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Kevin Gorman: Ben Roethlisberger can only do so much for Steelers

Tribune-Review
| Sunday, September 16, 2018 7:30 p.m
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws a pass under pressure by Steelers linebacker TJ Watt during the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, at Heinz Field.

After the Steelers spotted the Kansas City Chiefs a 21-point lead, starting their season opener the same way they did the AFC divisional playoff against Jacksonville last season, they found themselves in a shootout.

So the Steelers did what they always do.

They turned to the old cowboy for a comeback.

The Steelers let Ben Roethlisberger loose in the no-huddle offense, and the 36-year-old quarterback attempted the second-most passes of his career (60) in throwing for 452 yards and three touchdowns.

Where Big Ben brought a six-shooter to a gunfight, Patrick Mahomes was firing a semi-automatic.

Kansas City’s second-year quarterback was incredibly efficient — and nearly had a perfect passer rating — in completing 23 of 28 passes for a 154.8 rating for 326 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Chiefs to a 42-37 victory Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field, their first here since 1986.

Mahomes became the first passer in NFL history to throw 10 touchdown passes in a two-game span. No quarterback had thrown that many touchdowns against the Steelers since Sept. 8, 1991, when Jim Kelly threw six in the Buffalo Bills’ 52-34 victory on Sept. 8, 1991.

Kelly is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mahomes was making his third career NFL start.

That’s not to blame Big Ben for being outplayed by Mahomes.

This loss is squarely on the Steelers’ defense. But if their best defense is a good offense, then their offense isn’t good enough to spot an opponent a three-touchdown lead and expect to win.

The Steelers have to find ways to become more efficient and more effective on offense, even without Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. For the second consecutive week, they committed costly penalties and special-teams gaffes that put extra pressure on the offense on an 80-degree day . Worse yet, four of the Steelers’ five scoring drives lasted three minutes or longer, with two covering 5:30 or longer.

The Chiefs not only found ways to score points but did so quickly : Three scoring drives lasted less than three minutes and three others lasted less than four minutes, despite five of those drives covering 61 yards or more . Mahomes picked the Steelers apart with decisiveness and precision passing on throws short, over the middle and deep.

“I don’t think that you could expect more from anyone,” Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley said. “Pat’s come here and handled himself extremely well. The level of confidence and poise that this kid has is … I haven’t seen it anywhere.”

We’ve seen it here since 2004, when a rookie Roethlisberger took over for Tommy Maddox and led the Steelers to the AFC championship game. Since the Steelers won two Super Bowls with Big Ben at quarterback, they have transformed from a team with a dominant defense to one that depends on its offense to win games.

“The game plan coming in was we knew we had to put up a lot of points because that’s what we want to do, regardless of the opponent,” Roethlisberger said. “We didn’t do it enough.”

The Steelers didn’t do it enough in the home playoff loss, when Roethlisberger completed 37 of 58 passes for 469 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-42 defeat to the Jaguars. The Steelers didn’t do it enough in the season opener at Cleveland, when Roethlisberger had five turnovers in a 21-21 tie with the Browns.

If the game plan in a week where Roethlisberger missed two practices and went through the motions in a third because of a bruised elbow was to have him throw five dozen times, it was hardly a foolproof plan.

Digging a three-touchdown hole didn’t help.

And Big Ben doesn’t have enough bullets to make up for that.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact at Kevin at kgorman@tribweb.com
or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib .

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