There will come a time when Ben Roethlisberger has to reinvent his game.
Even a man of his size will not be able to shake off defensive tackles in perpetuity. Even a man with his escapability will eventually find that his legs won’t do what his brain is telling them to.
But until that time — and it may not come for a while still — the Steelers may as well ride Big Ben as far as his pump-faking, risk-taking, play re-starting style will take them.
Roethlisberger started the 2009 season the way he ended 2008 — with the game on the line and the Steelers offense strapped to his back. And the two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback delivered another win, this one a 13-10 overtime decision over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night.
For the night, Pittsburgh managed just 36 rushing yards on 23 carries. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, went 33 for 43 for 363 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
But the stats don’t adequately tell the story of the game’s final quarter and the overtime session.
With Pittsburgh trailing 10-7 and 11 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the game, Roethlisberger went 7 for 7 for 57 yards in setting up the tying field goal with three minutes left.
After the Steelers forced a punt and their offense took over with 1:50 left, Roethlisberger went 4 for 4 for another 54 yards. That should have been enough for the winning field goal but Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward tried to get too slick inside the Titans' 5-yard line and fumbled the ball away.
No matter. The Steelers won the overtime coin flip and Roethlisberger just did it all again, going 5 for 7 for 60 yards to set up the winning field goal.
It’s what he did in the Super Bowl. It’s what he did in the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. It’s what he did in that critical December game, also against the Ravens that helped sew up the AFC North crown for the Steelers.
It was just a little over a month ago that Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was walking away from a Sunday morning breakfast at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pa., raving about what Roethlisberger does.
“I laugh when I hear about who people consider the top five quarterbacks in the league and he’s not mentioned,” Arians said. “I don’t know what else he has to do. The guy loves to put the team on his back and say, ‘Let’s go.’”
It is the essence of what this Steelers team is about. As much as the Indianapolis Colts are defined by Peyton Manning’s mad-scientist dissections of opposing defenses. As much as the New England Patriots are about Tom Brady’s preternatural calm and self-assuredness in carving up whatever is put in front of him. So, too, are the Steelers about Roethlisberger running around and creating until secondaries lose containment and pass rushers lose their minds chasing him.
It’s not as pretty as the way the other two guys do it, but the ultimate results are quite comparable. And that is what it’s about — results.
For those results, Roethlisberger doesn’t get proper credit. The frantic ball fakes and half-scrambles and the traffic-cop act he goes into when telling receivers where to go gives off the vibe that he’s just winging it.
And for good reason.
And that is just fine with the Steelers.
They seem to realize they have a young quarterback — he’s still just 27 — who is at the height of his rare powers. He doesn’t scramble for positive yardage the way Michael Vick did when he ran for over 1,000 with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. He scrambles merely to unhinge the defense so he can beat them with his arm. Big difference. And a more effective one.
The time will come when Ben Roethlisberger’s game will have to become more tame, more geared to staying in the pocket, reading defenses and taking what the defense gives him. Even though he’s 6 feet 5, 250 pounds, he can’t continue to absorb the same punishment he has taken the past three seasons (more than 45 sacks each campaign). The risk of a helmet-to-helmet whack while he’s pirouetting away from some defensive end, the chance that some corner wraps himself around Roethlisberger’s kneecap grows with every scramble.
But until that day comes, the Steelers are going to keep doing like they do. Play mad defense and then turn it over to Roethlisberger, who, invariably these days, knows exactly what to do when the game comes down to him.