FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Few things could have made the Steelers’ 55-31 loss to the Patriots any worse.
A significant injury sustained by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when the game was out of reach is one of them.
Roethlisberger threw eight of his 48 passes in the last three minutes of the game -- after the Steelers have given up the most points in a game in franchise history and trailed the Patriots by more than three touchdowns.
Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers fell to 2-6 that he never considered having backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski play the final series of a game that really got away from his team in the fourth quarter.
“We had the opportunity to get work and get better so we did that,” Tomlin said. “We aren’t running from anything. The guys that were healthy were going to stay on the grass and finish the game.”
Roethlisberger isn’t just any guy -- he is the biggest reason to hope the Steelers win more than they lose in the second half of the season. Keeping him in a game that had been decided just so a seething head coach could make a point seems foolish.
But Roethlisberger did not have a problem with finishing a game in which he was sacked five times.
“They would have had to drag me off (the field),” Roethlisberger said after completing 28 of 48 passes for 400 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions. “I’m not going to quit. I’m going to stay out there and fight until the end.”
The end of the game wasn’t the issue for the Steelers. The start of it was, particularly for an offense that again took awhile to get going.
The Steelers had the ball for more than nine minutes in the first quarter. Yet they didn’t score, and only 78 of their 479 total yards of offense came in the first quarter.
The Steelers’ first three possessions ended with a lost fumble, a punt following a three-and-out and a turnover on downs.
By the time the Steelers got on the scoreboard following a Shaun Suisham field goal in the second quarter the Patriots had already built a 14-0 lead.
For those scoring at home the Steelers have been outscored 61-19 in the first quarter this season. They also have nine three-and-outs in the first 15 minutes of games.
“We’ve got to start faster offensively,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said, “and that’s obvious.”
What else is obvious: the Steelers’ issues remain what happens at the outset of games, not who finishes them.