Big Ben needs to be gentle Ben

PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger was right about this much:

rookie receiver James Washington has to make the catch he didn’t make last Sunday in Denver.

He cost the Steelers a touchdown in a game they lost by seven points.

But was Roethlisberger right to go public with his criticism of a rookie player?

Probably not.

For one thing, it was apparent to just about everybody that Washington blew the catch he should have made. So to belabor the point as aggressively as Roethlisberger did on his radio show two days later was piling on.

More to the point, he violated quarterback protocol. Quarterbacks are the ultimate big brothers. They take the blame when it wasn’t their fault. They take the bumps so others don’t have to. It’s a part of the job.

Neil O’Donnell threw a Super Bowl interception to a spot where Andre Hastings was supposed to be. Hastings cut the wrong way and left Dallas Cowboys’ defender Larry Brown all alone. Brown parlayed that mistake into a Super Bowl MVP award and a big free agent contract he didn’t deserve.

Hastings made the mistake. O’Donnell took the blame. That’s what quarterbacks do.

Here’s the other thing about Roethlisberger’s mini-rant. Although he had a big day statistically, he wasn’t flawless. His biggest mistake came at the end when he threw an interception near the goal line.

Roethlisberger maintained that center Maurkice Pouncey blocked his man so well that he bumped him right into a spot to pick off the pass. OK, but Roethlisberger had no business throwing the ball into coverage.

On a play that went awry right from the snap, he would have been smart to wing the ball into the stands and come back on the next down.

The Steelers players are teammates, but they’re not of the same generation. Roethlisberger is 36, and his roots are planted in a different time in the NFL. He sometimes loses patience with younger teammates and some of their odd habits.

If there was a hidden message in his criticism of Washington — like maybe he thinks the rookie doesn’t work hard enough in practice or focus in games — that’s another matter entirely.

But just to jump on him for a bad play? That’s not good.

It may not have been wrong to send that message, but it wasn’t right to make a public delivery.

In the nets

If the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t solve their goaltending issues. it’s going to seem like a long regular season without a post-season.

They desperately need Matt Murray to have a strong season when he comes off the injured reserve list. There’s still plenty of time to fix things, but it won’t happen without a resolution to the goaltending woes.

Pirate Fest used to be a three-day event.

This year’s version will take five hours.

While Neal Huntington is looking for ways to improve the team, the business side of the operation has an even bigger task. They need to reverse a trend that has seen ticket sales decline by 1,033,286 in the three seasons since 2015, the team’s last post-season appearance.

The Pirates posted a winning record last season, and that’s at least a step in the right direction. They have some quality young pitchers in a starting rotation that should be good for several seasons into the future. The back of the bullpen is strong.

The offense is obviously a problem, characterized mainly by a lack of power. They compete in a division where the Chicago Cubs don’t blink at dropping $20 million a season on a player if they think they need him.

TV ratings indicate people are still following the Pirates. Translating that interest to ticket sales again is the challenge.

John Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com


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