It wasn't that long ago -- maybe five or six years earlier -- that opposing defensive coordinators feared Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger more than just about anyone else under center.
Before Patrick Mahomes sparked a new era of prolific passers with generational mobility and arm strength, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers highlighted debates about the best quarterbacks. But Roethlisberger made a compelling case for the No. 3 spot and even flirted with the top two. For a stretch, he was a threat to throw for 400 or even 500 yards every Sunday, and the Steelers always had a chance with him in the lineup.
While Rodgers and Brady have evolved and even thrived with age, Roethlisberger is performing like you'd expect a 39-year-old with extensive injury history to play. He faces real questions about the end, now that the Steelers' offense is falling flat for a second consecutive year.
Sunday's 24-10 loss to Cincinnati was Pittsburgh's first home loss to Cincinnati since 2015 and its first double-digit loss at home to the Bengals since 1995. At 1-2, the Steelers produced back-to-back losses for the first time since 2003, and they've held a lead for less than 18 minutes of a possible 180 minutes this season. While many hoped new coordinator Matt Canada would invigorate Roethlisberger this season, the quarterback, in his 18th season, looks unsettled, seemingly longing for the days of his signature no-huddle offense.
It's early, and breaking in a young offensive line and new coordinator can take time. But the red flags are drowning out the nostalgia and tradition to which Roethlisberger clung in his news conference on Sunday. "You don't quit. You fight," he said. "Everybody that has put this jersey on knows what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, through wins and losses. We just have to keep instilling that message to everybody."
At some point, that message must turn to progress, which hardly appears around the corner. After talking to people around the league about the situation in Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger's place in it, we took a detailed look at the veteran QB's game, the Steelers' underwhelming offense and how the season might play out. What's wrong with Roethlisberger, is he nearing the end and what are the Steelers' realistic options at this point?