Big Ben’s return premature

BALTIMORE — The Pittsburgh Steelers hurried Ben Roethlisberger back onto the field after surgery, hoping he would inspire the team to a much-needed win over its biggest rival.

Afterward, the 34-year-old quarterback was limping noticeably in the locker room. What hurt more was that the Steelers didn’t have a victory to show for his effort.

Roethlisberger’s tough performance wasn’t enough to keep the Steelers alone in first place in the AFC North. After struggling for three quarters, he got hot too late to prevent Pittsburgh from absorbing a 21-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

Barely three weeks after Roethlisberger underwent surgery on his right knee, coach Mike Tomlin put him back in the lineup.

“Ultimately, it was his call. He is the head coach,” Roethlisberger said. “We waited until the 11th hour, as he is allowed to do. He made the decision, and rock and roll.”

For three quarters, the 13-year pro looked rusty. Then, after Pittsburgh fell behind 21-0, Big Ben brought the Steelers back.

He threw for one score and ran for another. He finished 23 for 45 for 264 yards, with the majority of the positive numbers coming over the final 15 minutes.

“I appreciate his efforts and his will,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

Roethlisberger might have pulled out a win if he had any backing at all from the Pittsburgh running game. Le’Veon Bell got 32 yards, Roethlisberger was second with three yards and DeAngelo Williams contributed one yard on one carry.

That’s two yards a carry. Pittsburgh also converted only four of 17 third-down tries, and it’s pretty evident the Steelers are not yet approaching playoff form.

“It’s frustrating,” Roethlisberger said. “Taking away nothing from them, they’re a good defense. But we didn’t make plays. I didn’t make plays. I didn’t convert third downs. I turned the ball over. It’s frustrating because (I) hold myself to a higher standard.”

Roethlisberger might have fared better if the Steelers didn’t accumulate 99 yards in penalties or didn’t get bunched up at the line by Baltimore’s impressive front four.

“I think it was just us not executing,” Bell said. “You have to give those guys credit. They kind of kept us off our rhythm.”

The Steelers (4-4) have lost four straight with a game against Dallas upcoming. The game plan will be the same it always is: Run first, then pass.

“It’s a fine line,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ve talked in weeks past that we were scrapping the run game too soon. We had a game plan and stuck with it.

“There at the end, we had to go, so we picked up the pace and went no-huddle and had to throw it. I give the line a lot of credit for keeping the guys out while we were trying to do that.”

Although the Steelers lost, Roethlisberger said he got through it without damaging his knee. That was perhaps the most uplifting aspect of the afternoon for the Steelers.

“I feel fine,” he said with a grin. “Thank you for asking.”