SAN DIEGO -- There was a time, not that long ago, when we wondered if Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ever going to lose a game. Now? If you're wondering if it might be awhile before he wins another one, you are not alone.
This isn't the Big Ben we know, is it? He has become, at least for the moment, a mediocre quarterback and is 0-3 as a starter this season after that 23-13 fiasco against the San Diego Chargers last night.
These aren't the Steelers we know, either. At 1-3, already in a deep hole in the AFC North Division behind the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals with all three losses coming in conference games, they hardly look like reputable defending Super Bowl champions.
They look more like the Cleveland Browns, actually.
No, the season isn't over.
The Steelers still have time -- three-quarters of a season, to be exact -- to fight their way back into playoff contention. But it ain't going to happen if they don't start getting better play from their star quarterback.
"It's frustrating," Roethlisberger said. "I can't tell you the last time I lost three games in a row.
"It's more disappointing than anything. I feel like I'm letting the team down. I feel like I'm letting the fans down. I know I can play better. I know I will."
Roethlisberger wasn't as bad last night as he was in his first two starts against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Bengals. He did some good things in the first half when the Steelers appeared in control with a 13-7 lead. He hit running back Najeh Davenport for a 32-yard gain on the Steelers' touchdown drive. On one field goal drive, he completed 5 of 6 passes for 59 yards. On another, he led the Steelers 54 yards in the final 1:06 of the half.
But Roethlisberger, clearly, wasn't good enough to beat a solid San Diego team on the road. It's not just that his offense was shut out in the second half, although that was awful. It was his two interceptions -- especially the killer second one -- that energized the Chargers' fans and threatened to shake old Qualcomm Stadium into the Pacific Ocean.
The Steelers still had a chance, down, 20-13, with the ball at their 46 with six minutes to play. There was no reason to panic on a second-and-6 play. But Roethlisberger did. With Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips breaking in untouched and wrapping him in a bear hug, Roethlisberger threw the ball blindly across the middle, right to safety Marlon McCree.
"That probably was an ill-advised pass," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said, being polite.
"You don't throw it there. Or you throw it away. I don't think you want to have it hang in the air that long."
Roethlisberger had his arm in some kind of sling under his shirt after the game but said he was fine. "Just icing my elbow." He said his mistake on that decisive play was hanging on to the ball too long. He said wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was "wide open" and "probably would have scored," adding, "I just didn't have enough arm strength to get it to him."
Not with Phillips hanging on him, anyway.
Roethlisberger blamed this kind of dumb play on "brain cramps" in his first two games. Apparently, the medication he has been taking for his malady isn't working.
That's the worst part of Big Ben's rough start. He has been making such horrible decisions. That's so unlike him, so unlike the guy who came in with a 27-6 record as a starting quarterback.
Maybe, in the beginning, you could blame it on rust. Roethlisberger had to miss the opening game against the Miami Dolphins -- the Steelers' only win -- because of an emergency appendectomy four days before the game.
But last night? In his third game back?
Roethlisberger has had plenty of time to shake off his rust.
It's also hard to buy the argument that Roethlisberger has lost something off his fastball because of lingering effects from his horrific motorcycle accident in June. There doesn't appear to be anything wrong with him physically. He says as much.
"That question is going to come up. It comes up every day," Roethlisberger said. " 'How did the accident affect his head out there?' I'm not throwing interceptions because I rode a motorcycle."
That doesn't mean the problem isn't in Big Ben's head.
It just means it wasn't caused by banging it against that automobile windshield.
It has been caused by throwing those stupid interceptions, seven of 'em in three games.
The Steelers aren't going to be even a decent team until Roethlisberger finds a cure.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1525.