Steelers lose home field advantage

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Coach Mike Tomlin showed absolutely no confidence in his backup quarterbacks, Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon, as he started a severely injured Ben Roethlisberger and played him the entire game despite him being terribly ineffective, which led to an embarrassing 20-3 defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers.

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SACKED—Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith during the fourth quarter in San Francisco, Dec. 19. Smith had 2-1/2 sacks for San Francisco’s stingy defense. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Three interceptions and one lost ball led to 20 unanswered points by the 49ers that pushed the Steelers out of the driver’s seat into the back seat of the AFC race.

After the San Diego Chargers slaughtered the Baltimore Ravens 34-14, Steelers’ victories over the 49ers, the St. Louis Rams (2-12) and the Cleveland Browns (4-10) would have given them home field throughout the playoffs. But instead of going with one of his backup quarterbacks, Tomlin stayed with the banged up Roethlisberger, who could barely walk, let alone play the quarterback position. He couldn’t plant his feet because of the pain which caused inaccurate throws leading to three interceptions, and his inability to move in the or out of the pocket, led to a fumble. In essence, he made good defensive players look like Hall of Famers. Just about every turnover led to San Francisco scores.

San Francisco also became the first team in NFL history to hold an opponent without a rushing touchdown through each of the first 14 games. The 49ers also have gone 36 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Rashard Mendenhall had 15 carries for 64 yards.

“It’s very frustrating to feel like you let down your team and your fans and your coaches. It’s tough,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m not going to make excuses. I played a bad football game, I turned the ball over and that one’s on me.”

Once again the defense played outstanding ball but without James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley for most of the game, but with the offense showing absolutely no life, they could not pull off the victory.

Even the announcers in the booth wondered why Roethlisberger played the entire second half despite being totally ineffective, and the game being out of reach late in the fourth quarter.

If the Steelers are going to be a factor in the playoffs, Tomlin needs to make some tough decisions. The first is to bench Roethlisberger so he can be healthy for the playoffs. Batch and Dixon showed last season that they can do the job if given the chance. Now it’s time to give the ball to one of them dropping Ben down to third string for the final two regular season games. Why even suit him up.

The Steelers, Ravens and Houston Texans losses put the New England Patriots in first place. Their final two games should be easy wins, against the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills. The Ravens have a tougher schedule against the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. But they would have to lose both games for the Steelers to have a chance of winning the AFC North title.

“I think we need to acknowledge that was 49er football tonight,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

“We played the game on their terms. They created turnovers, they got turnovers, they got us with a few concept plays, they controlled the ball offensively. We had an opportunity and we didn’t seize it. We’ll evaluate this performance and make the necessary corrections. We’d better make them quickly and be prepared to move on here when we get back into Pittsburgh.”

“He (Roethlisberger) was healthy enough to play,” Tomlin added.

“We always like what Ben provides us, not only from his quality of play, but his leadership. This guy is a tremendous competitor. We appreciate his efforts, obviously we fell short tonight.”

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