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Monday, December 24, 2012
Has Roethlisberger lost late-game magic?

By Jamison Hensley

On the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, there are questions over whether Ben Roethlisberger's late-game mystique is history as well.

For two straight weeks, Roethlisberger has lost the game for the Pittsburgh Steelers by throwing interceptions. He did it in overtime in Dallas a week ago. He did it Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals with 14 seconds left in the game.

"We should be [going to the playoffs] if it wasn't for me," Roethlisberger said after Sunday's loss that eliminated the Steelers from the postseason.

So, where is the Roethlisberger who has led 29 game-winning drives? Where is the quarterback who has delivered 22 fourth-quarter comebacks?

Perhaps Roethlisberger hasn't lost his late-game magic. Maybe he just hasn't regained his health.

Before he suffered a serious rib and shoulder injury on Nov. 12, the Steelers were 6-3 and Roethlisberger was putting up MVP-type numbers. He completed 66 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and four interceptions. His passer rating was 105. Of those six wins, Roethlisberger led two fourth-quarter comebacks (against the Eagles and Giants).

After missing three games with the injury, Roethlisberger hasn't looked the same, which is why the Steelers have gone 0-3 since his return. He has completed 54 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and four interceptions. His rating over the span is 82.5.

On Sunday, he essentially gave the Bengals 10 points with the playoffs on the line. Roethlisberger had an interception returned for a touchdown in the first quarter because he never saw cornerback Leon Hall behind tight end Heath Miller. He then sailed a pass way over the head of Mike Wallace and into the arms of Bengals safety Reggie Nelson at midfield, which set up the winning field goal.

"We did things to give us a chance to win the game but I blew it," Roethlisberger said. "They need better play from the quarterback."

After last Sunday's interception in Dallas, Roethlisberger shifted some of the blame on the playcalling. After this one Sunday, he reportedly went to many teammates in the locker room and apologized for letting them down.

What Roethlisberger probably won't say is whether the injury is affecting his play. Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin don't make excuses. The only way any of us will know if Roethlisberger has lost his touch is next season, when the game is on his healthy shoulders.