Ben Roethlisberger did not formally retire following the Steelers' 42-21 loss to the Chiefs in Sunday night's AFC wild card round. But the 18-year veteran all but confirmed that he has played his final down as Pittsburgh's quarterback.
A somber Roethlisberger spoke openly about his career shortly after completing his 272nd NFL game and 23rd playoff game. Roethlisberger threw for 215 yards and two touchdowns in what was likely the final game of his sure-fire Hall of Fame career.
"It's tough, but I'm proud to play with these guys," Roethlisberger said of the 2021 Steelers, who had to win their last two games just to make the playoffs as the seventh seed. "God has blessed me with the ability to throw a football and has blessed me to play in the greatest city, in Pittsburgh, with the greatest fans and the greatest football team and players. It has just truly been a blessing. I'm so thankful to him for giving me this opportunity."
Roethlisberger said that he was meant to play for the Steelers after 10 other teams -- most notably the AFC North rival Cleveland Browns -- passed on him in the 2004 NFL Draft. He fought back emotion while mentioning late Steelers president/owner Dan Rooney, who made sure the Steelers didn't pass on Roethlisberger when he was available in the '04 draft.
"I'm just so thankful. I hope that I've been able to pass the legacy of what it is to be a Steeler. From Dan Rooney. We all miss him. Anyone that knew him misses him. Hopefully I can pass some of that on to some of the guys and the tradition of what it means to be a Steeler can be passed down. ... We've got some guys in there that will continue to do that. Gave Cam [Heyward] a big hug and told him it's on him now. It's his job to pass it down and to keep teaching and holding guys to the Pittsburgh standard."
Roethlisberger's impending retirement comes as no surprise. Reports surfaced prior to Pittsburgh's Week 13 win over Baltimore that Roethlisberger had begun telling former coaches and teammates that he planned to retire at the end of the season. Roethlisberger acknowledged that Pittsburgh's Week 17 win over Cleveland was likely going to be his final home game. Any remaining questions that this was Roethlisberger's final season were extinguished when Roethlisberger left Heinz Field in Week 17 with the words "Thank You Ben" posted on the Jumbotron.
Pittsburgh's rocky finish to the 2020 season was one of the reasons why Roethlisberger decided to come back for one last season. Few could have seen Roethlisberger's 2021 season ending on a much better note after the Steelers' 1-3 start. The Steelers were able to right the ship with a four-game winning streak that included a comeback win in Cleveland in Week 8.
A blowout loss against the Chiefs in Week 16 set the stage for a dramatic end to Roethlisberger's regular-season career. Needing two wins -- and outside help -- to make the playoffs, the Steelers defeated the Browns in Roethlisberger's last home game. In Baltimore the following week, the Steelers won in overtime following Roethlisberger's seventh game-winning drive of the season, an NFL best. Pittsburgh later clinched its 12th playoff berth with Roethlisberger at quarterback following the Raiders' overtime win over the Chargers.
The last-remaining quarterback from the fabled 2004 draft class, Roethlisberger threw for 3,740 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (while completing 64.5% of his passes) in his final regular season. He enjoyed a successful partnership with receiver Diontae Johnson (1,161 yards and eight touchdowns) and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth (seven touchdowns on 60 receptions). Roethlisberger was aided by rookie running back Najee Harris, who broke Le'Veon Bell's and Franco Harris' rookie franchise records.
Roethlisberger's 249 regular-season games are the most of any player in Steelers history. He went 165-81-1 in the regular season while compiling the fifth-most regular-season wins in league history. Roethlisberger is fifth all time with 64,088 passing yards and eighth with 418 touchdown passes. Against the Chiefs, Roethlisberger moved past Joe Montana and Brett Favre for third all time in postseason passing yards.
Roethlisberger has always said that wins are the only statistic that mattered to him. He is just one of 11 starting quarterbacks in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowls. The youngest starting quarterback in history to win the Super Bowl, Roethlisberger also holds the record for the most wins by a rookie quarterbacks (13). In winning Super Bowl XL, Roethlisberger and the Steelers became the first team to win three road games en route to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Along with his game-saving tackle in Pittsburgh's 2005 playoff win over the Colts, Roethlisberger's most enduring NFL moment came in Super Bowl XLIII. Trailing late in the game, Roethlisberger led a game-winning drive that was punctuated by his touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes, as Pittsburgh became the first franchise to win six Super Bowls.
During his 18 seasons, only Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and Tom Brady won as many or more Super Bowls as a starting quarterback. Brady and Peyton Manning were the only other quarterbacks to make at least three Super Bowl starts.
While the 2021 season did not end with another Super Bowl run, Roethlisberger expressed gratitude for what he and his teammates were able to accomplish this season.
"Just a bunch of guys that fought for each other, that fought their butts off and just competed," he said of the '21 Steelers. "Wasn't always pretty, but there were a lot of games that we found a way. Just like tonight, fought to the end. I'm so proud of this group of men and the way they fight for each other, for the black and gold, for our fans. It's just been an honor to play with them."