As a young player, Ben Roethlisberger stated that his career goal was to at least match Terry Bradshaw's tally of four Super Bowl victories as the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting quarterback. And while he has been stuck on two Super Bowl wins for a dozen years, Big Ben has not compromised the lofty goal he set for himself many years ago. Roethlisberger, during a virtual meeting with the media on Tuesday, explained his primary motivation for wanting to resume his career after undergoing elbow surgery last September. While the desire to go out on his own terms was part of the reason, the hunger to pursue more championships was the biggest factor in Big Ben deciding to come back for his 17th season.
"I think any athlete, any competitor, will tell you they want to go out on their own terms," said Roethlisberger, who is under contract through the 2021 season. "And it doesn't happen all the time. We don't always get that lucky … I think if I had felt that I was closer to the end, it might have been a decision for me to think longer about coming back or not. But I didn't feel that I was close to that. I'm not saying that I have 10 years left in me, but I definitely feel that I have some really good years left in me. That was definitely a motivating factor; coming back and showing that I still have it in the tank. I still have a lot to give this team. I still have a lot to give the fans. And I still want to win Lombardis, and I say that with a plural on the end."
Roethlisberger's impressive offseason supports his goals. Along with his rehab from surgery, Roethlisberger has maintained a rugged workout regiment that he says has put him at his lightest weight in over a decade. He also has been throwing more this offseason than he typically does, which is why he said he was not surprised when his arm felt good a day after throwing a slew of passes during the team's first training camp practice. And while he knows that he can't run around as he did in his early 20s, Big Ben agrees with general manager Kevin Colbert's previous comments about Roethlisberger possibly being a better version of himself following surgery.
"I do think that I can be better than I've been in the past," said Roethlisberger, who also said that observing the action on the sideline last season should also pay dividends moving forward. "Not dealing with a nagging elbow is definitely something. To feel healthy, to feel more in shape, things like that [help]. Obviously, you can't turn back Father Time and feel like I'm 21 and run all over the field, but I think you can go on the field, even at an older age, and still feel really good, and I feel that way right now."
Along with the work he's put in, Roethlisberger is encouraged by the Steelers' offseason additions of receivers coach Ike Hilliard and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada. Big Ben said the new coaches will be able to help communicate more ideas that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner can integrate into the offense. In terms of personnel, Roethlisberger said that the addition of former Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron can make the Steelers' offense more versatile, specifically when Pittsburgh has Ebron and fellow tight end Vance McDonald on the field at the same time.
"I think having both those guys, as playmakers on the field at the same time, can create some matchup problems for the defense," Roethlisberger said. "You kind of can dictate what the defense does or gives you in terms of personnel. If they want to match up, then you can throw the ball. If they want to put in smaller personnel to stop the pass, then you can run the ball.
"Having two kind of dynamic weapons like that can still give you a lot in the run game. I think people sometimes get this perception that, 'OK, you've got two skilled receivers, you're going to use them just to pass.' I know Vance very well, and spending time with Eric the last few months, they don't want to be lumped into the bubble of just being receiving tight ends. They want to do whatever it takes; to block, to put their nose in the pile and things like that. That's encouraging … I think we can utilize those guys on multiple fronts in terms of helping this offense."
While the Steelers are typically a trendy pick to win the AFC North while possibly representing the AFC in the Super Bowl, they currently have just the seventh-best odds at coming out of the AFC this season, according to William Hill Sports Book. The Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions, have the best odds at making it back to the Super Bowl, while the Ravens, the Steelers' longtime AFC North rival, have the second-best odds at representing the AFC in Super Bowl LV. When asked about trying to keep pace with both teams, Roethlisberger said that the goal is to do "whatever it takes" to win, even if that means handing the ball off 50 times an outing.
Along with having a 38-year-old quarterback coming back from a serious injury, consecutive non-playoff seasons are likely the main reason why the Steelers are not a trendy Super Bowl pick. The Steelers also still have questions at the skill positions, with JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner coming off injury-marred 2019 campaigns. That being said, the fact that the Steelers managed to win eight games without Roethlisberger last season, should give Pittsburgh fans optimism entering 2020.
The emergence of Pittsburgh's defense last season after acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick was certainly not lost on Roethlisberger, who won two Super Bowls earlier in his career with the support of dominant defensive units. The Steelers also gave Big Ben more offensive weapons this offseason, signing Ebron while also spending a second-round pick on former Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool. They also signed veteran offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, a starter on Philadelphia and Kansas City's Super Bowl-winning teams. The also drafted lineman Kevin Dotson and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. to give them some added depth.
As it relates to being an underdog, Big Ben has no issues with that. He is the first starting quarterback, after all, to win the Super Bowl as a No. 6 seed. As long as he gets one ring closer to Bradshaw, that's all that matters to him.
"I think [being an underdog] it's fun," Roethlisberger said. "I know a lot of guys like being on top, being hunted. But sometimes it's fun to be the underdog, and to be overlooked. We do have a great defense, and that was one of the big reasons why I was excited to come back, to play with a group like that; they let you be more free as a quarterback. Obviously, my linemen and all the skill guys we have. It's OK, we can be overlooked. It's the offseason. No one knows what this season is going to hold or entail. We're going to go out there and give it every we can to try to win the football game."