New Castle News

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December 24, 2012

Steve Treu: Like his Steelers teammates, Big Ben played small when it mattered most

NEW CASTLE — He is the player most responsible for restoring championship glory to the franchise.

More than any other, he should get the most credit for delivering the last two Super Bowl titles to Pittsburgh.

The Steelers advanced to three Super Bowls and have been a threat virtually every season since 2004 largely because of him.

And he just ended whatever slim chance the Steelers had at a seventh Lombardi Trophy.

Ben Roethlisberger.

Goat.

It is a strange label for a man used to playing the role of hero on a football field.

He may be halfway through a Hall of Fame-worthy career (though he may need another Super Bowl ring to cinch it), but the year 2012 will be a black mark on the otherwise golden résumé for Roethlisberger.

He failed to inspire his teammates this season.

And in the most important moments, he simply failed.

In Denver to open the season, Roethlisberger had a first down to work with at the Pittsburgh 20 with three minutes to go trailing by 6 points. Fail.

In Oakland two weeks later, Roethlisberger had a first down to work with at the Pittsburgh 20 with 6:22 remaining in a tie game. Fail.

In mid-October at Tennessee, similar situation. First down in their own territory during a tie game, 4:14 left to play. Fail.

Last week in Dallas, similar situation. First down at his own 20. Tie game. Start of OT. Fail.

All of those games, losses.

Yesterday’s 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field had such a familiar ring to it.

Ring? More like a gong.

Roethlisberger had no less than five possessions in the second half of a 10-10 game to go get the Steelers the lead and each time came up far short.

Field position and time were not factors, either. The first four drives started in Pittsburgh territory at the 34, 28, 23 and 46 with 3:18 remaining. Fail, fail, fail, fail.

On the fifth, Roethlisberger had a chance to hit Mike Wallace in Cincinnati territory in the final minute and perhaps set up a game-winning field goal attempt and instead chucked it over his head for his second devastating interception in the past two weeks.

Epic fail.

Now, except for a meaningless game against Cleveland next week, the season is over.

There are a hundred reasons why an 8-8 record is the best Steelers fans can hope for and also why a season-ending home loss to the Browns next week would be the nadir of Mike Tomlin’s six-year tenure as head coach.

The injuries were ridiculous. In retrospect, David DeCastro getting hurt during preseason action was a harbinger of doom. “Next Man Up” was replaced by “Next Man Down” for the Steelers this season.

The team never got settled at running back. (Heck, just when you thought Rashard Mendenhall had all the relevance of Osama bin Laden, he re-emerged in the backfield yesterday.) Gotta get that position figured out before 2013 kicks off.

The wide receivers were divas. Except divas are smarter. Mike Wallace played his way out of a huge payday, at least here in Pittsburgh. Antonio Brown had far too many mental and physical lapses to repeat as team MVP.

And Emmanuel Sanders’ head-scratching fumble as he dashed toward the end zone in Baltimore may be the quintessential moment of the season.

So much promise.

Wasted.

Above all else, Roethlisberger just didn’t have his magic touch.

You may recall the winning drive in Super Bowl XLIII? When Big Ben guided the Steelers 78 yards in a masterful two-minute drill to win it all?

Had he managed to duplicate that kind of drive just once in any of the aforementioned five games, Pittsburgh would still be in the playoff hunt. Had he done it two or three times, as we’ve come to expect from him, a postseason game at Heinz Field might be on tap for early January.

As it turns out, that unsportsmanlike penalty called on Brett Keisel for his “arrow” sack dance wasn’t so ridiculous. It was a metaphor for the season.

The flaw in his celebration?

“Going to the ground.”

Your 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Grounded.

(Steve Treu covers the Steelers for The News.)

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