Ben Roethlisberger critical of young receivers after AFC title loss
January 23, 2017 12:45 AM
Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan breaks up a pass intended for Steelers receiver Cobi Hamilton in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wondered after the AFC championship loss whether the glare of the game was too bright for some of the team's younger players.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It was apparent from the outset of the AFC championship that the Steelers were going to need a big-time performance from their offense if they were going to advance to Super Bowl LI. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady performed, as usual, surgery on the Steelers defense, which looked comically lost throughout the contest. The offense needed to come through to match the Patriots score for score, and they failed miserably.
The chances were there — plenty of them, as a matter of fact. But the execution in the red zone was underwhelming once again. One week after going 0 for 4 in the red zone in their divisional-round victory against Kansas City the Steelers were 1 for 3 in the red zone against the Patriots.
The biggest failure came late in the first half when the Steelers failed to score a touchdown after they had first-and-goal from inside the 1. DeAngelo Williams, who was playing for an injured Le’Veon Bell, lost 1 yard on first down and then lost 3 yards on second down. On third down, Ben Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass.
Chris Boswell kicked a field goal, but it was 17-9 at halftime instead of 17-13.
“We had to play perfect to beat them,” right guard David DeCastro said. “We were far from that. Obviously, you have to put the ball in there when you get the ball first-and-goal.”
While that sequence undoubtedly cost the Steelers any chance in the game, a drop by Cobi Hamilton in the end zone a few plays earlier on the same drive also was costly. Roethlisberger did not refer to Hamilton’s drop specifically, but he alluded to the young players not coming through in big moments throughout the game.
“I don’t know if that’s the one thing, but you have to score when they’re down there,” Roethlisberger said. “There were missed opportunities whether we didn’t execute well enough, whether plays weren’t made by me or other guys. At times it felt like maybe it was too big for some of the young guys.”
On the Steelers’ first series, Roethlisberger threw deep to Sammie Coates on third-and-1. Coates had a chance to make the catch, but he failed to lay out for the ball and it bounced off his fingers.
Later in the game, when the Steelers trailed, 33-9, Hamilton caught a touchdown from Roethlisberger on a third-and-goal play, but he committed a penalty before the catch when he stepped out of the back of the end zone, demonstrating no field awareness.
The Steelers went for it on fourth down and didn’t make it.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Roethlisberger said. “We talk about how sometimes it’s just one play here, one play there. Tonight we didn’t make those plays. Was [the moment] too big? I don’t know. We need to make every single play in a game like this, in a moment like this.
“Hopefully, this is a learning game for guys to understand this isn’t promised to anybody. Tomorrow isn’t promised. Just to make the playoffs isn’t enough. A lot of guys have been in the league for a long time and haven’t been to any of these. I hope they understand the importance and relish the opportunity if it comes again.”
Roethlisberger was asked if the young players understood the importance of the game during the week leading up to it.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s a good question. That’s a good question for the guys. I know I did.”
But this was so much more than the young players failing to realize their moment. Roethlisberger is 6 feet 4 and weighs 240 pounds. Most NFL teams have quarterback sneaks in their playbooks for the exact situation the Steelers were in late in the first half.
Not only did the Steelers not attempt a sneak there but offensive coordinator Todd Haley didn’t run a quarterback sneak all season with Roethlisberger. The play has seemingly disappeared from the offense.
Is there a reason the Steelers don’t run quarterback sneaks?
“I don’t know that,” Roethlisberger said.
That question and many others will linger.
What if this team had Martavis Bryant?
What if it had a healthy Ladarius Green?
What if Markus Wheaton didn’t go on injured reserve?
That left it in the hands of players such as Hamilton, Coates and Eli Rogers to seize the moment. More often than not Sunday night, they did not.
“We knew we had to play a near flawless game, and we didn’t,” Roethlisberger said.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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