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Is Ben Roethlisberger washed up?

Jaws dropped when Ben Roethlisberger said after the AFC championship game that he’s contemplating retirement.

After the Steelers’ 30-9 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday, their worst home loss in 11 years, Roethlisberger said something that suggests he won’t just be thinking about it after this season.

In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he was quoted as saying: “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.”

Roethlisberger threw a career-high five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. This game isn’t the first sign that his skills are in decline. The evidence has slowly been mounting over the last few years.

Before we crunch the numbers, let’s put everything in perspective. Rain might have fallen Sunday at Heinz Field. But the sky isn’t falling. The Steelers are still 3-2. So are the Jaguars. That makes it hard to label this as one of “those” losses in which the Steelers fall to one of the league’s have-nots.

This could turn out to be a signature win for an up-and-coming team. The Jaguars entered this game with the league’s stingiest pass defense.

Even if the Jaguars win the Super Bowl, however, this loss won’t look any better in hindsight. For the Steelers, it’s only the third home loss by 21 or more points since Bill Cowher was hired as head coach in 1992.

Furthermore, no matter how well the Jaguars defend the pass, they should meet their match against a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Roethlisberger.

Unless Roethlisberger is past his prime at age 35.

He seems to be missing on a lot of deep throws this season. The eye test suggests he can’t connect on those passes like he used to. But before saying that for sure, we need data to back it up.

According to NFL.com’s Next Gen stats, Roethlisberger’s Average Air Yards Differential this season is minus-4.2, the worst in the league. This stat subtracts Average Intended Air Yards from Average Completed Air Yards. As NFL.com defines it, “Air Yards is the total yards gained on a pass attempt past the line of scrimmage before the ball is caught.” In other words, it removes yards after the catch from the equation and can help evaluate a quarterback’s production with his arm.

It’s not surprising that Roethlisberger is the worst in the league in this category following Sunday’s performance, but it isn’t just this game that’s dragging the number down. He’s been in the bottom five each of the last four weeks. He ranked in the bottom five in this metric only five times all of last season. For the year, his AYD was minus-2.9.

We might have seen the first signs of Roethlisberger showing his age in 2014, when his home/road splits started to deviate.

In 2012, Roethlisberger had a 97.2 passer rating at home and a 96.8 rating on the road.

In 2013, he threw 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions both at home and on the road.

In 2014, he threw 23 of his 32 touchdown passes at home. Nothing to be alarmed about.

In 2015, however, he threw five touchdown passes and nine interceptions away from home.

In 2016, his passer rating was 116.7 at Heinz Field and 78.4 on the road.

His passer rating was 37.8 on Sunday. At home.

Maybe he doesn’t have it anymore.

He’ll take whatever he does have left to Kansas City next week. In a way, it’s fitting that the Steelers play there after failing to score a touchdown in three trips inside the red zone Sunday. They couldn’t score a touchdown at Arrowhead Stadium in last season’s divisional playoff game. It turned out they didn’t need any. Chris Boswell‘s six field goals gave them an 18-16 win.

It’s a safe bet they’ll need to find the end zone to defeat the last unbeaten team left in the league pending Sunday night’s game at Houston.

The Steelers could clean up much of the wreckage from Sunday’s disaster and reclaim their status as a Super Bowl contender by beating the Chiefs, but the Chiefs are Super Bowl contenders themselves.

There seemed to be this narrative wave that made Super Bowl favorites out of the Steelers after they advanced one round further in the playoffs each of the last three years and got Martavis Bryant back this year.

Has anyone given any thought to the Chiefs’ storyline? They made the divisional playoffs each of the last two years, coming agonizingly close to the conference championship game last year. Perhaps it’s their turn to go to the Super Bowl. Unlike the Steelers, they can beat Tom Brady in New England.

Right now, finding a way to win at Gillette Stadium isn’t high on the list of the Steelers’ problems. Their biggest problem would be if Roethlisberger’s best days really are behind him.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

 

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