Deal With Issues Or Be Consumed

Tomlin, Roethlisberger (Heitman/USA TODAY Sports)

Before the first play of Sunday's loss in Dallas, QB Ben Roethlisberger stood behind his center and shouted "alert, alert." He couldn't have been more prescient. Mike Prisuta explains.

ARLINGTON, Texas – If nothing else the Steelers have confirmed at least one football absolute this season: If you don't beat the slappy teams, you become a slappy team.

The Steelers had apparently de-evolved into as much long before Sunday's sideshow at Jerry World.

Prior losses to the Raiders, Titans and Chargers had clearly robbed this team of its sense of self.

There seems no other reasonable explanation for a fourth quarter against the Cowboys that included:

* Antonio Brown's fumbled punt return with 10:18 remaining in regulation and the Steelers ahead, 24-17.

* Ben Roethlisberger being sacked on third-and-4 from the Dallas 37-yard line with the game tied at 24-24 and 3:35 left in the fourth quarter.

* Brown letting a Dallas punt bounce and roll 17 yards rather than running up and catching it just inside the two-minute warning.

* Roethlisberger being sacked on first-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 46 at 1:34.

* Roethlisberger being sacked on second-and-18 from the Pittsburgh 38 at 1:18.

* Brown catching a short pass and running out of bounds far short of a first down on third-and-26 from the Pittsburgh 30 at 1:10, saving the Cowboys potentially precious seconds or a timeout.

* And last but certainly not least, the interception Roethlisberger threw on the second play of overtime.

Roethlisberger emerged accepting the blame – "absolutely, 100 percent this is on me" – but also repeatedly criticizing the play-calling and campaigning for more no-huddle offense.

His timing could have been better given that the OT-INT came off a no-huddle snap on a play Roethlisberger called.

But the bigger-picture issue through 14 regular-season games is the franchise quarterback is seemingly as frustrated as he's ever been in his Steelers' career.

It doesn't matter if he's right or OC Todd Haley is right; this has to be fixed, resolved, dealt with if not once and for all at least for the rest of this season, however long it happens to last.

And the same goes for the situation at running back, where the clearly-undisputed No. 1 running back on the team is scheduled to return today from his one-game banishment and where the Jonathan Dwyer experiment yesterday was good for 9 carries and 22 yards.

Roethlisberger and Mendenhall differ in that Roethlisberger was able to keep it together after the Dallas Debacle and state his case while carefully staying just on the right side of insubordination.

He criticized the play-calling and the lack of no-huddle offense, offering his opinions when asked. He was never directly disrespectful to Haley, never even mentioned Haley by name.

Mendenhall chose the "I'll show you" road and expressed his displeasure by missing the San Diego game as a healthy scratch.

The word on Mendenhall from team sources is his frustration boiled over as much because he was replaced by Dwyer as it did due to being benched in the first place.

That much is understandable. I don't see Dwyer as a feature back, either.

Mendenhall felt he had to take a stand, make a statement, not take this lying down, etc., and did what he did knowing there would be discipline but not certain what that would involve because the one-game suspension did not result from the violation of an officially stated team policy.

Roethlisberger and Mendenhall are similar in that the Steelers need both at their best to accomplish anything significant from 7-7.

Neither is close to that at present and that's the quick fix Mike Tomlin needs to uncover sometime before 1 p.m. Sunday.

The selective benching of some for transgressions repeatedly committed by many (how many times has Brown fumbled this season?) and the hope that Roethlisberger and Haley would function in harmony for the benefit of the group doesn't seem to be working.

Asking two of the Steelers' best players to get it done the way they best know how in the 60 minutes of football that could potentially end the Steelers' postseason aspirations seems an alternative that's as obvious as it is overdue.

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