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Old 11-05-2006, 12:17 AM   #1
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Default Cook: Cowher knows that benching Roethlisberger would be wrong

Cook: Cowher knows that benching Roethlisberger would be wrong
Sunday, November 05, 2006

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Please, tell me, why all the fuss?

If ever there were a time for a team to make a major position change, it's today for the Steelers when they play the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field.

They have to go to the backup after what happened in Oakland last week.

Kendall Simmons has to play right guard for Chris Kemoeatu.

Don't tell me you're disappointed.

Not because you'll be wearing Kemoeatu's No. 68 jersey to the game. (They make those, don't they?). Because you expected a Charlie Batch-for-Ben Roethlisberger suggestion.

Do you think I'm crazy?

Then again, 46 percent of the respondents to a highly scientific Post-Gazette poll last week think Batch should play instead of Big Ben. That leads me to just one very sad conclusion: This city has more than its fair share of insane football fans.

That has nothing to do with Batch, a superb backup quarterback and an even better person. It has everything to do with Roethlisberger.

Look at it this way:

Would you bench Dan Marino?

How about John Elway?

That isn't to suggest Roethlisberger has reached Hall of Fame status yet, although his one Super Bowl win is one more than the great Marino had. It's just to suggest there's a good chance Big Ben will get to that level one day.

You show a little more patience with that guy.

No, you don't give him a career pass.

But you don't give up on him after one four-interception day in Oakland, either.

It's also still too soon to start thinking about yanking Roethlisberger out of games. The people who were screaming for Batch to play in Oakland must have missed what Roethlisberger did after he threw that fourth interception. On the next drive, he completed five of five passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. On the drive after that, he completed three of three for 38 yards to put the Steelers within 1 yard of a tying touchdown.

That's why Steelers coach Bill Cowher was right not to pull Roethlisberger. That's what Big Ben can do. That's also why there's no need today to put Roethlisberger on a "short leash," a term that came up at Cowher's press conference Tuesday. I don't care if the guy throws five interceptions against the Broncos. If you start pulling him out of games at this point of his career, you could lose a lot more than one game. You risk losing your future.

Cowher knows that. That's probably why he was so terse Tuesday when asked about Roethlisberger's poor performance in Oakland. There are no more sensitive issues for any coach than those involving his quarterback. The guess here is Cowher wasn't offended by being asked if he thought about benching Roethlisberger in Oakland. And he wasn't offended by the "short leash" query even if a leash is what you put on a dog, not a human being. He merely realized he had absolutely nothing to gain by being expansive.

Cowher's to-the-point, "No," and the glare that followed might not have done much for the assembled media or those watching at home on television. But it had to mean the world to Roethlisberger.

Cowher has his back.

That loyalty is justified, not just because Roethlisberger was the guy who finally gave Cowher his Super Bowl, but because he came back from his horrific motorcycle accident June 12 to make the start of training camp, came back from his emergency appendectomy Sept. 3 to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars 15 days later and came back from his concussion in Atlanta Oct. 22 to play the next week in Oakland. He is a gamer who wants to be there for his coaches, his teammates and -- yes -- the fans. Even those who vote against him in silly polls.

That loyalty, it says here, also will pay big dividends for Cowher, probably as soon as this afternoon. Chances are Roethlisberger will look at lot more like the quarterback who beat the Broncos in the AFC championship game last season than the one who threw those interceptions in Oakland. In case you've forgotten, he completed 21 of 29 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns on that wonderful January day in Denver, the Steelers' final stop before Super Bowl XL.

That's the way it went earlier this season when Roethlisberger came off three consecutive sub-par performances, the third of which -- a loss in San Diego -- prompted initial whispers about Cowher possibly turning to Batch. "I feel like I'm letting the team down," he said after throwing two interceptions against the Chargers. "I know I can play better. I know I will."

Roethlisberger completed 16 of 19 for 238 yards and two touchdowns the next week in a victory against the Kansas City Chiefs. He completed 16 of 22 for 238 yards and three touchdowns the week after that in Atlanta before his concussion.

The point, you ask?

A good man doesn't stay down for long.

Not as long as he isn't benched, anyway.

That loyalty, it says here, also will pay big dividends for Cowher, probably as soon as this afternoon.

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