Ben Roethlisberger had a career day, though not the kind you want from your Steelers quarterback.
Roethlisberger tied for his fifth-worst passer rating (37.8), threw a career-worst five interceptions — including a pair of pick sixes — and had his 45-game streak of touchdown passes at Heinz Field snapped Sunday.
The Jacksonville Jaguars intercepted him so many times in their 30-9 victory that they could have coined a new phrase: The Pick Seven.
It wasn’t just a rough day for Roethlisberger, who admitted that he’s “not playing well enough.” It was the kind that makes you wonder if Big Ben’s time is about up.
Asked if he’s doing anything different, Roethlisberger’s flippant response after the game did nothing but fan those flames.
“I don’t think so,” Roethlisberger said. “Maybe I am. Maybe I don’t have it anymore.”
If not, the Steelers have some big questions to answer about their identity.
They long hve been built around Roethlisberger, evolving from a run-first team to one that threw the ball 55 times against a Jacksonville defense that ranked last in the NFL against the run and first against the pass.
Strange as it was, that game plan could have worked had the Steelers scored touchdowns instead of field goals on their three first-half trips inside the Jaguars’ 16.
As poorly as the Steelers played, they still led 9-7 in the third quarter before Roethlisberger threw back-to-back interceptions that were returned for touchdowns: 28 yards by linebacker Telvin Smith and 51 yards by strong safety Barry Church.
Even after Jacksonville took a 23-9 lead, the Steelers had a chance to cut it to a one-touchdown game. But Roethlisberger’s 28-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown was nullified by a holding penalty. Two plays later, free safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted a pass at the goal line.
Roethlisberger called the lopsided home loss“very frustrating” and gave a glib answer to a specific question about one of his intercepted passes.
“I don’t remember which one,” he said. “There were so many.”
The statistics show a 35-year-old quarterback on the decline, one who doesn’t rank in the top five NFL passers in any category but interceptions.
The Steelers still believe in Big Ben, both as captain and quarterback.
“I don’t care if he threw all those interceptions. I’m still going to ride with him,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “He’s a Hall of Famer. Hell, one bad game out of all of us. I’m not even saying this is Ben’s fault. How’s it his fault? We all played a part in it.”
Brown, chastised by Roethlisberger last week for his sideline antics at Baltimore, called his quarterback a “competitor” and “our general.”
“We rally around him, the good and the bad,” Brown said. “Obviously, we know it’s going to be more good. …
“We don’t make excuses. We don’t point the finger. We point the thumb.”
Yet, when asked about their offensive identity, the Steelers can’t pinpoint the problem. They don’t have answers for why such a talented team is scoring 19.8 points a game or how the offense can reach its potential.
“Me playing better,” Roethlisberger said. When was asked if there was anything else: “Nope.”
When it came to accepting blame, Big Ben was all thumbs. He isn’t the only one to blame but shoulders the biggest burden of responsibility.
But the Steelers need to stop talking about great expectations and start living up to them. They need to determine their identity and become as opportunistic as Jacksonville was in turning four picks into 27 points.
The Steelers need to find ways to win when Roethlisberger isn’t at his best, let alone when he’s at his worst. And they need to do it soon, before Big Ben clocks out and calls it a career.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.