It can be immensely gratifying, as it must have been on the day he was made a first-round draft choice. And it would be impossible for there to be anything as professionally satisfying as standing on a platform holding a Lombardi Trophy as confetti rains down gently all around you. To say nothing of doing that twice. His profession can be, and has been, challenging, fulfilling, invigorating, frustrating.
And as it was on Sunday in Green Bay, it can be cruel.
Lambeau Field has been the venue for a lot of NFL history, and it was shaping up to host some more of that when the 1-2 Steelers lined up for a game against the 2-1 Packers. Ben Roethlisberger arrived in Green Bay needing one touchdown pass to reach 400 for his career and become one of eight men in NFL history to reach that plateau; he also needed 213 passing yards to vault Dan Marino for sixth place on the NFL's all-time list in that category.
Also in play was living up to his stated goal of getting off to a faster start with the idea being to get his team out to an early lead, doing a better and more consistent job of pushing the ball down the field to force the opposing defense to respect the Steelers' ability to attack vertically, and with that being the catalyst for a victory that would end the Steelers' two-game losing streak and get them to .500 four weeks into this regular season.
The Packers won the coin toss and elected to defer, which meant the Steelers would receive the opening kickoff, and Roethlisberger started checking things off the to-do list. Before the game was five minutes old, Roethlisberger ended the team's streak of 11 straight games without a first quarter touchdown, he ended the streak of 37 games (according to CBS) of no touchdowns on the opening drive of a game, and he got the ball down the field and became one of eight quarterbacks in NFL history with 400 career touchdown passes with a 45-yard hookup with Diontae Johnson. Oh, and it gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead in a game where everyone knew it would be football suicide to try to play catch-up against Aaron Rodgers.
"It was a good opening drive for us," said Roethlisberger of the eight-play, 75-yard drive that gave the Steelers their only lead of the game. "We finally scored early. We have to find a way to continue to score and move the ball and eliminate mistakes."
But rather than be the beginning of a trend, that drive proved to be more of a one-and-done when it came to consistently executing the items on the offense's checklist.
The Steelers would have three more offensive possessions before the end of the first half, and each was disappointing/frustrating in its own way. The first of those was a three-and-out, and the Packers responded with a 13-play, 64-yard drive that included three third-down conversions and ended up in the end zone via a 4-yard run by Rodgers that tied the game, 7-7.
The Steelers next possession also ended as a three-and-out, but this time Pressley Harvin didn't even get a chance to come onto the field and punt. That's because Kingsley Keke slapped the ball out of Roethlisberger's right hand for a strip-sack, and Kenny Clark recovered for the Packers at the Pittsburgh 23-yard line.
Four plays after the turnover, a short pass from Rodgers to Randall Cobb simultaneously converted a third-and-10 from the 23-yard line and gave the Packers the lead for good. But at the time, with almost 11 minutes left in the first half, the Steelers still seemed to be very much in the hunt if only they could get back to executing the things on their checklist. They did just the opposite.
Starting at the 25-yard line, Roethlisberger directed the offense to three first downs, one of which came after a holding penalty on Dan Moore set up a first-and-20 from the Steelers 29-yard line. After a short pass to Eric Ebron converted a third-and-4, it was time for another shot down the field. JuJu Smith-Schuster was open enough that the only thing standing in the way of a 34-yard touchdown was an accurate throw or the receiver making a play. Neither happened, the ball fell incomplete, and if Chris Boswell's 52-yard field goal was a nice consolation prize everyone watching knew the Steelers had blown an opportunity.
"Honestly, it's a little bit of both of us: the receivers and the quarterback," said Roethlisberger when asked to explain the misfire. "In order for a deep ball to be successful, both parties have to be on the same page. They have to understand the coverage and what's going on. At the end of the day, I'm the one throwing it. I'm the one who has to make it happen. I'm the one who has to hit the guys. Regardless of where they are on the field, regardless of what the coverage is, it comes down to me to get them the ball."
There would be one more gut-punch before the end of the first half.
Part of the recipe the Steelers had used to come away with that victory in Buffalo was a splash play from special teams, and they seemingly got it when the Packers lined up for a 31-yard field goal attempt late in the first half. Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked the kick, scooped the ball and ran 75 yards for a touchdown.
But Joe Haden, who was lined up outside of Fitzpatrick, was flagged for being offside. CBS' replay showed Haden came out of his stance as the long-snapper lifted the ball, and former NFL referee Gene Steratore, also part of the CBS telecast, tweeted later that based on replay, unless Haden lined up offside, no penalty should've been called.
Instead of a 17-14 halftime lead, the Steelers trailed, 17-10.
The second half brought more of the same – more history but also more disappointment. At one point, Roethlisberger completed a 30-yard pass to James Washington, and that allowed him to pass Marino on the all-time yardage list. But tempering any of the feel-good that play might have engendered, Roethlisberger also missed on another down-the-field connection with Smith-Schuster that game analyst Tony Romo stated would have resulted in a sure touchdown.
"Just detail. Execution. And I don't say that tongue in cheek," said Coach Mike Tomlin when asked about the missed down-the-field connections. "We need more detail in our work, and we need better understanding. We need to play faster. Those will produce the chunks that you mentioned. We're close. We had some opportunities today; we just didn't hit enough of them.
"We've got to have those plays, particularly when we're not playing as well as we'd like. Chunks eliminate a lot of execution, as we say in the coaching business. And by that, I mean, if you're not playing clean, splash plays or chunks of real estate aid you. And so, we're not playing clean enough and we're not getting enough chunks to offset it and that's why we're having the conversation we're having."
It's the kind of conversation that's inevitable after a loss drops a team to 1-3, especially when the most recent loss annoyingly has many of same characteristics as the ones that preceded it.