One thing became clear Sunday on an overcast day in Miami: The Steelers will need more than Ben Roethlisberger back in their lineup before they can resume any kind of Super Bowl contention.
Without Roethlisberger, they have little chance to beat the New England Patriots Sunday at Heinz Field. Oddsmakers already are predicting a line that would have favored the Patriots by 2 to favor them in a double-digit landslide without him.
What was shaping up as the showdown of the season in the AFC looks to be headed for a smackdown by New England, which is not rare when the Patriots play the Steelers anyway.
Roethlisberger had surgery Monday morning on the meniscus in his left knee. Mike Tomlin said there is no timetable for his return but he could be able to play Nov. 6 at Baltimore, the week after their bye. Others such as San Diegot quarterback Philip Rivers even played the same week after similar knee cartilage surgery.
But even if he misses one game and returns for what could be the AFC North Division showdown of the season in Baltimore, Roethlisberger will need help. Specifically, the Steelers need Cam Heyward and Ryan Shazier back on defense, they need Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton healthy at wide receiver, and Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. Throw in tight end Ladarius Green, who plans to practice for the first time with the Steelers Wednesday as he climbs back from the physically unable to perform list.
It became obvious in Miami that while the Steelers can miss a player here and there, they cannot miss some of their best players. Having Heyward and Shazier on the field Sunday might not have prevented the Dolphins from winning, but it might have helped them hold Jay Ajayi under 200 yards rushing. It might have generated some kind of pass rush that produced nothing. It might even have helped cause at least one turnover.
Roethlisberger’s knee injury midway through the second quarter did not cause the Steelers to lose to the Dolphins, 30-15. He led them to all of eight points by then and his interception gave the Dolphins the ball 13 yards from the goal line and, despite another defensive red-zone hold, allowed them to go ahead, 9-8, with a third field goal.
Roethlisberger completed 5 of 9 for 41 yards in the first half. He was sacked twice, intercepted once and had a 27.8 passer rating. That was before his knee injury, although his final pass came after the hit that caused the injury and might have prompted a wayward throw that was picked off.
It was evident before his meniscus damage that Roethlisberger and his offense were not in sync. They needed help from the Dolphins to score their only touchdown in the first 59 minutes — on third down, Roethlisberger was sacked but safety Reshad Jones was penalized for unnecessary roughness to give the Steelers a first down. On the next play, Darrius Heyward-Bey ran around right end for a 60-yard score.
And that was the high water mark Sunday for the Steelers.
Still, not much changed in the AFC North, where all four teams lost and the Steelers (4-2) remain one game ahead of Baltimore (3-3).
All is not lost for them even if Roethlisberger is out Sunday for the game against New England. At worst, they will be tied for first with the Ravens as they head to Baltimore in just under three weeks. By then, Heyward and Shazier and some others could be ready to play.
Miami showed what a difference a few injuries can make. Two starting offensive linemen returned to play against the Steelers after they were absent with injuries in their 30-17 loss at home to Tennessee the previous week. The Titans had six sacks and two interceptions with those two out. With them back, the Steelers did not touch Ryan Tannehill.
This is not a team that is going anywhere without Roethlisberger. It also is not one that can go anywhere with him if he does not have Heyward, Shazier, Gilbert, Wheaton and the rest back.
“We better get our stuff together,’’ linebacker Lawrence Timmons warned late Sunday afternoon.
It might help if they get their team back together.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com.