Clock nearing midnight for Big Ben

Eddie Otto Roar Pro

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    Ben Roethlisberger looked and spoke like a man with plenty on his mind after the Steelers’ shock 30-9 home loss to the Jaguars.

    Not only did Roethlisberger throw five interceptions, but two were returned for touchdowns as the Steelers imploded. Roethlisberger questioned out loud whether “he still has it” in the post-game press conference and, while that comment might be taken with a grain of salt, he has seemed a tormented soul for a while now.

    Sunday’s game against Jacksonville was perhaps the worst game of Roethlisberger’s career, and there is a genuine question mark now whether this might be his last season in the NFL.

    Roethlisberger, so often the driving force behind this storied franchise, now looks like a man whose heart might no longer be in it.

    In truth the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback has been dropping plenty of hints about his mindset since the start of the playoffs last season, even before the Steelers were blown out in the AFC Championship game in New England.

    Roethlisberger has twice publicly questioned the way the Steelers have prepared in a not so subtle shot at head coach Mike Tomlin. He also had a shot at wide receiver Antonio Brown for his antics in last week’s win over Baltimore and recently said he lost sleep and was uncomfortable with the way the whole Steelers team stayed in the dressing room for the national anthem before the Chicago game. Now he has called himself out after he threatened to retire in the offseason.

    It all adds up to either Big Ben has had enough of football, or he has had enough of a Steelers locker room that is full of big characters and emotion.

    (Image: AP Photo/Fred Vuich, File)

    Mike Tomlin has often used that emotion to drive a winning culture, but the team has appeared ill-disciplined way too many times in the past 12 months.

    However, it isn’t as simple as Roethlisberger walking off into the sunset at the end of the season, as he looks like he would love to do. Three years ago Roethlisberger signed a five-year deal with a $US31 million ($A40 million) signing bonus. If he retires after 2017, he’ll owe $12.4 million. If he retires after 2018, he’ll owe $6.2 million. He would be walking away from money that he is already guaranteed if he plays on.

    Not only is Big Ben struggling, but the team’s overall performances have been far worse than their 3-2 record suggests. Ugly losses to the Bears and the Jaguars, and suddenly those cracks that were being papered over by scratchy wins are starting to widen.

    While the Steelers eked out wins over the Browns, Vikings and Ravens, they have rarely looked like a side on a Super Bowl path, particularly the high-powered offence led by Roethlisberger. For a team that many predicted to be genuine Super Bowl contenders in the preseason, they now look like a team divided, distracted and playing ugly football poorly. With a harder schedule they might be looking far worse than 3-2 right now.

    Rothelisberger is only 35 years of age; however, after years of his body taking a battering through hits and injuries, it looks like the mind might be starting to waver with the body.

    Big Ben has always played with a fire inside him; however, that looks to be dimming. In an era where fellow all-time greats in Tom Brady and Peyten Manning played well into their very late 30s and early 40s, while Drew Brees still looks like Drew Brees at 37 years old, Roethlisberger’s flame might be about to burn out.

    It would be foolish to write off a champion, but based on what I have seen from the Steelers this year I think we might have seen the best of Big Ben, with the clock approaching midnight on a great career.

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