Let me start out by saying one quick thing.
Ben Roethlisberger, please, do us all a favor and hang 'em up. I think it’s fair to say enough is enough, and with future Steelers seasons in mind, it’s time to hand over the reins. In a season that looks to quickly find itself staring at a long trek down a steep cliff, this is, undoubtedly, the end of the Tomlin-Roethlisberger era.
A franchise with an illustrious history of success since Roethlisberger’s rookie season in 2004, highlighted by 11 playoff appearances, eight division titles, and two Super Bowls, the time for Tomlin to flip the switch and accept his first under .500 campaign in his coaching career is long overdue. In a season rapidly slipping out of Tomlin’s fingers with another AFC North title in mind, the Steelers have been a shell of the units we’ve become accustomed to studying over the last two decades. On a roster with a mix of high-impact, youth-infused talent and headlining veterans in T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward, the play of Roethlisberger this fall just hasn’t been up to snuff, to say the least, as we approach the homestretch of the season.
In just the last few weeks, the laundry list of negatives surrounding Pittsburgh has introduced an overwhelming cloud of doubt into the Steelers’ ability to win another game this fall, if the current trend continues. After reeling off four consecutive victories in the middle of the season against the Broncos, Seahawks, Browns, and Bears, where Father Time looked to have hit the snooze button on No. 7’s productivity, a tie to the winless Detroit Lions, a shootout loss to the high-octane Los Angeles Chargers, and a blowout at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals has brought expectations back to earth and placed Tomlin nose-to-nose with an uncertain future.
As we know, success for a franchise ultimately kickstarts at the quarterback position. While Tomlin and Roethlisberger have had the opportunity to share a relationship and annual success similar to that of Tom Brady-Bill Belichick and Peyton Manning-Tony Dungy—two legendary tandems of the game—a lack of anything aside from one outlier game from Roethlisberger in the past month to show he has any last remnants of fumes in the tank is cause for major concern. And for the Steelers, who have a pair of young quarterbacks ready to take over signal-calling duties in Mason Rudolph and Dwyane Haskins, while the options could surely be better for Tomlin, it’s time to let go of the past.
With Najee Harris primed to represent one of the league’s top backs in the foreseeable future and a pass-catching corps headlined by Pat Freiermuth, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson, there are some nice pieces for the future Steelers to build around. But for the current 5-5-1 Steelers, who now find themselves occupying the cellar of their division, the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel looks to have fallen dark for a franchise that has lived under the spotlight since the dawn of football. A team that has successfully avoided 10 or more losses in a season every year since 2003—the year prior to Roethlisberger’s arrival—with games against the Ravens, Vikings, and Titans in the next three weeks, as long as Roethlisberger remains the starter, 5-8-1 is looking more like reality than a scenario of fantasy.