After suffering a 26-15 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) are on a two-game losing streak that has quarterback Ben Roethlisberger publicly questioning whether he can still play the game at a high-enough level. Moreover, in his postgame media session, he indicated that retirement is a very real possibility if things don’t get better.
“I need to play better football because the ball is in my hands every single play,” he said. “When it’s in my hands, I need to make the best decision. Right now, I’m not playing good enough football to win … If I don’t play good enough football, then I need to hang it up.”
Ben Roethlisberger in 2017: ‘Maybe I Don’t Have it Anymore’
It’s certainly not the first time that Roethlisberger has publicly questioned how much longer he might be able to continue playing. For example, after an October 2017 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he threw five interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns), he was asked whether he was doing anything differently and said, “I don’t think so but maybe I am, maybe I don’t have it anymore.’’
Back then it seemed like the challenges he was facing were more emotional than physical, as he appeared somewhat mentally worn down after serving as franchise quarterback for 14 seasons.
Now the questions being raised about his playing ability are physical, as fans and NFL observers are increasingly questioning his arm strength and mobility.
Ben Roethlisberger’s Knee(s)
But it’s worth considering the idea that observers are underestimating the impact of the hit he took at the end of the first half against the Dallas Cowboys on November 8th, when he sustained injuries to both knees.
The condition of his knee—or knees—hasn’t kept him from playing, but it did cause him to be listed as “questionable” for the matchup against Washington (and to miss both of the team’s practices that week). And yesterday morning, a report from Jason La Confora of CBS Sports indicated that Roethlisberger’s knee issue(s) are a “bigger deal than [the Steelers] have let on,” and also “trending in the wrong direction.”
To be sure, Roethlisberger’s knee issues could be negatively affecting everything from his arm strength to accuracy to mobility. Certainly, the 17-year-veteran looks to be laboring in recent weeks; he not only looks slower but doesn’t look happy about anything he is doing out on the field. That could very well be attributable to the issues with his knee(s), which have perhaps been exacerbated by playing three games in 12 days, hardly ideal even for a healthy 38-year-old quarterback.
But if you’re worried about Roethlisberger suddenly being washed up, keep in mind that it was just three weeks ago when the Steelers were 10-0 and Roethlisberger was telling the media that his skill guys were ‘keeping him young.’ It was just four weeks ago when Roethlisberger won AFC Player of the Week honors for his four touchdown performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, when he looked totally revitalized after not practicing for an entire week.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the 2020 season will have a happy ending for the Steelers. It may be that his knee—or knees—need more time to heal (or be surgically repaired), than the NFL schedule allows. And if Roethlisberger is unable to return to a semblance of normal health, Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl dreams may no longer be realistic.
Ben Roethlisberger in 2021 (and Beyond?)
Roethlisberger’s ongoing health issues also beg the question as to whether the Steelers might still be open to extending Big Ben’s contract, as Art Rooney II indicated they might, back in early September. At the moment, Roethlisberger is under contract for one more season, with a salary cap hit of $41.25 million in 2021.
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