Sunday, October 7, 2012
Big Ben refuses to let Steelers collapse
By Jamison Hensley
It wasn't his best game statistically, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers to a 16-14 victory over the Eagles on Sunday.
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger walked onto the field after the Steelers' defense blew another fourth-quarter lead with a 1-3 start hitting him in the face as hard as the rain at Heinz Field.
But the Steelers came back to beat the Eagles because of Roethlisberger. They've got a 2-2 record and newfound confidence because of Roethlisberger. They're not pushing the panic button heading into Thursday's game at Tennessee because of Roethlisberger.
In the Steelers' 16-14 win over the Eagles, he completed 4 of 5 passes for 50 yards and converted two third downs on the winning drive that ended with Shaun Suisham's game-ending field goal. Of his 25 game-winning drives in the fourth-quarter/overtime in the regular season, this won't rank near the top in terms of being memorable. As far as encapsulating his importance to this team, it was a drive that underscored how much Roethlisberger has been carrying the Steelers.
Name another quarterback who has done as much heavy lifting as Roethlisberger this season. He's constantly avoiding pass-rushers because his offensive line can't block. Roethlisberger has gotten so comfortable running that he even faked the option on one scramble. He watched wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown drop passes at an alarming rate (Brown had a pass bounce off his hands in the end zone) and Jerricho Cotchery trip 2 yards short of the goal line. And he can't even count on Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who sent two shotgun snaps flying over the 6-foot-5 quarterback's head. It makes you wonder if Roethlisberger is playing with the replacement Steelers.
What became clear is that the Steelers are going to go as far as Roethlisberger takes them. The offense is making careless errors and penalties. The defense is showing cracks in the fourth quarter. Based on the injuries, that's not going to change anytime soon.
The one constant in an uneven season has been Roethlisberger. Off to one of the best starts of his nine-year career, he entered this game ranked in the top five in the NFL in completion percentage, touchdowns, passing yards and passer rating. These categories don't fully reflect Roethlisberger's value this season.
Roethlisberger had to pick up the team after last year's top-ranked defense failed to stop the Eagles on two fourth-down stands and on third-and-goal, which put the Steelers in a 14-13 hole with 6:33 remaining in the game. Then, on the first offensive snap after Philadelphia's touchdown, left guard Willie Colon was called for holding, which pushed the Steelers back to their own 10-yard line.
Putting the Steelers on his back, Roethlisberger completed a 20-yard pass to Brown over the middle to convert a third-and-12 and found Emmanuel Sanders with a 7-yard toss on third-and-4 to put the Steelers within field goal range.
Roethlisberger recorded his 82nd career victory, and nearly one-third of them have been decided by a winning drive that he engineered. I'm not sure there is another quarterback you want more with the game on the line.
"I think all of the guys that you can make the argument for being franchise quarterbacks, I think [excelling in the fourth quarter] is the common tie that binds them," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "The reality is if they're in that discussion, it's because they deliver when it's time to deliver. No question, I don't care who you're talking to, [Roethlisberger] is in that discussion."
Roethlisberger, though, had something to prove before marching the Steelers 64 yards on 14 plays. In his words, he didn't want to go 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter.
In the season opener, he had an interception returned for a touchdown in the final two minutes when the Steelers trailed at Denver by six points. In the Steelers' previous game, Roethlisberger was shut out in the fourth quarter in Oakland as the Raiders scored the game's final 13 points.
It was different on Sunday against the Eagles, who have made a habit of beating teams in the final two minutes of games.
"I pride myself, if we get the ball, whether we are up, down or maybe it's tied, we want to go down and win the game," Roethlisberger said. "I want the ball in my hands. I always have the confidence in myself and the guys that we can do it. But sometimes younger guys, unless you've been here to do it, you are not really sure if it gets done as much as we talk about it."
Roethlisberger is doing all of this while adjusting to Todd Haley's new offense. He isn't chucking the ball downfield like he did under Bruce Arians. This offense is about short passes. It's about patience. It's about taking what the defense gives you.
Roethlisberger's average pass traveled 6.4 yards downfield on Sunday, his lowest such figure for a game since Week 8 of last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He was 19-for-27 for 176 yards when throwing the ball fewer than 10 yards down the field.
"It's a frustrating day when you get a great defense," Roethlisberger said, "because you want to do so much and there are plays you feel you've left out there."
The key is Roethlisberger didn't get frustrated. The Eagles were the ones who were frustrated. Philadelphia didn't sack Roethlisberger and couldn't get to him before he hit Brown for 20 yards for the key play on the winning drive.
"We had pressure," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "We had chances to get our hands on him. He’s a big, strong guy. You have to get him down once you get your hands on him. We knew that was an issue. That’s been an issue with every team that’s played him."
Roethlisberger has been the Steelers' one-man gang this year. Their run game was historically bad until Rashard Mendenhall's return Sunday. The defense lost one pass-rusher (LaMarr Woodley) in the same game that they got another one (James Harrison) back. And there's a possibility that safety Troy Polamalu could miss extended time after aggravating his right calf injury. It doesn't look like either Woodley or Polamalu will play Thursday at Tennessee.
The Steelers are sloppy on offense. They're banged-up on defense.
The Steelers aren't the Steelers right now. But luckily for them, Roethlisberger is still the same Roethlisberger.