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Big Ben’s Championship Window Rapidly Closing

The Pittsburgh Steelers have gone from Super Bowl contenders to a team in crisis in the span of a few days. Since being outclassed (again) by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, rumblings both within and outside the organisation have hit on just about every topic from poor coaching, lack of discipline and selfish teammates.

These unsubstantiated rumors pale in comparison to the news that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may strongly consider retirement this offseason. And while few believe that the face of the franchise is truly ready to walk away from the game, it does raise concerns about just how close these Steelers can get to another Super Bowl before he calls it quits.

The uncertainty starts with Roethlisberger himself. Although delivering a nice soundbite in the middle of the season, telling his team to “follow me” in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Steelers won most of their subsequent nine straight games in spite of their QB, not because of him.

Since week 11 – the start of Pittsburgh’s improbable rise to the third seed in the AFC – Roethlisberger has thrown for 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Not backbreaking numbers, certainly, but below par for what should be expected of a still-elite quarterback helming arguably the league’s most dangerous offense. Those numbers include a 3 TD-4 INT performance in three rounds of this year’s playoffs: an even more glaring assessment of Roethlisberger’s play when the games mattered most.

Other question marks are slowly starting to emerge, as the Steel City contemplates having to wait at least one more year for a seventh Lombardi.

Will suspended wideout Martavis Bryant finally be in a position to take pressure off Antonio Brown in 2017? Can the Steelers find a way to keep the ground game potent without running the wheels off Le’Veon Bell? Has the young defense truly turned the corner en route to becoming a feared force once more? And if so, can all of these complimentary pieces fuse together to overcome cries of ill discipline and poor game planning that have hounded Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley for years?

Expect him back, but it’s no secret that Big Ben doesn’t have much time left. His 35-year-old frame has taken more damage than the Terminator, and is nowhere near as durable. The franchise would be ecstatic to send him out with a third ring, but it will take improvements from everyone – including Ben – to make that happen.

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