- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2021

Ben Roethlisberger sat on the bench at Heinz Field long after the Steelers’ 48-37 loss Sunday night to the Browns. Long after he had completed 47 passes — a playoff record — for 501 yards, with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

Long after everyone besides center Maurkice Pouncey had already departed the playing field, leaving the two long-tenured Pittsburgh players with room to talk.

Roethlisberger, at 38, still put together an impressive season. Before the wheels fell off after the Steelers’ 11-0 start, Roethlisberger looked revitalized after an elbow injury cost him most of the 2019 campaign. He threw for 3,803 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 regular-season games.

But there were still questions about Roethlisberger’s ability to fire accurately down field, and as the offense began to stagnate in recent weeks, questions about Roethlisberger’s future arose.

He’s still under contract for next season. But will he — a fixture at quarterback for the Steelers since 2004 — ever don the black and gold again in a game? Perhaps that’s why he took so long to leave Heinz Field on Sunday, savoring what could be his last moments there, even in defeat.

“Well, it’s gonna start between me and God,” Roethlisberger said. “A lot of praying. And then, you know, a lot of talking with my family, discussions, decisions. And, you know, I still have a year left on my contract. I hope the Steelers want me back, if that’s the way we go. There’ll be a lot of discussions, but now’s not the time for that.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the team will turn an eye toward the future in the “upcoming days and weeks.” He said he hasn’t thought about where Pittsburgh goes at the quarterback position yet — be it sticking with Roethlisberger or looking in the draft or free agent market — although Tomlin said he still believes Roethlisberger can play at a high level.

The quarterback’s 33 touchdowns this season were the second most in his career, and his 10 picks were his fewest from a full season since 2014. He put up gaudy passing numbers Sunday night against Cleveland, but only after his team already trailed by 28 points in the first quarter.

Pouncey’s first snap sailed over Roethlisberger’s head and dribbled into the end zone. The Browns landed on the ball to begin their dream start. Next, Roethlisberger threw a pick, setting up Baker Mayfield’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry. Roethlisberger’s second interception led to another Browns score, and his final giveaway in the fourth helped push the game out of reach.

Still, there were positive moments too, such as his four touchdown passes as Pittsburgh attempted to climb back into the contest. But there’s only so much a team can do when it finishes with five turnovers.

“I’d like to think so,” Roethlisberger said when asked if he can still play at a consistently high level. “Obviously, you can’t turn the ball over. It kills your team, kills your chances.”

Pittsburgh started out with 11 straight wins before the Washington Football Team handed it its first defeat in early December. Then came three more losses in the Steelers’ final four games, including a 24-22 defeat in the regular-season finale against Cleveland.

When the wild card round came, those Browns jumped all over the Steelers, ending their season — and, perhaps, ending Roethlisberger’s era in Pittsburgh.

“This loss is fresh,” Roethlisberger said, “and this is just sitting on our hearts and our minds right now, and it will for a while.”

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