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lamberts-lost-tooth
01-05-2008, 10:21 AM
The evolution of Big Ben
By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, January 5, 2008


Ben Roethlisberger remembers his first NFL playoff game.
Well, sort of.

"I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off," Roethlisberger said. "I had no idea what was going on."

The evolution from callow, caretaker quarterback to seasoned, self-assured signal caller should be apparent tonight when the Steelers host the Jaguars in an AFC wild-card game.

With Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker (broken leg) out for the rest of the season and the defense being more rumor than reality, lately, the Steelers will lean on their sturdy quarterback as they embark on what they hope is a lengthy postseason run.
After all, no Steeler has been a bigger playmaker than Roethlisberger this season.

"That's what a quarterback's supposed to be able to do," right guard Kendall Simmons said. "He's not supposed to be a guy that you just don't want to lose the game, you're supposed to look to him to make something happen, and when times get rough you know he's going to do whatever he can to make something happen."

Roethlisberger made stuff happen all season as he threw a Steelers-record 32 touchdown passes, finished with a passer rating (104.1) that was second only to Tom Brady in the NFL and was more elusive than a fugitive while continually escaping trouble behind a spotty offensive line.

The season that is arguably the best-ever by a Steelers quarterback has left no doubt that Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback, and he will likely be paid as such in the offseason when he and the Steelers work toward a long-term contract extension.

"I think just the whole year he's been handed the offense a little bit more to kind of put it more on his shoulders than vice versa," Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca said, "and I think that's the main difference going into the playoffs (than in past years)."

Roethlisberger admittedly winged it -- both figuratively and literally -- during his rookie season in 2004 when an injury to Tommy Maddox thrust him into the starting lineup.

He won all 13 games he started in the regular season but his inexperience caught up with him in the playoffs.

The Steelers beat the Jets, 20-17, in a divisional playoff game in spite of Roethlisberger, and they couldn't overcome the three interceptions he threw the following week in a 41-27 loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

"The first time I went through this you didn't know what to expect, you just thought it was another game," Roethlisberger said of the playoffs. "It's not just another game. Every mistake you make is magnified."

It probably seemed that way last season, as well.

A year after leading the Steelers on a stirring postseason run and becoming the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl, Roethlisberger threw the most interceptions (23) in the NFL.

Whatever mitigating circumstances led to his regression -- and the Steelers missing the playoffs -- Roethlisberger entered this season as something of a reclamation project.

First-year offensive coordinator Bruce Arians gave Roethlisberger an ownership stake in the offense -- the two work together in devising game plans and the fourth-year quarterback has veto power when it comes to plays he doesn't like -- and he has flourished.

He made the Pro Bowl, and, at 25, Roethlisberger's February trip to Hawaii may only be the first of many to come.

When asked if Roethlisberger has cracked the subset of elite NFL quarterbacks, wide receiver Hines Ward said, "I think he's there. He's proven, he had a great year, but I'll tell you (passing the football) is not our identity. Our identity is to run the ball, that's what we've been doing up to this point."

Indeed, the Steelers finished third in the NFL in rushing (135.5 yards per game). But without Parker, they have to rely on Najeh Davenport, who has never been a full-time starter in the NFL.

That could mean that the Steelers will go only as far as Roethlisberger's right arm takes them, especially if the defense continues to have trouble stopping the opposition.

"We throw the ball when we need to," said Roethlisberger, who threw for 3,154 yards and completed over 65 percent of his passes this season, "and we've proven we can win the game when we throw the ball."

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has to at least be comfortable about one thing heading into the playoffs: that the ball will be in Roethlisberger's hands in more ways than one.

"He has been big for us all year," Tomlin said.

And the Steelers need the 6-foot-5, 241-pounder to be bigger than ever if they want to challenge for a sixth Super Bowl title.

fansince'76
01-05-2008, 10:37 AM
Duplicate thread: http://forums.steelersfever.com/showthread.php?t=22761

Closing.