The tight end is often a quarterback’s best friend, and that has certainly applied in recent years for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m not sure there was anybody on the team that Ben Roethlisberger was closer to than Heath Miller, who was drafted in the first round one year after he was.
After Miller retired, the Steelers brought in Vance McDonald two seasons later via trade, and he and Roethlisberger have developed a close bond over the course of the past three years. McDonald was more bullish on the team in 2019 than perhaps anybody, after having a career year in 2018, so he may have taken the course of the year as hard as anybody.
That included, of course, a season-ending elbow injury suffered by Roethlisberger early in the year. He would not take the field again after halftime of the second game of the season, and, predictably, the Steelers’ passing numbers were gutted, failing to reach even 3000 passing yards or 20 total passing touchdowns. That is like…1960s numbers.
“For Ben specifically, I hurt for the guy. I really do, because I know how hungry [he was for the 2019 season] and how bad he wanted it”, McDonald told Missi Matthews during an interview for the team’s website, in reflecting back on last season.
“And then that happens Week Two, and we’re thinking, ‘gosh, this is not only devastating for my friend, but this is also a huge loss for the offense’, because it’s one thing to adjust to a new receiver, a running back, those are all adjustments”, he added. “But the adjustment at the quarterback position is so big. It put a lot of strain on everyone in this building. You’ve got to start acting quick, and fast, because it’s not like everyone was gonna wait for us to catch up”.
The Steelers lost the first three games of the season, including an opening day blowout loss to the New England Patriots, for which Roethlisberger was on the field, but likely already experiencing some issues with his elbow. They would go on to lose four of their first five games before winning seven of the next eight.
At that point, they were in the driver’s seat to secure the top wildcard seed, but the wheels fell off at that point with Devlin Hodges at quarterback, and they would go on to lose each of their final three games. They went into the final still with a chance to make the playoffs, but lost to a Baltimore Ravens team that was resting a number of starters.