The Steelers' four-game winning streak has quieted some of the criticism surrounding Ben Roethlisberger. The narrative has shifted from this unquestionably being Roethlisberger's last season to the possibility of Roethlisberger returning for a 19th season in 2022.
While it is not always pretty, Roethlisberger is finding ways to help the Steelers win. In Monday night's win over the Bears, Roethlisberger submitted his 50th career game-winning drive. It was his fourth game-winning drive of the 2021 season, an NFL best. And after a 1-3 start, Roethlisberger and the Steelers are 5-3 and right in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race.
"I wouldn't make the assumption that it's his last year," CBS Sports NFL analyst Charles Davis said of Roethlisberger. "I don't think he's the issue that people want to make it out to be. In a lot of ways, he's the glue holding them together."
Davis points to the Steelers' season-opening win over the Bills when detailing Roethlisberger's impact. With a slew of new faces on offense that included four rookies and three new starters on the offensive line, the Steelers' offense fell on Roethlisberger's shoulders. After not scoring a point in the first half, Roethlisberger led the Steelers on four second half scoring drives that included his go-ahead touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson.
"They played that entire second half through Ben Roethlisberger," Davis said, "and he carried them home -- with the defense -- that day."
Speaking of defense, Davis likes what he is seeing from Pittsburgh on that side of the ball. He touted Cam Heyward as one of the league's most underrated players. Davis also mentioned T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick as key members of a unit that is eight in the NFL in scoring, eight in third-down efficiency and fourth in red zone efficiency.
The defense has been complemented by an offense that has gotten vastly better play from its quarterback. Roethlisberger has a cumulative passer rating of 106.3 over the past four games after having a rating of 80 during Pittsburgh's 1-3 start. Roethlisberger has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions during their four-game winning streak after throwing as many touchdowns (four) as interceptions thrown during the season's first month.
Several things have changed over the past four games. Pittsburgh has emphasized a more balanced offensive attack that has led to Roethlisberger throwing over 40 fewer passes over the past month than he did during the season's first four games. The passing pecking order is more defined, led by Johnson and Chase Claypool. Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth has emerged as a potent weapon in Pittsburgh's offense. Fellow rookie Najee Harris has made the impact the Steelers hoped he would when they made him the first running back selected in the draft. Harris has continued to gain traction with Pittsburgh's still-developing offensive line.
Put it all together, and you have a Steelers team that can pass Baltimore and into first place in the AFC North with a win Sunday over the winless Lions. If the Steelers can navigate through a tough schedule down the stretch, Davis can certainly see a scenario where Roethlisberger is back under center in Pittsburgh in 2022.
"His play is not the issue," Davis said. "They are continuing to get better running it. That offensive line is getting better at what they do. ... This team is getting better. I said in preseason that I thought they would be a strong playoff contender. People went away from them; I never shied away from it. I just never thought that they would ever go away."
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