Motivated quarterback Roethlisberger fights to prop up Steelers
The Steelers know all about Ben Roethlisberger, the Super Bowl version. Big-play Ben. No-play-is-truly-over Ben. Ben in the no-huddle offense, calling his own plays, seemingly making everything around him work.
But this is below-.500 Ben, and it's obvious he hates it. For the first time in his 10-year career, Roethlisberger figures to end a season as a loser.
As his former coach, Bill Cowher, said: “He is a competitor. Put him in the fourth quarter, and I will take that quarterback over anybody in the league.”
The trouble is the Steelers (5-8) were a play or two away from winning in the fourth quarter five times this season, and they won only once. Over the past two seasons, that record is 2-9. As a starter, Roethlisberger is 12-14 since last season.
“They're just one play away,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday, succinctly summing up the Steelers' season.
Their record, and all those close losses, are troubling Roethlisberger, who was terse and grouchy while talking Wednesday with reporters. The Steelers must win their final three just to get to .500. Two losses would leave them at 6-10, a record Roethlisberger never thought he would see.
“I'm motivated to win,” he said of the game Sunday against the Bengals (9-4). “I assume you'd have to ask everyone else in here what their motivation is … but I'm motivated to play as hard as I can.”
Even amid the losing and never-ending suggestions he doesn't get along with offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Roethlisberger might be having his best season.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “I think we're getting better every week. … Sacks have gone down. Turnovers have gone down. Points have gone up.”
He is on pace for the most passing yards and completions and second-most touchdown passes of his career. In his past four games, he has 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He is the only player on offense to play every snap, and he could play in all 16 regular-season games for only the second time.
“He's been razor sharp, making sure the young guys know what's at stake, being a general and making sure every man to a man is on the job,” receiver Antonio Brown said. “He's been playing razor football.”
When veterans such as Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and James Farrior patrolled the locker room, Roethlisberger's attempts to show leadership often gained little to no traction. As Brown said, “There were a lot of older guys with the leadership.”
But with so many younger players on the team, Roethlisberger — now 31, secure in his role and a husband and father — appears to be getting his message across.
“But now I think he's doing a great job of taking the younger guys under his wing and showing the guys how it's supposed to be done,” Brown said. “(He's) being fluid and communicating with the offense and keeping everybody in tune with what's going on. That's the type of thing we're going to need from him.”
Especially if losing-record Ben is to become Super Bowl Ben again.