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In huge games, think big ... Big Ben

by | Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback people love, but when it comes to big games Ben Roethlisberger is the quarterback they should trust.

You heard me. Love Rodgers; trust Roethlisberger. With Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers headed to the mother of all big games -- their third Super Bowl in six seasons -- I want a seat on the Big Ben Bandwagon.

The reason: He doesn't lose. Yep, simple as that. He's 2-0 in Super Bowls, and I don't give a rip that his defense carried him the first time. It doesn't matter. He won. Everyone else lost. End of story.

Roethlisberger is one of the most reliable playoff quarterbacks out there, and Sunday's 24-19 defeat of the New York Jets was more evidence. He didn't produce big numbers; he just produced big plays, and isn't that how it usually works? He converted that third-and-19 pass last weekend against Baltimore. He made the last-minute TD pass to Santonio Holmes in Super Bowl XLII. Now this.

I take you back to Pittsburgh's last series, with the Steelers desperate to close out a suddenly revitalized Jets club in the midst of a 19-point run. Nearly three minutes remained, and the Jets had three timeouts -- which, naturally, meant Pittsburgh had to gain at least one first down, maybe two.

So now the question: How? I mean, if you throw the ball you risk an incompletion, killing the clock and cutting your opponent a break. But if you play it safe, you force the Jets to use timeouts -- and with New York stacked against the run you may not gain the necessary yards.

So the Steelers did what they always do: They put their faith in Roethlisberger. On a critical second-and-9, he rolled right and threw a strike to tight end Heath Miller. Then, three plays later, on third-and-6 he rolled right again, scrambled toward the sidelines and launched a hurried pass in what appeared to be an attempt to get rid of the ball to avoid a sack.

Only he completed the pass. And he completed it to rookie Antonio Brown, the same guy who burned Baltimore for that 58-yard bomb last weekend. Afterward, Jets coach Rex Ryan said he was "shocked" the Steelers didn't run -- calling them "gutsy plays" -- but that's not how the Steelers and their quarterback operate.

"We weren't going to play not to lose," winning coach Mike Tomlin said.

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OK, I get that. But I get it more when I see who's quarterbacking the Steelers. It's Big Play Ben, and this is his time of the year. He's not always sharp, and, yeah, he can make mistakes, but not when it's crunch time -- which is why the Pittsburgh Steelers are the toughest of all outs. Once it was New England, but the Patriots lost their last three playoff appearances. Now it's Pittsburgh. The Steelers are on a five-game playoff roll, and I suggest it's not just because of that suffocating defense; it's because they have a quarterback who knows what to do and how to do it when he gets this far.

Let the record show that Roethlisberger is 10-2 in playoff games and 5-1 in conference championships and Super Bowls, and that tells me one thing: I want him on my side. Look, I don't want to get into a debate of what happened to Roethlisberger last offseason or why anyone should wear his jersey or anything like that. I'm just saying that when a game begins, and that game involves a ring, I'll choose Roethlisberger.

Because I know I probably won't lose.

"Ben matters," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "He does things unorthodox, and a lot of people call it backyard football. But he's a great quarterback. You have to tip your hat to our defense, too. They're the reason we're here. Ben's going to get the credit because he's a quarterback, but he's a helluva quarterback because he's a winner.

"What do you judge quarterbacks on? Wins and losses. I don't know why he's not compared to others [like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning]. A passer rating is just a stat. The main stat in our business is wins and losses and Super Bowls.

"He's a winner, and that's what I love about him. I wouldn't trade him for anyone. I know I have a chance to win almost every game I'm in because of him being in there. And we know we have a great chance to win ballgames because of the plays he makes.

"For all the people out there who say he's not this or he's not that, you can't knock his record. You can't knock what he's done or his win percentage. We love him here in Pittsburgh. He's a winner, and I'm glad we have him."

Roethlisberger wasn't accurate with some of his passes, had two interceptions and fumbled a snap in the end zone. But look what happens when a game's outcome is in doubt and time is an issue. Look what happens when the Steelers absolutely, positively must make a play.

He makes it.

He made it last week on the Steelers' game-winning drive. In fact, he made it twice, with two third-down conversions. And he made it again Sunday, with two passes that won't win style points but won an AFC championship instead.

"I expect for [the coaching staff to let me throw] and hope for them to do that," he said. "I want the football in my hands to try and make a play late. Really, my job is only a small part of what we have to do. The line has to block. I just have to throw the ball. Those guys catch it." Grades
New York Jets
New York Jets
The Jets got off to anemic start on both offense and defense and were never able to make up for it. The defense's poor tackling created way too many opportunities for the Steelers. The offense's lack of third-down conversions also killed their chance to build momentum. It was a different team that came out in the second half, but it was too late.
By Lisa Zimmerman
RapidReports Correspondent

Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers played a perfect first half but got complacent in the second half and almost lost the game. The offensive line had one of their best games of the season, the defense was tough, and Rashard Mendenhall ran for 121 yards against a tough Jets defense.
By Brian Carson
RapidReports Correspondent

Sounds simple. And with Roethlisberger it is.

"He's a special player," Miller said. "He does it time and time again for us. He has to be mentioned with the top quarterbacks in the league."

Only he's usually not. It's Brady and Manning at the top, followed by Drew Brees and Philip Rivers and, now, Aaron Rodgers. But Manning and Brees have two Super Bowls between them. Roethlisberger is looking for his third, which -- if he makes it -- ties him with Brady. That should tell you something, and what it tells me is that when I need someone I can trust I turn to Roethlisberger.

Yeah, I know, the Steelers buried the Jets with a first-half rushing attack that featured Rashard Mendenhall, but look who was right there with him. Uh-huh, that man Roethlisberger. On the Steelers' opening drive he led his team on a 16-play march that consumed over nine minutes -- with the Steelers converting three third downs. None was more difficult than a third-and-12 at the Jets' 25, with Roethlisberger flushing the pocket, scrambling up the middle and not stopping until he covered 13 yards.

He ran for two other first downs and produced a touchdown on a third scramble -- and he did it behind a backup center the last 3½ quarters. In short, he made the plays that needed to be made, which is why Roethlisberger is the quarterback you should trust two weeks from now. He's not as popular as Rodgers, nor does he have the passer rating or the yards passing the Green Bay quarterback does.

But he has the rings.

The Jets beat Manning in Indianapolis. They beat Brady in New England. But they couldn't beat Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Draw your own conclusions. I already have.

"People can say what they want," Ward said. "The guy won two Super Bowls, has a chance to win three and played in four AFC Championship Games. What more do you want out of your quarterback? You look at his win percentage, and he's right up there with Brady. I don't see why he shouldn't be mentioned right up there.

"I don't think Ben needs to have that recognition. He knows what he means to our team. We know. And I think our organization knows what he means which is why it gave him the big contract. He had some off-the-field issues, but he did some time, came back and he's a changed man. And he's still playing some good football."

No, he's still playing some great football, which is why I trust Ben Roethlisberger now more than ever.


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