Ben Roethlisberger has to elevate his play

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense were out of sync against the Ravens. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

BALTIMORE -- The Pittsburgh Steelers, in spite of themselves, hung around on a sticky Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

They trailed the Baltimore Ravens by just a touchdown, and the offense was on the move near the end of the first half when Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass that sailed over the head of 6-foot-5 tight end Heath Miller.

The Steelers punted instead of getting a fresh set of downs inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line.

And that errant pass defined their dismal night as much as the three turnovers they committed and the nine penalties that also had coach Mike Tomlin fuming during a terse postgame news conference.

The Ravens beat the Steelers 26-6 at M&T Bank Stadium. What should be most troubling to Tomlin, who is 17-17 in his past 34 games, is that Pittsburgh has been outscored 50-9 in its past six quarters.

True, the defense may actually be worse at stopping the run than it was last season, which was considered an outlier. But the offense was expected to carry the defense until the young players got more experience and the new players got a grasp of the system.

Roethlisberger, after looking shaky in the second half of the Steelers' 30-27 win over the Browns, was pedestrian in his second start.

The 11th-year veteran completed 22 of 37 passes for 217 yards against the Ravens. He missed three open receivers when the outcome still hung in the balance.

Roethlisberger didn’t lose the game, but he didn’t come close to conjuring up some of the magic that he has before in Baltimore.

Four years ago, Roethlisberger played through a broken nose and late in the game he held off Terrell Suggs long enough to throw away a pass. The next play he threw for the game-winning touchdown. Two years before that, Roethlisberger led the Steelers on a 12-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to beat the Ravens.

Those games seem like they are from a bygone era.

And maybe they are with all of the turnover of personnel that has taken place since the Steelers played in three Super Bowls and won two of them from 2005-10.

Roethlisberger though is the one player who holds the Steelers together and gives them hope, and his wide receivers could have given him a little more help Thursday night.

Maybe Justin Brown was supposed to stop in the middle of the field on a third-down pass that Roethlisberger threw behind him in the second quarter. Maybe Markus Wheaton and even Pro Bowler Antonio Brown could have done a better job fighting for balls that Roethlisberger gave them a chance to catch.

But the reality is that Roethlisberger has to raise the level of play of everyone around him, not the other way around.

And he has to start with himself if the Steelers are to have any chance of returning to the playoffs after consecutive 8-8 seasons.