No, the Steelers won’t bench Ben Roethlisberger.
Coach Mike Tomlin has said it. Others have reported it, even though coach Mike Tomlin, you know, has said it.
They won’t bench one of the greatest quarterbacks in team history. They won’t do it for a couple of important reasons. First, they won’t subject him to the indignity of being benched. Second, they won’t want to admit to the world that they shouldn’t have brought him back for 2021.
Based on four games, it’s obvious that they shouldn’t have brought him back for 2021. And that he shouldn’t have come back. Tom Brady‘s performance in 2020, at age 43, not only got other franchise quarterbacks to start looking for greener pastures but also made other older quarterbacks believe that they can play as effectively into their 40s as they played in their 30s.
Brady, now 44, has shown no sign of slippage. Roethlisberger, now 39, is looking much older than Brady.
Roethlisberger can’t do what he used to do. As Simms routinely says, Roethlisberger seems to think he can still do what he used to do.
And so we’re all seeing a growing body of clear and obvious visual evidence that shows Roethlisberger failing to extend plays, moving laterally and getting dragged to the ground like an overstuffed bag of four. Even when he’s not trying to move around and buy time, the clock in his head is in the wrong time zone. Plays crumble before his eyes, and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. At times it’s almost seems like he doesn’t even realize it’s happening.
That said, it would be very dangerous to write off the Steelers generally or Roethlisberger specifically. If they and he realize what he can and can’t do and pivot toward the things he can do, they can win games and he can minimize the late-career Willie Mays moments that serve as organic reminders of what Roethlisberger used to be, of what he no longer is.
It will require a commitment to making the defense the centerpiece of the team, and the running game the centerpiece of the offense. Roethlisberger needs to be a game manager, if he wants to survive what undoubtedly will be (or at least should be) his final season.
If they don’t make those changes, it will continue to crumble. Next Sunday night, the Steelers host the Seahawks in prime time. After that, they have their bye. Thus, even if Roethlisberger’s struggles continue through the next two games, he wouldn’t be benched. He’d be placed on injured reserve, Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins would take over (or maybe they’d sign Cam Newton), and the Steelers would move forward without Roethlisberger.
Maybe he’d come back for a late-season home game, so that he could have a proper farewell. (A Week 17 Monday night game against the Browns could be the perfect spot, if the Steelers are out of the playoff chase at that point.) Maybe he’d simply limp into the sunset.
Regardless, he definitely won’t be benched if/when the team realizes that it’s over. He’ll end up on IR, allowing his time to end less with a thud and more with a shrug.