The final “Monday Night Football” game of the 2021 NFL regular season was exactly what most expected it to be. The Steelers and Browns engaged in a classic grind-it-out AFC North battle with Pittsburgh earning a 26-14 win thanks to a strong defensive performance and a great outing from rookie running back Najee Harris.
All the attention was on Ben Roethlisberger in this one, as the long-time Steelers quarterback played in what many believe was his final home game. Big Ben was prominently featured in Pittsburgh’s game plan and earned the win, but even he admitted that it wasn’t a pretty one.
“You know what, it’s funny because [it] probably [didn’t go] the way you wanted it other than the win,” Roethlisberger said of the team’s performance in a postgame interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters. “That’s all that really matters. That’s kinda been the story of my career. It’s not always pretty, but we find a way.”
Indeed, Roethlisberger had his share of struggles during the contest, but he was matched by Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield on the other side of the field. In fact, when you break down the numbers, the two combined for one of the worst quarterback displays of the 2021 NFL season.
WEEK 18 PICKS: Against the spread | Straight up
Ben Roethlisberger stats vs. Browns
Roethlisberger wasn’t particularly bad against the Browns. He just wasn’t particularly good either.
The 39-year-old veteran wasn’t able to get the ball downfield much — a problem that has limited the Steelers’ offense over the last two seasons — so he had to settle for a lot of checkdowns. As a result, he racked up just 123 passing yards while completing 24 of 46 passes for a touchdown and an interception.
Roethlisberger averaged just 2.67 yards per passing attempt despite throwing the ball so much. How bad is that? His mark is the second-worst in NFL history for a quarterback to throw more than 40 passes behind only Jesse Palmer. Roethlisberger is just the fourth player in NFL history to throw 40-plus times in a game and finish with a yards per attempt mark of less than 3.
|Year||Player||Team||Yards per attempt|
Incredibly, 34 of Roethlisberger’s passes came before halftime yet he still failed to reach 100 yards on those attempts. That marked the first time that had happened in the last 40 years, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Ben Roethlisberger attempted 34 passes in the 1st half and had 96 pass yards.
He is the 1st player in the last 40 years with at least 30 pass attempts and fewer than 100 pass yards in a half, including playoffs. pic.twitter.com/g81ohGzonu
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 4, 2022
Roethlisberger also posted a passer rating of just 56.2 during Sunday’s game, which marks his 15th-worst rating in his 246 career starts. It’s also his lowest since he posted a 37.8 in a five-interception game against the Jaguars in October of 2017.
Interestingly, Roethlisberger’s 6.5 yard average depth of target isn’t the lowest of his 2021 season. Per PFF, Roethlisberger’s lowest ADOT came in Week 15 vs. the Titans, with a 5.0 mark.
So, while Roethlisberger got the win, he certainly had a rough outing, as he indicated. However, he arguably played better than Mayfield, who had one of his worst games as a pro.
MORE: How officials missed call cost Ben Roethlisberger a walk-off moment
Baker Mayfield stats vs. Steelers
Mayfield completed his first pass against the Steelers to Jarvis Landry. It went for 20 yards. After that, things got ugly.
Each of Mayfield’s next 10 passes fell incomplete, which marked the longest streak of incompletions since 2019, per ESPN. He had trouble getting the ball past the Steelers defensive line, which knocked down three passes, while his receivers logged a couple of drops. He also threw an interception during the streak where he didn’t see David Njoku break open and tried to force it to Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Mayfield would eventually snap out of it a bit, but he still completed just 42.1 percent of his passes against Pittsburgh. That’s good for the 12th-worst completion percentage among starting quarterbacks this year and is the second-worst mark of Mayfield’s NFL career. He also became the first quarterback since 2017 to have five passes batter down at the line of scrimmage while being sacked at last five times.
Speaking of sacks, Mayfield was sacked nine times in this contest. That’s tied for the most sacks in a single game this season with Justin Fields. The fault for that falls partially on Mayfield’s offensive line — specifically, right tackle James Hudson who allowed five pressures and three sacks on Monday — but Mayfield also should have released the ball quicker as well.
MORE: Kevin Stefanski criticizes Jadeveon Clowney’s “crazy” shoe toss
The final stats on Mayfield don’t look terrible. He completed 16 of 38 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. However, he logged just a 53.1 passer rating, the fourth-worst mark of his career, and averaged just 4.9 yards per pass attempt. That was better than Roethlisberger’s total, but it wasn’t enough to save the passers from making dubious history with their performances.
On Monday night, Baker Mayfield and Ben Roethlisberger combined for 308 pass yards on 84 attempts.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 4, 2022
Obviously, Mayfield was hurting. He has dealt with several injuries throughout the year, the most notable of which is a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Still, it was a rocky outing, and that’s what allowed Roethlisberger and the Steelers to keep the Browns at an arm’s length for most of the evening.