View Full Version : Ben There, Done That: Steelers Are Your New Favorites

01-12-2009, 11:01 PM
Ben There, Done That: Steelers Are Your New Favorites
Jay MariottiPosted Jan 12th 2009 1:11 AM by Jay Mariotti (author feed)
Filed Under: NFL

PITTSBURGH -- In another town, he might be considered erratic, reckless, maddening, foolhardy about his skull, a $102-million stuntman/rockhead. In another town, where quarterbacks are expected to be aerodynamic and prolific and not so piņata-like, Ben Roethlisberger might be stuck in a swirling, career-long controversy centered on whether he's too concussion-prone and turnover-ripe for reliable use.

But here in the 'Burgh? Come on, he's perfect for the place, like cole slaw and fries stuffed in your sandwich. He isn't always appetizing, and, Lord knows, he sometimes makes you reach for the Tums bottle. But more often than not, The Roethlisberger usually hits the spot, and the only issue is why an item in his honor isn't on the menu at the locally acclaimed Primanti Brothers dive.

Sunday was a day to appreciate all things Big Ben, even as we wonder if he's going to remember any of this when he's 65. Last we'd seen him, he was immobilized on a stretcher and carried away during the Steelers' final regular-season game, the victim of his third concussion in three years. This is the same daredevil who wasn't wearing a helmet when he wrecked his motorcycle in June 2006, the wandering risk-taker who has been sacked 46 times this season and almost 150 times the last three seasons. I've criticized him for believing he's superhuman and putting his health in jeopardy on and off the field. But eventually, you come to realize that Roethlisberger isn't going to change for anyone, as his former coach, Bill Cowher, and current coach, Mike Tomlin, will acknowledge. You learn to love Roethlisberger for what he is and concede, in the bigger picture, that the NFL doesn't have a tougher competitor, stronger leader or truer performer when games are being won and lost.

On a typically wicked winter's evening in western Pennsylvania, where fans bundle in black-and-gold garb and obediently sit like ice cubes in Heinz Field, a blue-collar QB arrived for work knowing that three home teams had lost in the NFL divisional round. Suddenly, winning a division title and having a bye week no longer was an advantage. The Giants, Titans and Panthers -- three so-called Super Bowl contenders -- had vanished over the weekend. Would the Steelers be next? Here's where Ben injected himself as keeper of the total team pulse.

"We talked about that,"' he said. "We said going in that every home team that had the bye had lost. We said, 'Let's be the one that turns that around.' We wanted to go out and play our best football, and I think we did that. We came out with fire and passion."

The heat was poured into a 35-24 pounding of the San Diego Chargers, a performance that temporarily quells concerns that the Steelers offense is too pass-oriented and one-dimensional. It was Roethlisberger who squeezed all life from the Chargers in the third quarter, when he directed an attack that controlled the ball for all but 17 seconds of the 15 minutes. "We shut up the critics," he said.

On a 77-yard drive, he hit 5 of 6 passes for 54 yards and a touchdown pass to Heath Miller. When asked about it, Big Ben grinned wide enough to pull the hair growth of his postseason Fu Manchu. "We like that. It was fun," he said. "We feel we can kind of take teams' hearts, and we felt we did that in the third quarter."

And all the while, on a day when he threw for 181 yards and committed no turnovers, Roethlisberger didn't once think about his sore noggin. During the bye week, he underwent a series of concussion tests and was cleared by the team neurosurgeon, Dr. Joe Maroon. I don't need to emphasize the dangers involved, with Mike Ditka and other crusaders trying to help former players who have been reduced to human vegetables. But if pro football is one's life, a repeat concussion victim such as Roethlisberger tends to compartmentalize the prospect of a serious head injury. Parents, don't let your babies grow up to be sitting-duck quarterbacks.

"You can't go out there and worry about things. If you go out there and play not to get hurt, that's usually when you get hurt," he said. "Dr. Maroon and the rest of the training staff did a great job all week of taking proper precautions and steps with me. They wouldn't have had me out there and I wouldn't have been out there if we weren't 100 percent sure I was OK."

"It was a non-issue for us," said Tomlin, the coach who has maintained the traditional franchise toughness instilled by Cowher and, in the dynasty days, Chuck Noll. "I have a great deal of belief in the medical team. They said it was fine. I didn't really think about it once today until you asked. Ben played well. He did a great job of leading us. We came out of the locker room in the second half and established a tone, and it starts with our quarterback and the big men up front."

It helped that the offensive line, uncharacteristically soft this season after losing All-Pro Alan Faneca to the New York Jets, protected Roethlisberger against a San Diego defense that isn't the same without injured Shawne Merriman doing "lights-out" dances. But next Sunday in the AFC title game, the Steelers host the man-eating defense of their hated rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Suddenly, Roethlisberger might want to reconsider his decision last week to forgo a helmet that offers better protection against concussions. When he returned to practice, he said he was dealing with headaches. His rationale was curious. "I had a little headache after putting my helmet on because it was so tight," he said. "We'll deal with it and move on."

I'm thinking Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs would like to ramp up the migraine quotient. But as well as the Ravens are playing, the Steelers should be favored at home because of their defense, which continues to play at a monstrously impressive level. "That defense is the real deal," said San Diego scatback Darren Sproles, who was limited to 15 yards on 11 carries and shrunk from 5-foot-6 to 5-3 while dealing with James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Troy Polamalu and the boys. The trick is whether the Steelers offense can muster enough points to support a world-class defense. As long as Willie Parker is running the football with abandon, as he did Sunday, the Steelers will be favored to win their second Super Bowl in four years.

On a wet track, he rumbled for 146 yards and two touchdowns. This came after Parker, frustrated by injuries and an emphasis on Roethlisberger in the offense, lashed out last week. "If I was on the defensive side of the ball, I wouldn't respect the running game because we haven't been that successful this year," Parker said. "We've never been viewed as one-dimensional -- we have, but it was a running team. If you look at it now, we're not a running team no more. Are we a passing team? You could say we're a passing team."

As the quarterback knows, the Steelers won't win a championship unless they mix the run and pass to augment the defense. "Willie did a great job," Roethlisberger said. "I tell him this all the time: Trust yourself and believe in yourself. He's too good a running back to be questioning himself: 'Should I bounce it outside or put it up in the hole.' I said, 'Willie, you trust yourself.' "

And they wonder why Ben makes $102 million. "We've got a special group. Today, we talked about being a band of brothers," he went on.

"The offense picks up the defense, the defense picks up the offense, and the special teams picks up both. Nothing can come between us. We're a real close group, we want to play for each other, and I think it's special."

Certainly, the featured back has returned to the fold. "I was just frustrated because of the injuries. It's not about who 'the man' is or isn't," said Parker, who also was encouraged by the Steelers legend who preceded him at the position, Jerome Bettis. "I'm just trying to help this team and offense to victory. This year, it is more on my shoulders than it was in 2005 (the Super Bowl title season). Back then, I could kind of relax a little because (Bettis) was taking more of the carries, but this year, it's all about me."

Actually, it's always going to be about No. 7. You like him in the matchup against the Baltimore rookie, Joe Flacco, for a few reasons.

01-12-2009, 11:01 PM
One, he's 30-10 at Heinz Field. Two, he's 6-2 in the postseason with a passer rating near 100. Three, he has won a Super Bowl. Ben is smart enough to manage and lead and let the defense plunder. Occasionally, he'll throw a block, as he did on a big gainer by gamebreaker Santonio Holmes, and he'll even pooch a punt if necessary. "I just kicked it down there and hoped they didn't return it," he said of his 25-yard quick kick.

The issue now, along with brawls on the field and in the stands, is whether the Steelers can beat the despised Ravens three times in a season. Isn't that supposed to be a football impossibility? "I personally don't subscribe to that hocus-pocus," Tomlin said.

Roethlisberger knows this isn't a week to talk about bounties and cheap shots. Too much is at stake, for the Steelers and a town that revolves around its pro football romance like few others. "To play a team for a third time with the kind of hard rivalry we have with them -- it's gonna be one for the ages," he said.

Until the first Baltimore defender raps him across the helmet, of course. Then, the ongoing saga of Ben Roethlisberger's cranium continues, in a city that keeps looking at him and seeing itself.

Jay Mariotti is a national columnist and commentator for AOL Sports. He is a daily panelist on ESPN's sports-debate show, "Around The Horn," seen Monday through Friday at 5 p.m. ET. Mariotti spent 17 years as a lead sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and has covered every major sporting event -- national and worldwide -- on multiple occasions.

01-13-2009, 07:21 AM
The issue now, along with brawls on the field and in the stands, is whether the Steelers can beat the despised Ravens three times in a season. Isn't that supposed to be a football impossibility? "I personally don't subscribe to that hocus-pocus," Tomlin said.

First of all, great articles and thanks for posting them Mesa. Secondly, why does this have to be the theme this week. I am sick and tired of hearing about it's almost impossible to beat the same team 3 times in 1 year. We have done a lot of great things this season and that will continue on Sunday. This game will be on Ben and the defense again and if FWP can run at all that greatly improves our odds of winning.

01-13-2009, 08:29 AM
"New" favorites? Ride someone else's d*ck, media.

01-13-2009, 12:29 PM
This kind of "team first" mentality is exactly what we rode into Super Bowl 40.

I like what I'm hearing...

Steely McSmash
01-13-2009, 12:44 PM
Jaty Mariotti is a hack. There are a couple of nicely turned phrases in there along with a bunch of irrelevant horseSh&t.

Is he implying that a lesser quarterback would be thinking about having a concussion while playing the game? what a moron.

What's with the pot-shots at Primanti Bros?

Of course the city loves Ben, and we all saw the Steelers beat the snot out of the chargers. I just don't see the point of this article.