On the Pittsburgh Steelers' opening drive on Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger completed his first four passes and hit Dionte Johnson on a 45-yard scoring strike.
It was the first time in a while when the Steelers' passing game felt right. And it was the last time it felt that way on Sunday.
The Green Bay Packers slowly chipped away and ground down the Steelers at Lambeau Field in Week 4, hanging on to win, 27-17 on Sunday. The Packers also were the recipients of what looked like a fortuitous stroke of luck when a blocked field goal and subsequent touchdown return were taken off the board right before halftime.
But this game boiled down to the Steelers' offensive limitations, most notably with Roethlisberger and their passing game.
The touchdown throw to Johnson was Roethlisberger's 400th in the NFL. He has been a tremendous pro, a surefire Hall of Famer. But the end is nigh. It was all on display in Sunday's loss, the Steelers' third straight to fall to 1-3.
For a snapshot of the game, look no further than two second-half fourth downs the Steelers faced. On the first, with the Steelers trailing 27-10 in the third quarter, they faced a fourth-and-4 at the Green Bay 32-yard line. Roethlisberger threw behind the line for what would be a loss of 1 yard and a turnover on downs.
Ben Roethlisberger is now the only QB in the last 20 seasons to lose yardage on multiple 4th-down completions in the same season, per ESPN Stats and Info.
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) October 3, 2021
On the second one, Pittsburgh faced a fourth-and-4 from Green Bay's 37-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Following a false start, it became fourth-and-9 from the 42. The Steelers punted, still trailing by 17.
PIT decided to punt to GB from the GB 42 on 4th & 9 with 14:24 remaining in the 4th while losing 10 to 27.
With a Surrender Index of 24.36, this punt ranks at the 98th percentile of cowardly punts of the 2021 season, and the 97th percentile of all punts since 1999.
— Surrender Index (@surrender_index) October 3, 2021
Perhaps they go for it on fourth-and-4, and the Steelers ended up cutting the lead to 10 after a quick Packers three-and-out. But if that wasn't a play that showed Pittsburgh's lack of faith in Roethlisberger, we don't know what else would be.
Everything was short all day, except for the Johnson touchdown and a few throws late when the Packers went into a prevent defense. The final stats for Big Ben — 26 of 40 passing, 232 yards, one TD, one INT — don't come close to telling the story of how he played.
When Pittsburgh took shots down two scores late, it resulted in a Roethlisberger pick that essentially put a nail in their coffin for this game.
With three race cars at receiver, the Steelers averaged a paltry 5.8 yards per pass attempt at Green Bay. It hasn't been much different in recent games. Sure, the lack of quality pass protection (and run blocking, for that matter) slim down the playbook and shorten the route trees. But Mike Tomlin is at a crossroads here. Last week when asked about the possibility of a QB change, Tomlin indignantly punted on the subject. Will his response to the inevitable question be the same this week?
The Steelers' schedule doesn't lighten up much, with the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks up next before the Week 7 bye. And at some point the Steelers must look themselves in the mirror and decided whether Roethlisberger can still be trusted.
It might not be Mason Rudolph, who has had chances to put pressure on Ben before and come up short. It might be Dwayne Haskins, who at least figures to deserve a look at some point if things keep going the way they have.
The Steelers are 1-3, and they now look lucky to have played as well as they did in the Week 1 shocker over the Buffalo Bills. Father Time has bashed through the door three straight weeks since then, and it would be a surprise if he doesn't come back again.