It's nice that Ben Roethlisberger stood up and took blame for the Steelers loss Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals. It's nice that he went to many teammates in the locker room to say, "I'm sorry I let you down." It's nice that he told the media later, "They need more play and better play from the quarterback."
You expect nothing less from Roethlisberger.
"That's what captains and quarterbacks do," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said.
What you couldn't possibly have expected was that Roethlisberger would come up so small in such a big game. It wasn't just his interception in the final 24 seconds that led to the Bengals' 13-10 win or his interception in the first quarter that was returned for the Bengals' only touchdown. He was awful the whole game.
A few questions:
What has happened to Roethlisberger? He hasn't been the same since his shoulder/rib injury in the Kansas City game Nov. 12. The Steelers are 0-3 since he came back after missing 3 1/2 games. A week earlier in Dallas, he threw an interception that led to an overtime loss.
Where's the old Roethlisberger, the one I've written many times is on his way to the Hall of Fame and is better than Terry Bradshaw? The one who routinely wins games in the fourth quarter or overtime?
How do the Steelers get that Roethlisberger back?
Roethlisberger, coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley -- if he's here -- will have extra time to figure it out during the offseason. The Steelers will play the Cleveland Browns Sunday at Heinz Field, but there will be no playoffs for a team that's every bit below-mediocre as its 7-8 record indicates.
Who saw this coming?
Clark was one of the final players Roethlisberger found after the game. The Steelers defense had a terrific day, holding the Bengals to field-goal drives of 19 and 21 yards.
"I told Ben it wasn't all on him," Clark said. "It's never on one player because it's never all about one play ...
"We just never meshed everything together as a team. When the defense played well, we needed the special teams or the offense to make a play and it didn't happen. There were other games when we as a defense didn't get it done. The Oakland game ... we couldn't stop them and they couldn't stop our offense. That's why we're in this position. We all contributed to this."
The Steelers offensive line had a rough day. Roethlisberger took a fierce pounding and was sacked four times. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, with 2 1/2 sacks, had his way with rookie guard David DeCastro.
"Probably going to be tough to sleep tonight," DeCastro said.
Steelers long snapper Greg Warren also had a breakdown. His low snap led to a failed 24-yard field-goal attempt by Shaun Suisham in the second quarter. You think the Steelers could have used those 3 points?
"It's not just all on Ben," Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. "It's not like he was out there by himself."
Roethlisberger appreciated the support, but he knew better.
"We did things to give us chance to win the game, but I blew it."
The man is right.
An interception by cornerback Cortez Allen on the first play of the third quarter gave the Steelers possession at the Bengals 32. The offense did nothing and punted. The Steelers got the ball back at their 46 with 3:18 left in the game after Bengals kicker Josh Brown was short on a 56-yard field-goal attempt. The offense again did little and Suisham was short on a 53-yard field-goal try with 1:47 left.
Roethlisberger's two interceptions were especially hurtful. He never saw cornerback Leon Hall, who jumped in front of tight end Heath Miller to intercept a first-quarter pass and return it 17 yards for a touchdown. Then, on a second-and-5 play from the Steelers 29 with 24 seconds left, his pass for wide receiver Mike Wallace sailed high and was intercepted by safety Reggie Nelson, who returned it to the Steelers 46. The next thing you knew, Brown made the winning 43-yard field goal and Roethlisberger was apologizing.
"I don't know what hurts more -- my body or my pride," Roethlisberger said.
Actually, he did know.
"It hurts the most right here," Roethlisberger said, tapping his chest over his heart.
With that Roethlisberger limped into the late-afternoon darkness. That his nearly 5-week-old son, Benjamin Jr., was waiting for him at home and the thought of his first Christmas as a father did little to ease his agony.
Roethlisberger came into the NFL in 2004 with the goal of leading the Steelers to five Super Bowl wins, one more than the legendary Bradshaw did in the 1970s. He has been stuck on two since Super Bowl XLIII after the 2008 season. This is just the third time in his career that the team won't be in the postseason.
Roethlisberger will be 31 next season, his 10th in the league. He knows his opportunities are dwindling. It hurts that the team wasted one this season.
"We should be [going to the playoffs] if it wasn't for me," Roethlisberger said.
This is just a guess:
DeCastro isn't the only Steeler who had a sleepless night.