Ben Roethlisberger is 39 years old. He has taken a ton of punishment. He had reconstructive elbow surgery two years ago. As he struggled through what is very likely the final home game of his great Pittsburgh Steelers career, the physical challenges he faced were obvious and understandable. He's not the same player he was, but nobody expects him to be at his age.
Baker Mayfield is 26. He has taken some big hits and had injuries too, but he's supposed to be ascending. The former first overall draft pick is supposed to be grabbing the torch from Roethlisberger in the AFC North. That's not happening.
The Steelers and Cleveland Browns have serious quarterback questions coming up, in much different ways. Roethlisberger is winding down his Steelers career, likely his NFL career, and he had a nice sendoff from Pittsburgh fans on Monday night in a 26-14 win. Roethlisberger didn't throw it great, but he had a touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson and did enough to help the Steelers win and stay alive in the AFC wild-card race.
Roethlisberger said last week that all signs pointed to Monday being his final home game with the Steelers, which made it a celebration of Big Ben's career even if the present isn't all that pretty. Roethlisberger finished 24-of-46 for 123 yards.
After the game Roethlisberger walked around the stadium, greeting fans in the front row. Before exiting into the tunnel, Roethlisberger hugged his three kids and wife in the end zone.
"This is just an awesome place," Roethlisberger told ESPN's Lisa Salters after the game as he fought back tears.
Roethlisberger's time with the Steelers is almost done. You have to wonder if the same can be said for Mayfield and the Browns.
Both quarterbacks had their struggles
Neither quarterback got off to a great start. Roethlisberger had 98 yards on 34 attempts at halftime, and he was the far better quarterback in the first half.
Mayfield's halftime line: 4-of-15, 58 yards, one interception, 15.4 passer rating. He had a stretch of 10 straight incompletions. He showed little pocket awareness all night, getting sacked nine times. T.J. Watt had four of them, and while the offensive line did nothing to help Mayfield, he didn't do much to help himself either.
Mayfield has been regressing all season, and it might be related to various injuries. He is playing through them, but he doesn't look well at all. Mayfield completed just 16 of 38 passes for 185 yards, a lot of which came with the Browns down two scores in the fourth quarter, and had two interceptions.
There has been endless talk about Mayfield and his future. The Browns will have to make a decision soon on whether he will get an expensive extension. He seems to be making that decision much easier for the front office with his prolonged slump.
Still, the Browns had a chance to win despite a horrid offensive night. A touchdown to David Njoku in the third quarter got Cleveland on the board and cut Pittsburgh's lead to 13-7. But the Browns did little after that. The Steelers' offense wasn't much better, but a couple of field goals were more than enough.
The Browns got a touchdown with 1:10 left but couldn't get the onside kick. Najee Harris broke out for a third-down touchdown run with 51 seconds left to close out the book on Monday night's win and Roethlisberger's home career.
Steelers still in playoff mix
Maybe the Steelers' season won't end in Week 18. Mathematically, they're still alive in the playoff hunt.
The Steelers need help to make the playoffs and it's unlikely to come. They need to beat the Baltimore Ravens and then have the Indianapolis Colts lose. That's the problem, because the Colts play the 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars. Still, the Steelers will avoid a losing season and are alive going into Week 18. Given all the limitations, especially on offense, it hasn't been the worst season.
It wasn't a storybook sendoff for Roethlisberger this season either, but very few players get the ending they want. But he will end his home Steelers career with a win and some good feelings. It'll be hard to conjure up any good feelings in Cleveland after how this season went.