As the third quarter leaked away Thursday night and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger added two more goofy throws to a badly timed three-and-out, the distance between that moment and the Steelers’ most recent touchdown already had become a gaping embarrassment.
If you can’t remember it, ’twas running back Le’Veon Bell’s dazzling 38-yard run Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, coming as it did with 7:43 remaining in the second quarter.
So if you want to be persnickety about it, the Steelers started the fourth against the Ravens without having scored a touchdown in the previous five quarters — or 82 minutes, 43 seconds of an apparent cease-fire.
And the cease-fire held.
It wasn’t so much that the Ravens pasted ’em, 26-6, in their annual showdown in Charm City. It was that the alleged strength of the Steelers’ in-Ben-we-trust offense was nowhere in evidence.
So first, let’s get the final, official particulars out of the way: Six full quarters without a Steelers touchdown. Seventeen consecutive possessions without a Steelers touchdown. And 97 minutes, 43 seconds of game clock without a Steelers touchdown.
“Obviously we’ve got to score touchdowns, but they’re a good red-zone defense; they proved that last week,” said tight end Heath Miller, who caught four passes but none of them for longer than 13 yards. “Ultimately, we kind of stopped ourselves at different points in the game, but when we get the ball down there, we’ve got to score seven, and we didn’t do that.”
Worse, the main problem was, um, Ben.
Drilled helmet-to-breastbone by Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw on the first third down of his long night, Roethlisberger never found an effective throwing rhythm, unless you want to count the rhythmic misfires that aborted drives on many a third-and-something to come.
“It obviously wasn’t a winning performance by any of us,” was all Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would say about his quarterback, who wasn’t exactly warming to the topic of quarterback malfunction, either.
“Yeah,” Ben said when asked whether he felt like he was sharp Thursday. “I don’t think it was horrible. I just think you’ve got to give them a lot of credit; they’re a good defense.”
That’s fine as far as it goes, but I don’t see Ed Reed out there and I don’t see Ray Lewis out there, and I don’t even see Lardarius Webb, a secondary cornerstone who hasn’t gotten onto the field for the Ravens yet this season. What I did see was 340-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata leap into the path of a feckless pass by Roethlisberger and tip an interception to himself in the fourth, sending most of the announced 71,000-plus at M&T Bank Stadium to the exits.
“You know we moved the ball down the field, but it was one thing here and one thing there,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t know, off the top of my head, that I could point to one thing. I’d have to look at it on film. We just kept getting behind the chains, and you can’t do that.”
The quarterback kept throwing behind the receivers, too, and you can’t do that.
It started when he threw behind a wide-open Markus Wheaton on a third-and-1 in the second quarter and got its full unfortunate momentum when he overthrew Miller, who had found a capacious vacuum in the Ravens zone for what should have been an easy first down as well.
Roethlisberger, in case you missed it, is the biggest reason cited by people who feel these Steelers are somehow better than average, better than the twin 8-8s they’ve posted the past two years — never mind that No. 7 played every single snap a year ago without nudging them above .500.
As the Steelers consider adding another $100 million or so to Roethlisberger’s portfolio, perhaps the quarterback should start reminding everyone again why he deserves $20 million to $25 million a year.
To be sure, you can’t pin the first loss of the new season exclusively on the quarterback, as he had plenty of help in the area of bad luck and squishy competence. It certainly didn’t help that wide receiver Antonio Brown missed a few series while he had his head examined, and it helped even less that right tackle Marcus Gilbert kept getting pushed into Roethlisberger by Ravens menace Elvis Dumervil.
The quarterback finished 22-for-37 for only 217 yards with no completion longer than 27, had a pass intercepted for the second game in a row and posted a quarterback rating of 64.8. Only once all last season did he register less than 70.
From the guy we accept as way more than merely good enough, it was nowhere near good enough.