Big Ben, Steelers make angry stand

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
8:00
PM ET
RoethlisbergerMark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsBen Roethlisberger insists he'll be a Steeler past this season, despite a report to the contrary.

PITTSBURGH -- He wore a No. 7 jersey and watched quizzically from the arms of a Pittsburgh Steelers staffer as his father addressed a semi-circle of reporters near the front of the home locker room.

Ben Roethlisberger Jr. either received as strong an assurance as possible that he will long call the Pittsburgh area home. Or he witnessed an acting job worthy of an Oscar nomination, courtesy of his old man.

The elder Ben Roethlisberger turned in a workmanlike performance in the Steelers’ 23-10 win against the hapless Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field on Sunday.

He later allowed himself to look ahead only so he could angrily deny an NFL Network report he took personally because of its most titillating claim: that Roethlisberger might want out of Pittsburgh after this season because he is so unhappy with the direction of a franchise that has won a record six Lombardi Trophies.

“It’s one of the most B.S. stories I’ve ever heard,” Roethlisberger said after throwing for 204 yards and a touchdown against the Bills. “When it comes to wanting to go somewhere else, that’s completely unacceptable.”

So is what the Steelers’ season had devolved into following a 55-31 unmasking last Sunday in New England. The 3-6 Steelers did not restore hope after beating the Bills on Sunday in a game that was as drab as a gray, cold day, as much as they stanched the latest round of bleeding.

The reality is the Steelers are almost certainly going to miss the playoffs for the second season in a row. That and the fact that Roethlisberger isn’t getting any younger -- and continues to take a beating behind a patchwork offensive line -- led to a report that appears to have added two and two and gotten five.

Forget the layers of denials, and that Roethlisberger’s agent unequivocally discredited the report even before talking to his client about how to handle it.

Roethlisberger has always said he wants to play for the Steelers his entire career. And his roots here extend now beyond leading the Steelers back to Super Bowl glory.

Roethlisberger’s wife, Ashley, is from New Castle, which is about an hour north of Pittsburgh. The couple’s first child was born here, and they are expecting another child.

Do you really think Roethlisberger wants to uproot his growing family just so he can link up with his good buddy and former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in Arizona?

A lot of tough decisions loom for the Steelers this offseason, and they will almost certainly have to hire their second offensive coordinator since sending Arians into what the team framed as retirement at the end of the 2011 season.

It is simply not working out between Roethlisberger and Todd Haley -- the two still have a frayed relationship, according to a source, despite their appearance of working better together this season -- and guess which one is more expendable?

The offense continues to labor under Haley, and it managed just two touchdowns against the Bills despite a balanced attack and short fields provided by an Antonio Brown punt return and a Ryan Clark interception.

The Steelers, however, so thoroughly dominated the Bills that they extended for at least another week hope that a season that started 0-for-September can still be salvaged.

Not that the Steelers players dared go there after the get-well win.

“It was one step in the right direction,” Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. “If we play like this we can be tough.”

The Steelers agave those fans who braved the biting air and whipping winds what coach Mike Tomlin called an “appropriate” response following the Steelers’ loss at New England.

They looked like the Steelers of old as opposed to the old Steelers in dominating both lines of scrimmage, toying with a rookie quarterback and taking control of the game with touchdowns that bridged the second and third quarters.

They played angry, none moreso than Lawrence Timmons, who had eight tackles and a teeth-rattling sack of EJ Manuel.

The caveat is that the Bills are even worse in the win-loss column than the Steelers, and that Pittsburgh has now beaten Joe Flacco and two rookie quarterbacks this season.

That is why when Roethlisberger was asked if the Steelers remain relevant relative to the playoff picture he said, “It’s way too early to tell.”

It’s apparently not too early for Roethlisberger to foresee how the rest of his career plays out, and the 10th-year veteran and the Steelers publicly pledged their allegiance to one another.

“I’m not quitting on anything, this season, this team, these fans,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m going to give it everything I have. This is home.”

This is also the place where he won his 90th-regular season game on Sunday -- and where Roethlisberger still represents the best hope of winning, even with so much uncertainty swirling around the Steelers.

"I've always wanted to be a Steeler for life," he said.

The reiteration of that desire trumped the other big news of the day: that the Steelers aren't dead.

Yet.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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