man, you’ve got to still have trust in number seven. I still believe in him.”

Roethlisberger, it seems can’t quit either. Many thought the 39-year-old grizzled veteran would go off the back of a chastening 48-37 playoff defeat at home to the Cleveland Browns last year, one which saw a visibly emotional Big Ben seemingly taking in his final moments as a Steeler when sat alone on the bench long after his team had left the field.

A disconsolate Ben Roethlisberger pictured during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff defeat to the Cleveland Browns last season

But no, back he came for another go at winning a record seventh Super Bowl for the Steelers, and a third individually. It has been far from an easy road there so far, but now sitting 6-5-1 on the season, and firmly in the AFC playoff hunt, following that win over the Ravens, there is hope that Pittsburgh have turned a corner.

This mood seemed to be reflected most by Roethlisberger himself, when addressing those reports of retirement after the game. “I haven’t told everybody that, no,” he said.

“I’ll address any of that stuff after the season. I’ve always been a one-game-at-a-time, one-season-at-a-time person. I’m going to stay that way.

“We play in a couple hours, it feels like. That’s my focus. My focus is on Minnesota and what we have to do to get ready.”

It is indeed Minnesota up next for Roethlisberger and the Steelers, with the 5-7 Vikings just as desperate for a win when they meet on Thursday night – live on Sky Sports NFL, 1.20am, Friday morning – in the hope of positioning themselves back in the playoff hunt in the NFC.

Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings are next up for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Thursday Night Football clash

The Steelers have further tough tests to come down the stretch, including meetings with AFC South and West leaders, the Tennessee Titans (8-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (8-4), as well as further divisional matchups against the Browns (6-6) and Ravens (8-4) again to finish.

The season might not ultimately have the fairy tale ending, the defense might – Watt aside – continue to struggle, Tomlin’s team might finally post a losing record and Roethlisberger might well says his goodbyes after a bruising encounter with Baltimore.

But it seems to be that when you start to count this team out, that they’re truly at their most dangerous. And the Steelers have shown they’re far from done yet.

Watch Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) in action on Thursday Night Football as they travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings (5-7), live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am in the early hours of Friday morning.

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