Starkey: Century mark beckons for Ben
Mike Tomlin calls his quarterback “a sick competitor.” The description seemed especially apt Monday night at Heinz Field, where Ben Roethlisberger pretty much lost his mind in the pursuit of victory.
Roethlisberger turns 33 in March. He does not have the security of a new contract. His body has absorbed untold punishment in the form of 406 sacks and countless hits.
Yet there he was in the second quarter, diving head-first into the shins of Houston linebacker Whitney Mercilus in hopes of giving Antonio Brown an extra second to throw. The result was a Brown-to-Lance Moore touchdown that went a long way toward the 99th victory of Roethlisberger's career.
One question, Ben: Why did you do that?
“It's my job to secure the edge, and he came upfield pretty quick. So I had to make sure I slowed him down.”
So yes, “sick competitor” fits. “Prolific winner” does, too, even after back-to-back 8-8 seasons (Roethlisberger has never had a losing one).
If the Steelers beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Roethlisberger will improve his record to 100-50 and reach 100 wins faster than all but three quarterbacks in NFL history. And those three quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw) own 11 Super Bowl rings combined.
This isn't some statistician's phony milestone. It's not consecutive games with 15 completions for 150 yards. This is 100 wins.
This is big, even if Roethlisberger downplayed it Wednesday.
So let's do what humans often do when big moments beckon: Let's pull out the photo album. In this case, it's Big Ben's shredding album, as it includes snapshots of all 99 wins.
The first was Sept. 26, 2004, against Dave Wannstedt's dreadful Miami Dolphins. It was a day after Hurricane Jeanne whipped through South Florida. Roethlisberger clinched the 13-3 win with a running strike to his close personal friend, Hines Ward.
What follows are seven snapshots culled from those 99 wins, seven plays that in one observer's mind define No. 7 in all his winning characteristics. And remember, these are regular-season wins, so a certain Super Bowl pass is not included:
• MOBILITY. Nov. 11, 2007, Heinz Field. Watch the tape of Roethlisberger's career-long, 30-yard touchdown run in this game against the Browns, and you'll see two things: how spry he once was, and what a physical freak he is. Nobody standing 6-foot-5, 250 pounds should be able to move like he did here. He later converted a scramble on the winning drive to eke out a win over the upstart Browns, who finished tied with the Steelers at 10-6 but missed the playoffs.
• TOUGHNESS/SMARTS. Dec. 5, 2010, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore. This won't make the man's Hall-of-Fame highlight tape. But it might have won a game. With time running low and the Steelers needing a TD, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs had Roethlisberger dead to rights but couldn't pull him down. The two locked horns like wrestlers, Roethlisberger moving backward to stay on his feet. With Suggs draped all over him, Roethlisberger somehow mustered the strength to toss the ball out of bounds, avoid a sack and keep it on the Ravens' 9. Two plays later, he threw the winning touchdown pass.
• AD-LIB ABILITY. Nov. 19, 2006, Cleveland Browns Stadium. With the game on the line, Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket and was halfway to the ground when he worked up his best Jim Kelly impersonation and shoveled a pass to Willie Parker, who raced into the end zone with the winning points.
• COMPETITIVE FIRE. Oct. 20, 2014, Heinz Field. The block on Mercilus, which Roethlisberger insisted was part of the play's design. “We do whatever it takes around here,” he said.
• SHORT MEMORY. Oct. 5, 2008, Jacksonville. In a game in which Rashean Mathis returned one of his passes 72 yards for a touchdown, Roethlisberger led an epic winning drive. It started with a 16-yard completion with defensive end Reggie Heyward literally hanging on Roethlisberger's back, pulling him to the turf.
• CLUTCH GENE. Dec. 14, 2008, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore. The Steelers had done nothing all day and were pinned on their 8 with time winding down, trailing 9-6. That's when they took off on a 13-play, 92-yard drive that finished with Roethlisberger, outside the pocket, throwing against his body to Santonio Holmes at the goal line.
• GOLDEN ARM. Dec. 20, 2009, Heinz Field. Down to the final play, Roethlisberger dropped back to the Green Bay Packers' 31 on the right hash and unleashed perhaps the most brilliant regular-season pass of his career: a laser beam to the left corner of the end zone, on Mike Wallace's back shoulder, against the sideline. One could not have walked up to Wallace and placed the ball in a better spot.
The Steelers won 37-36.
“That's just Ben,” Wallace said after the game. “That's all I can say. That's just Ben.”
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.