In commenting and agreeing upon one of my earlier posts on the injustice of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspending Ben Roethlisberger despite the Steeler quarterback never being arrested, SteelerBill echoed a common sentiment among Black and Gold fans that this may be the best thing for Roethlisberger in the long term.
In an ideal world, journeyman Byron Leftwich can lead the Steelers to a 3-1 mark or maybe even a 4-0 record while Roethlisberger sits out next month. Then, despite not being able to practice with the team during his suspension, and no longer having his top playmaker (Santonio Holmes) or lineman (Willie Colon) from the last 2 years, Roethlisberger returns in week 5, and plays exceptional the rest of the season while leading Pittsburgh to a deep playoff run and possibly its seventh Lombardi Trophy.
This coincides with a lifestyle change that results in Roethlisberger being a better human being who appreciates and respects women, is polite to all people he encounters, and regularly stays in shape and focused on football each offseason
That is my hope. Then again, my utopia also entails perpetual world peace and harmony, the end of famine on Earth, and that all children everywhere have access to free, quality education. Throw in unicorns and the Seinfeld cast re-uniting for another series while we are dreaming.
However, the best-case Ben scenario could actually happen that way. And if it does, it still should no way mitigate the absurdity of Goodell punishing Roethlisberger for not committing any crimes or specifically violating NFL rules, while the commissioner ignores the arrests of numerous other NFL players for violent crimes.
But what happens if it all goes wrong? With losable games against the Titans, Falcons and Ravens, plus a road game at Tampa, the immobile Leftwich may well struggle to start the season while operating behind a patchwork, suspect Pittsburgh offensive line that should be worse in pass protection without Colon or the agile Roethlisberger, who often avoids likely sacks.
Let’s say Leftwich goes a respectable 2-2 against that schedule. Essentially, Roethlisberger then has to lead his team to an 8-4 record for the Steelers to likely secure a playoff spot in an improved AFC.
He better start fast, too, because his second game back will begin a brutal four-game stretch consisting of consecutive road games with the Dolphins, Saints and Bengals, followed by a home date with the Patriots.
That would be a hard task for any quarterback, particularly one who must sit out a month without practicing. Many Steeler fans have turned on Roethlisberger this offseason and he may get booed out of his home stadium if he struggles, possibly tarnishing his psyche in the process.
Although much of the anger should be directed toward Goodell, a majority of Steeler fans would blame Roethlisberger for the Steelers’ not making the postseason for a second consecutive season even if he plays well and acts right off the field after his return.
Please remember that Roethlisberger played well enough to win the Super Bowl in 2009 but was often let down by special teams and the defensive secondary. Still, many fans wrongly blamed him too much for his team not making the playoffs in 2009 just like they praised him too much for the Steelers’ Super Bowl titles in 2005 and 08, which were both more a result of great defenses.
Of course, the Steelers’ 2010 season may essentially be over for all practical purposes before he returns. A 1-3 start and Pittsburgh is not going to the postseason. 0-4 and you may as well use this as a redshirt season for Roethlisberger while positioning the team for the 2011 NFL draft.
How will Roethlisberger respond to intense media scrutiny and personal attacks from opposing fans? Moreover, what made Roethlisberger so great as a quarterback is his fearless attitude. His holding the ball too long is why Pittsburgh has won two Super Bowls with him at the helm. He often makes good things happen when plays appear dead.
Will he now play scared and lose the gunslinger’s mentality? Plus, he no longer has his favorite “sandlot” teammate in Holmes. Subtract Holmes and Pittsburgh does not win the AFC North over Baltimore in 2008, nor the AFC Conference playoffs, nor the Super Bowl.
Moreover, is Roethlisberger still loyal to a Steelers’ front office and, in particular, to Art Rooney II, who essentially threw his quarterback under the bus by publicly saying he would be suspended before Goodell’s decision and by his consideration of trading Roethlisberger before the draft.
Please remember that Roethlisberger’s statement and the police report of his incident with a female accuser in Georgia strongly point to his innocence of her allegations and that police investigated, opting not to bring any charges against Roethlisberger.
Now, while he is a sleezeball, Roethlisberger may remember that Rooney II did not stand behind him, nor did many Steeler fans. Thus, he may feel that he was unfairly treated since he committed no crime. I know I would never trust a boss again if they treated me like the Steelers did to Roethlisberger when I was innocent despite being tarred and feather by our sensationalistic media. The Steelers’ actions brought a public stigma of guilt toward their quarterback.
He may never be the same player again and struggle for the remainder of his career in Pittsburgh, which may not be that long if his shaky play continues into 2011.
Fortunately, I do not think any of these worst-case scenarios will come to fruition. Big Ben will act like a better person publicly who stays out of trouble and will be a solid long-term, franchise quarterback for the Steelers.
However, in part due to his inability to practice with the team during September, I expect him to be more inconsistent upon his return this year and Pittsburgh to finish 8-8 or 9-7, failing to make the playoffs again. This would be terribly disappointing, because this is a veteran-laden, aging team with a small, shrinking window for winning another title.
If Roethlisberger was not suspended and Troy Polamalu stayed healthy for the entire season, this is easily a playoff team. If the Steelers had not moronically gave away Santonio Holmes to the now Super Bowl favorite Jets, the Steelers would be a strong Super Bowl contender as well.
Now, though, no one can project what will happen to Roethlisberger and the Steelers in 2010 or the ensuing years. As a long-term Steeler fan, my greatest opitmism is generated by going against logic, because the Steelers seem to have their best seasons when little is expected of them and often end up being disappointments when they are preseason media darlings like 2009.