PITTSBURGH — The clock had reached the two-minute warning Sunday at Heinz Field, and Ben Roethlisberger was nowhere to be seen.
The quarterback was still standing at the sideline, getting his final instructions, as the Steelers closed out Sunday’s emphatic 51-34 win over Indianapolis.
As Roethlisberger’s statistics were being shown on the giant video board behind the south end zone, what remained of the crowd of 62,479 stood and roared its approval.
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And down on the 31-yard line, where Roethlisberger’s teammates huddled, yes, there was cheering there too. They were equally impressed, but not nearly surprised.
They know better, they’ve seen Roethlisberger too many times. Maurkice Pouncey sensed something might be different about his quarterback’s day before the game.
“He came in, he was so focused in,” said the center. “I remember him saying, ‘This is prime-time football here, let’s go.’ You could tell by the look in his eyes that this would be huge.”
Actually, huge might be an understatement. Historic would be more accurate.
The only thing more ridiculous than the Steelers’ 1934 retro jerseys were Roethlisberger’s numbers: 522 passing yards, the fourth-most in NFL history, six touchdowns, 40 completions.
How good was Roethlisberger? Consider this: That he became just the fourth fastest quarterback in league history to reach 100 wins in 150 starts – joining the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady – almost became an afterthought.
“He’s always been a big-time quarterback,” said second-year receiver Markus Wheaton, who caught the first of the six TDs. “It’s always possible when you have a quarterback like that. Coming into this game, I would have never put it past him.”
Wheaton’s comments are certainly true, but coming into this game all the talk centered on Andrew Luck and Indianapolis. Remember? Luck is the league’s leading passer on the league’s top-ranked offense. Luck is the next Peyton Manning. Luck was favored to win on the road.
Roethlisberger? Even fantasy geeks dissed him. Only 24 percent of fantasy league owners started him in Week 8. Don’t think Roethlisberger didn’t have some extra motivation to beat Luck?
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“He won’t admit it, but I’m sure,” said coach Mike Tomlin. “You don’t ascend to the position that he is professionally without that competitive fire burning.”
Luck was as good as advertised. The 25-year-old threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns, but Roethlisberger was even better.
Roethlisberger’s arm and his mobility, not to mention those two Super Bowl rings, will probably earn him a bronze bust in Canton one day, but it’s his competitive nature that sets him apart, according to defensive end Brett Keisel.
“I don’t know anyone who is more competitive than Seven,” Keisel said. “And I’ve met a lot of dudes who’ve played in this league, and I’ve never met anyone who’s more competitive and wants to win more than him. It’s great to see him shine today.”
It took eight weeks, but this was easily Roethlisberger’s best performance of the season after an uneven start. Whether he can shine like this again is doubtful, but he remains the Steelers’ best path to victory. On Sunday, with Roethlisberger playing like Roethlisberger is capable, the offense showed it can fulfill its vast potential.
“I think every week, he wants to prove himself,” said tight end Heath Miller, who caught the sixth touchdown. “He deserves a lot more credit than he gets. Maybe after today, he’ll start getting that.”