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Tomlin’s faith in Ben Roethlisberger not wavering

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, right, talks to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP photo

PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger could be described as a drama king.

Two days after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last season, the veteran quarterback talked about retiring. That did not happen.

After throwing a career-high five interceptions — two that were returned for touchdowns — in the Steelers’ 30-9 loss to the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, the 35-year-old Roethlisberger said, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.”

However, it should also be noted a few moments later in his postgame session with reporters, Roethlisberger struck a more positive chord when asked if he was starting to doubt himself.

“Nobody in this room ever has that doubt,” he said. “Professional athletes shouldn’t have doubt.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin prefers to describe Roethlisberger as “emotional” rather than as a drama king. Tomlin doesn’t believe the 14-year veteran is on a rapid decline despite giving a blunt assessment of Roethlisberger after last Sunday’s game by saying “he’s not playing well.”

Tomlin’s tone was softer during his weekly news conference Tuesday.

“Ben is a big-time competitor, an emotional guy who has seen a lot in this business,” Tomlin said. “He’s not afraid to tell you guys the truth in terms of how he’s feeling in particular moments. Sometimes that might be things that are somewhat alarming to you guys, because there are a lot of emotions at play when these guys pour themselves into competition.”

Roethlisberger has rarely been lower than he was after the loss to the Jaguars. In addition to throwing the most interception by a Steelers quarterback since Mark Malone was picked five times in 1987 by the Cleveland Browns, Roethlisberger’s 37.8 passer rating was the fifth-lowest mark of his career despite the fact he threw for a season-high 312 yards.

Tomlin pointed out that two of the Jaguars’ interceptions came on tipped passes and two others came as the result of a strong pass rush.

“It could’ve been better, but it probably wasn’t as catastrophic as his statistics (showed),” Tomlin said. “Things happen. Protection of the football is an 11-man job, just as the protection of our quarterback is an 11-man job.”

The Steelers (3-2) begin practicing Wednesday for their game against the Chiefs (5-0, the last unbeaten team in the NFL, on Sunday at Kansas City. Tomlin expects Roethlisberger to put last week’s debacle behind him.

“The bottom line is I’ve known Ben for 11 years, I know the competitor he is, I know his level of confidence,” Tomlin said. “What he says moments after a five-interception performance probably isn’t reflective of who he is and how he feels.

“It wasn’t reflective of who he is and how he felt when he walked in here (Monday). He looked like a guy who’s ready to gun sling and get back at it. That’s more in line with the guy I know and what I anticipate from him, and that’s why I take some of those comments with a grain of salt.”

Roethlisberger’s passer rating of 75.8 is 28th in the NFL through five games and he has thrown seven interceptions against six touchdowns. The only quarterback in the league who has been picked off more is Cleveland Browns rookie DeShone Kizer with nine interceptions.

Roethlisberger is also 23rd with a .615 completion percentage, connecting on 120 of 195 passes for 1,269 yards.

Tomlin isn’t the only one who still believes in Roethlisberger. His teammates still feel he is among the best quarterbacks in the league despite his early season slump.

“I think he still has it,” running back Le’Veon Bell said.

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