The Steelers aren't yet at the fork in the road with Ben Roethlisberger, but it's no longer a faraway destination.
The evidence provided in the past three games is difficult to overlook. Though his statistics aren't entirely abysmal, Roethlisberger has not played well during Pittsburgh's three-game losing streak, and the bad moments -- such as throwing an interception directly to an opposing linebacker only a few yards away -- paint a picture of an over-the-hill quarterback beginning a rapid descent.
It might not be a cliff, but the grade is steep. Roethlisberger was asked Wednesday what might propel him out of his recent stretch of poor performance, which essentially dates back to the final quarter of last season. His answer came from deep within his heart.
"Determination, desire and a love for the game of football," the 39-year-old quarterback said, via The Associated Press' Will Graves.
Injuries have only compounded matters for Roethlisberger, who added a hip ailment to his growing list of physical issues this week. Once a big-bodied playmaker with the capability to move, Roethlisberger is now statuesque and when he does try to move, it's often not pretty.
The team's young, inexperienced offensive line doesn't help matters, but Pittsburgh's issues start with Roethlisberger. Defenses don't fear the deep ball because they've seen enough evidence to believe it might not come (accurately) but once or twice a game. Rookie running back Najee Harris has been tasked with trying to put the entire offense on his back, leading the team in rushing at paltry 3.4 yards per carry and in total receptions (26).
Roethlisberger, meanwhile, is averaging just 6.1 yards gained per pass attempt. He owns an even touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4-4 and a passer rating of 78.9. His Steelers offense has failed to score more than 17 points in a game this season.
"I need to fight through and figure out how to make better decisions, how to make better throws, be a better football player," Roethlisberger said, via TribLive.com's Joe Rutter. "That is why I said I'm not going to quit. I'm not doing that. I'm not giving up on this season. No one in this building is."
The visible evidence has changed the tone surrounding the Steelers from a team looking to make one last run with its future Hall of Fame quarterback to one that should probably start exploring other options and figuring out how to make the transition as painless as possible.
It might be just that for the 2021 Steelers: a year of transition. They're running with their youngest roster in decades and could use the regular-season reps to develop their players who will be important to the franchise's future, one that will not include Roethlisberger. Should that include a change to Mason Rudolph -- who isn't under team control beyond 2021 -- or former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins? Only time will tell us that answer.
When asked Tuesday if Big Ben remains the team's best option at QB, head coach Mike Tomlin responded "absolutely."
As for Roethlisberger, he's taken the right public approach by dedicating himself to finding a way to be better. He said Wednesday he plans to play in Pittsburgh's upcoming game against Denver despite a hip injury that sidelined him for the week's first practice, adding it's "nothing I can't get through and I'll work to get through."
He'll need to work through plenty more than the injury to get the Steelers back on track.