Kovacevic: Where's Ben going? Try 97 yards
There are countless ways to confirm information for a news outlet in this Information Age. A reporter can phone, text, tweet, email, even send one of those little Facebook message bubbles. In a quarter-century of doing this, I've used all those and then some.
But when it's something significant, where an issue of trust is at hand, I prefer the eye test.
It isn't infallible, of course, but it's still best.
So shortly after the Steelers' seriously uplifting 37-27 rally past the Lions on Sunday, I made it an unfortunate priority to seek out the only two men equipped to address this weeklong stream of NFL Network reports questioning both the team's willingness to keep Ben Roethlisberger and Roethlisberger's desire to stay.
To repeat for emphasis: There are only two men who can decide this matter, now and into the future. Kevin Colbert can't do it. Mike Tomlin can't do it. Roethlisberger's agent can't do it. Just these two.
This was Art Rooney II's two-word response: “It's ridiculous.”
He bit off each syllable as angrily as you'll ever see from a Rooney.
This was Roethlisberger's response when I brought it up away from the pack: “There's no truth to this. I mean none. On a scale of 1 to 10, it's like a minus-1 million. It's crazy, honestly.”
So, let's add it up: We have the man running the franchise issuing a firm rejection of NFL Network reports during the first quarter of last week's game, which was striking enough, then restating it with emphasis Sunday. We also have the franchise quarterback rebutting the information in every way imaginable, then restating it with emphasis Sunday.
Remind me again: What exactly is this controversy that's consumed our sporting consciousness for a week now?
I neither know nor care who the unnamed source is for the reports, though I get that it makes for bodacious social media and talk-show fun. And I don't care for the simple reason that none of this matters if neither source is Rooney or Roethlisberger.
I'm here to tell you, they aren't it.
I'm also here to tell you that if you think either man will reverse course on this at some point, you'll be wrong.
I really believe that.
If you want to know where Ben's going, the best answer might be 97 yards.
As if to bolster the point that this team and this player belong together, Roethlisberger turned in an inspired performance to beat the Lions: He was 29 of 45 for 367 yards and four touchdowns, the third of which was a deft fullback fade to Will Johnson to cap a 16-play, 97-yard drive for a 30-27 lead.
Roethlisberger wasn't taking credit for it — “I think our preparation was good for everybody,” was as much as he'd offer — but listen to the word from the huddle while the Steelers were still shadowed by their own goal posts.
“Ben was the guy,” Kelvin Beachum recalled. “He just kept it simple for us, told us not to look the whole way down the field, just keep getting first downs.”
“Seven is seven,” Antonio Brown said. “He's always rallying the troops.”
“A lot of credit goes to our quarterback,” Heath Miller said. “He put us on his back, called a great game. We were in no-huddle most of the day.”
Oh, yeah, that.
Remember when the little old playbook was the controversy around here?
Well, the Steelers aren't about to clue in opponents as to how their offense works, so Tomlin and Roethlisberger were coy on who exactly was making the calls, whether that was happening at the line or coming from Todd Haley. But Miller said it was all Roethlisberger, especially on that last drive.
It was a healthy outcome, every bit of it, even if about half the fans began leaving as early as halftime: Roethlisberger's close to his peak. Miller looks like himself. Brown out-Megatron-ed Calvin Johnson. And the defense … eh, let's pass on that for now.
Bottom line is that the same team Roethlisberger candidly and correctly called “maybe the worst in the NFL” after 0-4 in London is now 4-6 and a single game back of the AFC's second wild-card berth.
Almost as crazy as NFL Network coming back with even more stuff from reporter Ian Rapaport in the hours before kickoff Sunday, these citing Roethlisberger's main concerns in wanting to leave Pittsburgh as money and losing.
“False and false,” Roethlisberger shot back. “Did Ian do that one? Surprise, surprise.”