Ben Roethlisberger has 91 regular season wins as the Steelers starting quarterback at Heinz Field. Unless there is a 92nd by this time next week, his team's playoff hopes that began the week deserving to be described as "iffy" would take a giant step backward to "virtually impossible."
While there has been no official announcement that Roethlisberger will retire at the end of the 2021 NFL season, there have been some events hinting that likely will be the case, the most recent being his family making the trip to Arrowhead Stadium for last Sunday's game against the Chiefs. CBS, which was handling the telecast of the game, showed Roethlisberger's family in a suite at Arrowhead Stadium and the broadcast pair of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo relayed on the air that it was the first time his whole family ever had traveled to a road game during his 18 NFL seasons.
And if the 2021 NFL season indeed turns out to be Roethlisberger's last, Monday night's game against the Browns would be his final regular season appearance at Heinz Field, where he currently has a 91-31 record (.689) as a starter.
"You know, I don't know that it's going to impact anything relative to what we intend to do or what he intends to do," said Coach Mike Tomlin when was asked on Tuesday about that possibility during his weekly news conference at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.
"Like I've mentioned several times when that subject is broached in these settings, Ben has really done a nice job of setting the pace regarding that throughout the season. He's been singularly focused on the next challenge in where we are in terms of the here and now, so it has been easy to follow his lead in that regard. And I'm sure we all will do the same as we press forward toward Monday Night Football."
The Steelers need a victory over Cleveland to remain viable in the AFC playoff chase, because there already are six teams in the conference with nine wins – New England, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Tennessee, and Kansas City – and a loss to the Browns next Monday night would mean the Steelers could finish no better than 8-8-1.
It's also possible that a loss to the Browns could eliminate the Steelers from playoff contention via simple arithmetic, because unless both the 8-7 Ravens (home vs. the Rams), and the 8-7 Chargers (home vs. the Broncos) end up losing on Sunday, there would be seven AFC teams already at nine wins with seven playoffs spots available, and the Steelers able to do no better than eight wins.
Anyway, Monday's game at Heinz Field promises to be a significant one, either because of the playoff implications for this season, or as a historical marker in what certainly will end up being recognized as a Hall of Fame career for Roethlisberger.
"To be honest with you, we don't have enough time," said Tomlin when asked to summarize "at least part of" what Roethlisberger has done at Heinz Field. "I mean, I've experienced 15 years of Hall of Fame caliber play as it pertains to Ben. My focus and his focus this week is this game and preparing for this game and performing well in this game.
"I'm sure there will be an appropriate time in the future where I'll get an opportunity to sing his praises, and I will gladly do so. It just doesn't feel like the appropriate time as we zero in on this opportunity that is Monday Night Football this week."
If the Steelers are to be successful in taking advantage of the opportunity that will be staring them in the face next Monday, snapping their current streak of games without a first half touchdown will be an excellent place to start. Including the loss in Kansas City, the Steelers now have not scored a first-half touchdown in five straight games, which hadn't happened to them since 1940.
Should those slow starts continue against the Browns, it would allow Cleveland to lean on their strengths – a power running game led by Nick Chubb (1,143 yards, 5.5 average, eight rushing touchdowns), and a pass-rush led by Myles Garrett (15 sacks, 29 hits on the quarterback). During his news conference, it was proposed to Tomlin that maybe the way to change the fortunes of the offense in the game's early going is to "turn it over" to Roethlisberger.
"I'm not opposed to that," said Tomlin. "Ben is always a component of planning, particularly as it pertains to starts. He's a guy who has been on the job 18 years at the quarterback position. You know, it would be foolish for us not to include him in the process, so I'm not going to pretend like that has not been a component or a part of the discussions as it pertains to the development of plans to this point in the season."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE:
"From an injury standpoint, we've got an additional day (with the Monday night game) that we're attaching to the front side of the week. Hopefully that lets guys who have missed some time and who are working their way back to us, like Pat Freiermuth (concussion), like Kevin Dotson (ankle), and some guys who sustained injuries in game, such as Kendrick Green (calf), Trai Turner (knee) and others, to have an opportunity to work their way back to us. Also, some of the COVID guys potentially (could return), and you guys have that list that includes Devin Bush and others … I know the funeral service for (Pressley Harvin's) father is at some point this week. It's our intention to be extremely supportive of him. We've been in communication with him. We'll see where the roads lead. Meanwhile I'll say that I'm really pleased and appreciative of Corliss Waitman and glad that we were able to reacquire him. Our previous shared experiences really provided a lot of comfort for us going into the stadium in Kansas City, and if we need to use him again, I'm sure, particularly with an additional week's work, we'll have an increased level of comfort."