What do you do when a franchise icon hits the wall? It's not an easy question to answer.
Ben Roethlisberger has had a Hall of Fame career. He has won two Super Bowls. He could have his number unofficially retired (the Steelers have done that for many of their greats, officially retiring only two numbers). The Steelers want to be delicate when it comes to his legacy.
But this isn't the Roethlisberger who led the Steelers downfield against the Arizona Cardinals to win a Super Bowl in 2009. There were some alarming moments last season when it looked like Roethlisberger, a year removed from major elbow reconstruction, was done. Then this season he has looked worse.
It might be time for the Steelers to make a change after a 24-10 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, no matter how tough it'll be.
When Roethlisberger threw an awful interception on third down in the third quarter, he probably should have been pulled. The pick led to a Bengals touchdown and a 24-7 deficit. Roethlisberger had completed 15 passes for just 98 yards. He can't throw downfield anymore. He had two picks and a 50.4 rating at that point of the game. His rating was helped tremendously by a touchdown pass, which came on an easy underneath shovel pass. In the third quarter he almost threw another interception deep in his own territory, when he sailed a pass too high over his receiver, but the Bengals dropped it. Later in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger missed a wide-open James Washington downfield for what would have been a long touchdown.
The final indignity came with a little more than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-10, trailing 24-10, Roethlisberger took the snap and immediately threw a swing pass behind the line to Najee Harris. It gained nothing. You can't imagine Roethlisberger ever throwing that pass in his prime.
There are only two decent reasons Roethlisberger stayed in the whole time. One, the Steelers' backups aren't very good. Mason Rudolph isn't saving anyone's season. The other reason, which the Steelers will have to wrestle with all season as Roethlisberger quickly fades, is that it's unkind after all Roethlisberger has done for the franchise.
If Roethlisberger wasn't one of the all-time Steelers icons, Rudolph presumably would have come in on Sunday. Roethlisberger doesn't have much left and he's unlikely to rebound. It's hard to imagine he'll physically improve at age 39 if he didn't look better after an offseason of not getting blasted by defensive linemen.
The Steelers are going to struggle all season to overcome a quarterback who is moving slow and can't throw downfield anymore. Maybe their defense can carry them to some wins, like it did in Week 1 at the Buffalo Bills. But head coach Mike Tomlin probably knows what's coming. It just won't be easy to make the necessary move.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 3 of NFL action:
Derek Carr: Carr started Sunday’s game with a pick-six, and it looked for a while like the Las Vegas Raiders would blow a game they probably shouldn’t.
But Carr came through.
Carr led a field goal drive in overtime after the Miami Dolphins tied it in the final seconds. When the Dolphins tied the game again on a field goal, Carr answered. His 34-yard throw to Bryan Edwards set up the game-winning field goal. The Raiders are 3-0 with the 31-28 win. Carr had 386 yards.
The Dolphins were without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but they still had an early 14-0 lead. Jacoby Brissett battled hard and got the Dolphins to overtime. But the Raiders wouldn’t be denied. A lot of that is a credit to Carr.
Sean McVay: McVay was fired up for the Los Angeles Rams’ big win, and for good reason.
McVay has been one of the NFL’s best coaches since the Rams hired him, and he proved again why on Sunday. The Rams outclassed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, blowing out the defending champs 34-24.
McVay was excited about the Matthew Stafford addition all offseason, and we’re seeing why. The Rams offense is clicking. They’re 3-0, and not many teams are going to challenge them this season.
Justin Tucker: It's a consensus that Adam Vinatieri's kick in the snow to send the "Tuck Rule" game to overtime was the greatest kick in NFL history. Justin Tucker has a case now.
The Baltimore Ravens won an incredible game when, after Lamar Jackson completed a 36-yard pass on fourth-and-19, Tucker came on for a 66-yard field goal. The previous NFL record was 64 yards by Matt Prater. Tucker hit it straight, it bounced off the crossbar and in for a 19-17 win. That came after a rare miss earlier in the game by Tucker, who'd never missed an NFL field-goal attempt indoors before.
It's rare we remember any regular-season kick, but that one will be unforgettable for Tucker, who is strengthening his case as the greatest kicker in NFL history.
Josh Allen's MVP chances: This is what we expected from the Buffalo Bills offense.
The Bills struggled in Week 1 and despite a 35-0 win in Week 2, it still didn't look like the 2020 offense. On Sunday, the 2020 offense was back in a 43-21 win over the Washington Football Team.
Josh Allen was dealing, and he didn't even need Stefon Diggs to have a big day. Emmanuel Sanders had two touchdowns, Cole Beasley had a fine day and Allen had a huge game. He looked like the player many had as their chic MVP pick before the season. Allen finished with four passing touchdowns and one rushing score.
The Bills started 0-1, but they've responded with two straight emphatic wins. They might be the explosive, fun team we all expected coming into the season, after all.
Tennessee Titans: In the second half of Week 2, the Titans trailed 24-9 and were on their way to going 0-2. Now they're in full command of the AFC South.
The Titans beat the Indianapolis Colts 25-16, and in the process improved to 2-1. Last week they had an overtime win at Seattle, and that could prove to be a big one. The Colts are 0-3 and the Jaguars and Texans are bad. The Titans should win the division going away, unless the Colts get it together. But they're in a big hole now.
It hasn't been pretty for Tennessee, but it might have the best chance of any team to win its division after three weeks.
Arthur Smith: Smith had to worry when his first win as an NFL head coach would come after he started 0-2. He doesn't have to worry anymore.
Smith's Falcons got an ugly 17-14 win at the New York Giants, hitting a 40-yard field goal as time expired. The Giants are 0-3 and in trouble. The Falcons didn't get much going, but put together a drive late, with rookie Kyle Pitts making a key catch. That set up Younghoe Koo's field goal.
The pressure is off Smith now. He won't have to wonder when he'll get that first win.
New York Jets: The Jaguars won’t give up the title of the NFL’s worst team easily, but the Jets are trying.
The Jets have been outscored 46-3 in the first halves of their three games this season. They look unprepared and sloppy, and were overmatched in a rough 26-0 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has no protection, which makes it hard to judge how he’s doing. But his never-ending interceptions aren’t exactly a positive sign. The Jets have no running game. The defense has been bad. There’s not one positive this season to the Jets, and it might not get much better anytime soon.
Seattle Seahawks defense: Pete Carroll will probably blame the offense passing too much, but the Seattle Seahawks suddenly can’t stop anyone.
Last week, the defense fell apart as Derrick Henry ran through them in the Titans’ overtime win. On Sunday, the Seahawks couldn’t stop Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings offense, which was playing without Dalvin Cook. The Vikings won 30-17. Cousins had 323 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Seahawks are a disappointing 1-2, and that’s before they start to face any tough NFC West foes. All of the teams in the division can move the ball. The Seahawks better figure out their issues on the defensive side of the ball, and do it quickly.
Chiefs' high-wire act: Last week, the Kansas City Chiefs fell out of first place in the AFC West for the first time since the end of the 2016 season. They blew a lead to the Baltimore Ravens and then Clyde Edwards-Helaire lost a fumble when they had a chance to win.
The turnovers were back Sunday in a shocking 30-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. A pass slightly behind Marcus Kemp, when Mahomes tried a no-look pass, turned into a great interception by Asante Samuel Jr. Edwards-Helaire lost another fumble, then Tyreek Hill lost one. The Chiefs turned it over three times in the first half, giving them five possessions in a row dating back to last week that ended in a turnover.
Mahomes threw another interception late in the fourth quarter that led to a game-winning Chargers drive. It wasn't the worst interception — it came on third down and was downfield, so it was basically the same as a punt — but it is odd to see the Chiefs so reckless with the ball. Mike Williams' game-winning touchdown in the final minute held up, and the Chiefs will be in last place of the AFC West going into Week 4 at the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Chiefs have won only one game by more than one score since last Nov. 1. They have been squeaking by for a while. Now they're 1-2 and maybe in more trouble than we realize.
Mac Jones: Jones has been steady for the New England Patriots, and it seems like he'll be a solid NFL quarterback.
But there will also be days like Sunday. Jones didn't get much going on offense and his pick-six, which went off Jonnu Smith's hands but was thrown too far outside, practically put the game away early in the third quarter. The Saints led 21-3 at that point. They won 28-13.
The Patriots are 1-2 with two home losses. The first game was an unlucky loss, with a late fumble blowing a chance to take a lead on the Miami Dolphins. Sunday wasn't fluky. The Patriots didn't have enough offense to compete. That will happen sometimes as Jones learns on the job.
Bears fans: There was so much excitement for Justin Fields when the Chicago Bears drafted him. That excitement shouldn't fade yet, but Fields' first start won't be remembered for any good reason.
Fields struggled mightily against the Cleveland Browns in a 26-6 loss. Through three quarters he had five completions for 58 yards. He finished 6-of-20. He was hesitant, just like last week when he relieved injured Andy Dalton, and it cost him. That was a reason Myles Garrett collected a team record 4.5 sacks. Too often Fields was looking for reasons to tuck it and run, which won't lead to long-term success.
There will be better days for Fields. But the thought that he could come in and have a magical rookie season like Justin Herbert last year needs to be put on pause.
Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars: The Jags will be a regular in this section, it seems. It seemed Sunday might be their shot at an upset. A 109-yard returned field goal miss for a touchdown gave the Jaguars a lead over the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals looked like they were sleepwalking in a game they were expected to win.
Then it fell apart. The big play came when Lawrence floated a pass to the sideline that was picked off by Byron Murphy Jr. and returned 29 yards for a touchdown. The Jaguars lost the lead on that play and didn't lead again. The Cardinals won 31-19.
The future is still bright for Lawrence, but the present has been rough.