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Ben Roethlisberger Looked Finished Against the Jaguars—and Then Indicated That He Might Be

The Pittsburgh quarterback threw five interceptions, and his team’s once-vaunted offense fell flat

Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A quarterback in a Jacksonville Jaguars game threw five interceptions — including two pick-sixes — and it wasn’t Blake Bortles.

The Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the Jags 30–9 on Sunday as Ben Roethlisberger had perhaps the worst game of his career: He completed 33 of 55 passes for 312 yards, with no touchdowns and a career-high five (!) interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

In the first quarter, he was picked by cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Roethlisberger had a pass deflected at the line in the third quarter, and it landed in the arms of linebacker Telvin Smith, who returned it for a touchdown.

On the very next series, Roethlisberger tossed a pick-six to safety Barry Church.

Big Ben followed that up with two more interceptions in the fourth quarter as the Steelers tried to mount a comeback that proved futile.

Considering that Jacksonville entered the game with the best pass defense and worst rush defense in the league by DVOA, the Steelers’ decision to run the ball just 20 times while passing 55 times — tied for the second-highest number of attempts in a game in Roethlisberger’s career — was a head-scratching one from head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The Steelers possess one of the best arsenals of offensive weapons in the league, with all-galaxy wide receiver Antonio Brown and versatile running back Le’Veon Bell, but have looked like a shell of a unit that was supposed to improve with the return of wide receiver Martavis Bryant.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars’ ground ’n’ pound success made the Steelers’ strategy look even worse by comparison. The Jags were content to hand the ball off 28 times to rookie sensation Leonard Fournette — who had twice as many carries as Bortles had passing attempts — as he ran roughshod over a Steelers defense that entered Sunday as the third best in the league by DVOA. Fournette finished with 181 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard run at the end of the fourth to seal the game, and challenged one Pittsburgh defender to a duel.

The game felt like a microcosm of the 2017 NFL season so far: A potentially washed quarterback held his team back while a rookie running back looked sensational. The 35-year-old Roethlisberger nearly threw his arm off to no avail, but Bortles didn’t even attempt a pass in the fourth quarter as Fournette carried the ball 13 times. With a late lead, the Jaguars’ game plan seemed to be, “We can’t lose if we don’t give our quarterback the ball,” which on Sunday was the Steelers’ Achilles’ heel.

Two weeks ago, Pittsburgh lost to the Chicago Bears even though Bears quarterback Mike Glennon managed just 15 completions on 22 attempts for 101 yards. Even when the Steelers defense has played at an elite level, the offense hasn’t been able to take advantage. Now Pittsburgh sits at just 3–2 after what was supposed to be the easy portion of their schedule — games against Cleveland, a Sam Bradford–less Minnesota squad, Chicago, and the Jaguars. After the game on Sunday, Roethlisberger pointed the finger at himself for his team’s offensive failures.

In January, Roethlisberger said he was contemplating retirement. “I’m going to take this off-season to evaluate, to consider all options,” he said at the time. “To consider health, and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season.”

Roethlisberger returned for 2017, but wouldn’t guarantee anything beyond this season. Sunday’s game against Jacksonville was one of the worst of his career — and now Steelers fans have to worry if it was one of his last.