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Ravens 28, Steelers 10: Is this what life after Ben Roethlisberger will look like?

Reality rained down on the Steelers Sunday in Baltimore, as their 2019 season came to an end with a 28-10 waterlogged loss to the Ravens’ backups.

It turns out the Steelers (8-8) just weren’t good enough to get into the playoffs without Ben Roethlisberger. They lost their last three games with Devlin Hodges completing 43 of 80 passes during that stretch for 381 yards with one touchdown and six interceptions. That includes Sunday’s 9-of-25 dud for 95 yards.

The Steelers’ offense ranked 30th in yards, the lowest ranking in franchise history, according to Pro Football Reference. They ranked 27th in points. The only year they ranked lower was 1998, when they were 28th.

Three weeks ago, the Steelers were 8-5 and would have made the playoffs if they had won their last three games. But they scored 10 points in all three of those games, the first time they’ve scored 10 points or less in three straight games since 1986.

Quite a bit has changed since the Steelers’ previous trip to Baltimore. As recently as Week 9 of the 2018 season, it looked like the Steelers had a decent insurance policy if Roethlisberger ever went down while the Ravens didn’t seem to know what to do with Lamar Jackson.

The Steelers defeated the Ravens 23-16, improving to 5-2-1 and dropping Baltimore to 4-5. Roethlisberger left the game for a play and Joshua Dobbs zipped a key 22-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers drafted Dobbs in 2017 and surprisingly cut five-year backup Landry Jones to make room for him on the roster in 2018.

It seemed like a smart move when Dobbs threw that pass in Baltimore. Jackson, meanwhile, had only thrown 12 passes through the first nine games of his rookie season and was used mostly as a running back.

John Harbaugh was on the hot seat and the Steelers seemed to be sailing toward the AFC North title.

Then the Ravens had their bye week and Jackson replaced Joe Flacco as the starter.

Now, Jackson is probably going to be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. The Ravens have won two straight AFC North titles and have home-field advantage throughout the 2019 playoffs.

Dobbs, meanwhile, has been traded to Jacksonville. The Steelers have missed the playoffs for two straight years and are in danger of having the worst quarterback situation in the AFC North when Roethlisberger’s career ends.

If the Bengals draft Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick, the Steelers will be in a division with an MVP-caliber quarterback in Jackson and two overall top picks in Burrow and Baker Mayfield. If Jackson keeps playing at an MVP level and Mayfield and Burrow fulfill their potential, the Steelers better have a successor ready to replace Roethlisberger.

Hodges isn’t that guy. Rudolph doesn’t look like that guy, either, but should get another chance since the Steelers used a third-round pick on him.

The Steelers don’t have a first-round pick in the 2020 draft because they traded it for Minkah Fitzpatrick. So they have to either draft a quarterback in the middle rounds who they think can eventually succeed Roethlisberger or sign one in free agency who can be a better backup than Rudolph and Hodges were this season.

It can’t be assumed that Roethlisberger, who will be 38 next year, will come back as good as new from elbow surgery. If the Steelers sign, say, Case Keenum, they’d have someone who can take a team pretty far when he’s got talent around him. He brought the Vikings to the 2017 NFC championship game after Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford were lost. Keenum hasn’t been as successful in Denver and Washington, but he’d at least be an upgrade over Hodges.

The Steelers have tried to address their future at quarterback in recent years by drafting Jones in 2013, Dobbs in 2017 and Rudolph in 2018. Finding a quarterback in the draft is a trial-and-error process, however. If the Steelers can get a couple more years out of Roethlisberger, they still have time to draft his successor and make a smooth transition.

Of course, the Steelers have other draft needs. They have to start restocking their offensive line. They could use a better tight end. They also might want to uphold their tradition of drafting a mid-round, plug-and-play receiver. Diontae Johnson, who led the team with 59 receptions this season, was a nice pick, but they need someone who can be a No. 1 target. Smith-Schuster failed miserably in that role this season with 42 catches in 12 games.

The Steelers currently have a second-round pick, two fourth-round picks, a sixth and a seventh. They could get a compensatory pick but that’s not certain. Five quarterbacks in the 2019 playoffs were drafted after the first round. Drew Brees and Jimmy Garoppolo were drafted in the second round, Russell Wilson in the third, Kirk Cousins in the fourth and Tom Brady in the sixth.

If the Steelers don’t sign a Keenum-type insurance policy for Roethlisberger in March, then they need to take a shot on a quarterback in the draft in April.

The Ravens drafted Flacco in the first round in 2008, and he helped them win a Super Bowl. But he was on the decline and the Ravens were prepared to move on from him when they drafted Jackson in 2018.

Right now, the Steelers are not prepared for life after Roethlisberger. Unless Rudolph improves or they nail a pick in the draft, the Ravens won’t be the only team the Steelers are looking up at in the AFC North standings in the near future.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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