Joshua Dobbs started the second half and played four possessions for the Pittsburgh Steelers after Ben Roethlisberger left with a rib injury during their 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, but head coach Mike Tomlin suggested his starter could have returned sooner.
Roethlisberger "could have come in a series or so sooner but we were in a rhythm and flow of the game," Tomlin said, per Vic Tafur of The Athletic.
Big Ben's absence proved particularly costly because he played so well when he was in the game. He finished 25-of-29 for 282 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions, far outplaying Dobbs (4-of-9 for 24 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception).
Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a touchdown on Pittsburgh's final possession of the first half, but the visitors punted, turned it over on downs, turned it over with an interception and punted again on four possessions to start the second half with him sidelined. Tomlin suggested the Steelers were in the "flow of the game," but the Raiders seized momentum during that stretch after falling behind 14-10.
Oakland took a 17-14 lead before Roethlisberger returned and directed another touchdown drive to take the lead back. The Raiders scored again to build a three-point advantage, and Roethlisberger drove his team into field-goal range only to see Chris Boswell's kick that would have forced overtime blocked.
Pittsburgh can take solace knowing its six-time Pro Bowler will be back under center with the stretch run looming, especially given its precarious position atop the AFC North standings.
It is narrowly ahead of the 7-6 Baltimore Ravens at 7-5-1 and plays division leaders in the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints in the next two games. It is not difficult to envision the Steelers fighting for their playoff lives in the coming weeks given that schedule, making Sunday's loss to the 3-10 Raiders all the more troubling.
Tomlin apparently thought Pittsburgh was still in a rhythm with Dobbs under center, but he was unable to keep the team afloat while Roethlisberger was sidelined.