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Monday, January 19, 2009
Ben being Ben is super for the Steelers

By James Walker
ESPN.com

 
  Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
  Ben Roethlisberger finished with 255 passing yards and a touchdown toss as he improved to 7-2 in the postseason.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

PITTSBURGH -- Experts say he holds the football too long.

Some say he doesn't post the gaudy statistics needed to be considered an elite passer.

He was the third quarterback taken in his draft class behind Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, and it seems he rarely receives the same credit.

Yet, only two starting quarterbacks remain in this postseason, and one of them answers to the name Ben Roethlisberger.

It is time to appreciate the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback for being a consummate winner, and quit bashing Roethlisberger for not being a conventional quarterback.

Roethlisberger, playing in his third AFC Championship Game in five years, led the Steelers to a 23-14 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday to earn a trip to Super Bowl XLIII. He did it his way -- unconventionally -- buying time with his feet and making the most of broken plays to throw for 255 yards and one touchdown.

On a frozen Heinz Field, Roethlisberger went toe-to-toe with the NFL's second-rated defense and never blinked. He was sacked four times and hit many more. He played the second half without his prime target Hines Ward, the wide receiver who sat out the final 30 minutes because of a right knee injury.

But in the end, Roethlisberger beat Baltimore's defense three times in a season -- a feat few quarterbacks could accomplish.

  Ravens-Steelers highlights
  NFL.com Video
  The Steelers defeat the Ravens 23-14 in the AFC Championship Game.

"Ben is a special guy," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's at his best in the midst of the most difficult adversity. Such was the case today. He recognized the magnitude of the game and he was what his team needed him to be."

Tomlin is correct: Roethlisberger is perfect for the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh.

Roethlisberger. a team captain, is gritty, not glitzy. He's tough without grabbing attention. His innate playmaking ability is not something that can be coached or molded.

At times his plays appear sloppy, but Roethlisberger won all three games against the Ravens with clutch conversions late that were also eccentric. The wildest play on Sunday was his 65-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in the second quarter.

Roethlisberger doesn't remember the call. All he could recall was scrambling left, then rumbling right and thinking about throwing the football away.

Instead, Roethlisberger bought a little more time and gave Holmes a chance to make a play on his risky throw. Holmes did the rest, catching the ball and scurrying through traffic for the score.

It was vintage Roethlisberger and one of the biggest plays of this postseason for Pittsburgh, which took a 13-0 lead at that point and never trailed.

"You know what," Roethlisberger said smiling. "We play backyard football sometimes."

Roethlisberger Passing By Down
-- Comp. Att. Yds. Y/A TD Int. Sack Rate
First 3 8 27 3.4 0 0 1 47.4
Second 6 11 47 4.3 0 0 0 65.3
Third 7 14 181 12.9 1 0 3 119.6
Total 16 33 255 7.7 1 0 4 84.8

First downs were hard to come by in this AFC North slugfest. Pittsburgh had 11 total, and nine came from the arm of Roethlisberger.

Tomlin, who has coached Roethlisberger for two seasons, has run out of ways to describe his quarterback.

"Ben was Ben," Tomlin said.

Roethlisberger's style will never be similar to Peyton Manning's, but Roethlisberger has a chance to surpass him with a second Super Bowl ring in two weeks. The same applies for Eli Manning, who also has one Super Bowl ring.

This year Roethlisberger is going to the big game as the leader of the Steelers and not the inexperienced caretaker of the offense -- another label that has stuck with him way too long.

"He's taken control and this is his team," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. "He takes pride in his huddle. Nothing seems to rattle him."

Roethlisberger is proving that statistics aren't everything -- even for signal-callers. He was the 24th-rated quarterback in the NFL this season and ranked 14th in yards.

This will be his second Super Bowl appearance in five years and his 7-2 career playoff record often goes ignored.

But Ben will just continue to be Ben. And as 30 other starting quarterbacks watch Roethlisberger play in Tampa, it's time that everyone appreciates that.