Cook: Big Ben big reason for bad season
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Bill Cowher couldn't stand to watch, at least not live. Can you blame him? As the Steelers lined up midway through the fourth quarter yesterday for a third-and-14 play at their 19 far to his left, he walked up the sideline toward the other end zone, his eyes focused on the Heinz Field scoreboard. Maybe that would change the Steelers' luck; they trailed the Baltimore Ravens, 21-7. Maybe that would slow the Ravens' ferocious pass rush; it had sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times. Maybe that would enable the Steelers to convert a first down; they were 1 for 10 to that point. Maybe that would make Roethlisberger actually throw a decent pass; he was awful all day.
Or maybe not.
Cowher never turned -- never took his eyes off the big board -- as safety Dawan Landry intercepted Roethlisberger's tipped pass and returned it 37 yards for what appeared to be the killer touchdown. So what if Landry stepped out of bounds and the Ravens ended up with the ball at the Steelers' 1 after the play was reviewed? They kicked the clinching field goal moments later, on their way to a thorough 31-7 beating that officially took the Steelers' lame playoff hopes off life support.
Somehow, it seemed fitting that the Steelers' last-gasp effort ended with a horrible Roethlisberger pass that was intercepted.
Heaven knows there were plenty of those in this miserable season.
"It will be awfully hard for next year to be any worse," Roethlisberger said with a sad smile.
The kid was talking about his personal turmoil, I think. His horrific motorcycle accident June 12. His emergency appendectomy Sept. 3. His concussion in Atlanta Oct. 22. The hardest hit he ever took in football from Ravens linebacker Bart Scott Nov. 26. But he could have been talking about his season-long performance just as well. It's going to be awfully hard for him to be worse next year.
One of sports' great truisms is that the quarterback always gets too much credit after wins and too much blame after defeats, but we're going to set that aside with the Christmas wrapping paper trash this morning. It's hard to finger anyone more than Roethlisberger for the Steelers' 7-8 record and their pitiful defense of their Super Bowl title. In the six wins that Big Ben led, he threw 11 touchdown passes and four interceptions. In the team's eight losses, he threw six touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Those are damning statistics.
A lot of people will blame Cowher for Roethlisberger's struggles and kick the coach on his way out after his final game, presumably, with the Steelers in Cincinnati Sunday. They'll say he rushed Roethlisberger back too quickly after his accident and appendectomy to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sept. 18. Big Ben threw two interceptions in a 9-0 shutout that night. They'll say Cowher never should have played Roethlisberger in Oakland the week after his concussion. Big Ben threw four interceptions in that absurd 20-13 loss.
But that's not fair to Cowher. The medical people cleared Roethlisberger. He's the Steelers' guy. It's not Cowher's fault that Roethlisberger let him down, let the team down.
Roethlisberger was terrible from the start yesterday, his first pass tipped at the line by linebacker Terrell Suggs. It was one of at least five balls that Roethlisberger had deflected at the line of scrimmage. On the Steelers' second possession, he badly overthrew wide-open wideout Santonio Holmes in the right flat on a third-and-4 play that could have given the Steelers some juice. Appropriately, his final pass was intercepted by Ed Reed, the Ravens' great safety. His passer rating for the day was an abysmal 47.2.
Roethlisberger's problems were especially jarring because Ravens quarterback Steve McNair had a terrific day, throwing for three touchdowns. "We knocked him on his can and he still threw completions," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel marveled. "He played incredible today. He was unstoppable."
No one in either locker room was saying any such thing about Big Ben.
Somewhat surprisingly, for the first time after a loss this season, Roethlisberger didn't rush to take the blame.
"For the first time in a long time, I felt like I wasn't quite on the same page with the receivers."
When pressed to measure his responsibility for the Steelers' elimination from the playoff chase, Roethlisberger danced, saying, "I told some of the receivers and some of the other guys that we need to get better. I'm going to stay around here a lot. We'll work out together this offseason and get better together."
That's the good news on this joyous holiday morning.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers have to be better next season.
They can't possibly be worse.
First Published December 25, 2006 12:00 am