Roethlisberger on cusp of Steelers’ yard mark
By Mark Kaboly
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 11:18 p.m.
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012
No matter the competition, Ben Roethlisberger wants to win.
Whether it is a double-elimination shuffleboard tournament, a makeshift game of basketball with balled-up tape and a garbage can inside the Steelers locker room or 18 holes of golf, Roethlisberger is intent on coming out on top.
He has to win.
“Ever since I've know Ben, it has been about winning,” quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner said.
There is no other option to Roethlisberger.
“When it comes to winning, it's black and white to him,” teammate Willie Colon said. “To him, winning is the only stat.”
So it came as no surprise that Roethlisberger said he had no idea he is a 287-yard passing game away from surpassing Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw's 27,989 yardage mark and becoming the franchise's all-time passing leader.
The only number Roethlisberger concerns himself with is four, as in the Super Bowl championships Bradshaw won.
“To pass a great like that is an awesome honor,” Roethlisberger said. “But he has the championships, and that's what I have always based my play on. My goal from the day I came in here was to get more championships than anybody out there.”
Roethlisberger still has a way to go.
Bradshaw is one of two quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls — Joe Montana is the other — and he did it within his first 119 games started.
Roethlisberger is in select company with his two titles, but another would put him among the likes of Troy Aikman and Tom Brady as quarterbacks with three.
“He is doing some things on the field now that I wasn't able to do,” Aikman said. “I have been very impressed with how he is playing.”
Roethlisberger always has found ways to win, whether in college or the pros. It's a trait veteran Eagles coach Andy Reid, who coached Brett Favre in Green Bay for two years, said great quarterbacks are born with.
“(Winners) do more than just play the position,” Reid said. “They present a certain confidence to your whole football team. They are going to get the job done.”
Statistically, Roethlisberger is having his best season of his career.
He is on pace to set a Steelers all-time single-season passing record with 4,496 yards and personal-bests of 36 touchdowns, 416 completions, 632 attempts and a 102.9 passer rating while throwing a mere four interceptions.
“I remember saying last year that was the best I have ever seen him play,” backup quarterback Byron Leftwich said. “I was wrong. The average person really doesn't realize how good he has been this year.”
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been impressed as well.
“Some of the little and newer things that he hadn't done in a while, the quick throws and things like that, he's been excellent at,” Haley said. “He's also been really good at keeping plays alive when we've needed it. The key with him is just to keep getting better and keep working.”
What has set Roethlisberger apart has been how he has converted third downs.
He leads the league in third-down passing, completing almost 71 percent of his passes for 424 yards and a passer rating of 132.6. Steve Young holds the single-season mark, completing 74.1 percent of his third-down passes in 1994.
“Ben has always been accurate,” Fichtner said, “but he's taken it to another level.”
The Steelers' 53.2 percent third-down conversion rate leads the NFL.
“Third downs are important to me because they keep drives going,” Roethlisberger said. “I want to be great on third downs because it keeps our defense off the field. It kind of demoralizes the defense.”
Changing the perception
Roethlisberger seemingly always will fight for consideration to be mentioned among the elite quarterbacks such as Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
“In my mind, there are two different ways to look at a quarterback: wins and production,” said former defensive back and current NFL Network analyst Darren Sharper. “As far as winning, I will always put him up there in the top with Brady, (Peyton) Manning and Brees. As for as stats, he is right behind them. He is not going to be a guy who throws for 4,000 or 5,000 yards every year.”
Aikman had that same perception until the final drive of Super Bowl XLIII, when Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 78 yards and hit Santonio Holmes with the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left.
From then on, Aikman has viewed Roethlisberger as elite.
“Maybe early on people viewed Ben differently, but I don't think that is the case anymore,” Aikman said.
Roethlisberger has thrived in pressure situations. He has 21 fourth-quarter comebacks and 27 game-winning drives in his career. Bradshaw had 19 and 27, respectively. For comparison's sake, Rodgers has four fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives in his five seasons as a starter.
“Ben is a highly respected guy around this league, and I don't think he is looked upon as someone who just wins,” Aikman said. “If he continues to do the things he is doing, he can be a Hall of Fame player.”
Take your pick
So who is better: Roethlisberger or Bradshaw?
Different eras prevent that from being answered.
Bradshaw played during a time when passing wasn't as prevalent as it is today.
“You can't do it,” said Fichtner, whose father, Ross, played for Cleveland in the 1960s. “I try to do it with my dad, and my dad gives me all the stuff because he played back when Dick LeBeau played. You can't do it.”
In the same amount of starts, Roethlisberger has 600 more attempts, 800 more completions and 8,000 more yards than Bradshaw.
“Times are different as far as what offenses are doing,” Aikman said. “I wouldn't so much compare them rather than say, ‘Wow, this is really a fortunate time for the Steelers.' ”
Fichtner feels that way, too.
“If we are talking about Terry Bradshaw and Ben in the same sentence,” Fichtner said, “then Ben is doing the right things.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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