By Rob Rossi
JASON BRIDGE/USA TODAY SPORTS
On Sunday afternoon, Ben Roethlisberger spent an entire game looking like his boyhood idol, John Elway, used to in the two-minute drill. He was masterful and mesmerizing, controlling and clutch, an unstoppable big, bad man in full possession of his quarterbacking powers.
He was legendary, linking his 100th victory to a performance for the ages, one that evoked memories and conjured visions of greatness, glory and all the spoils that come when the franchise quarterback also is an all-time signal caller.
That's what Ben Roethlisberger is: all-time.
That's probably what he'll have to keep being for the Steelers to pull off what they've positioned themselves to do: win the division.
Oh yeah, the AFC North is theirs for the taking — unbelievable given where this team was a week ago.
They were in last place.
The Ravens are coming to Pittsburgh for a showdown Sunday night. After that, two of the Steelers' final seven games are against the Bengals. Everything is on the table for a squad not a lot of people figured was capable of anything more than a third consecutive 8-8 record. At 5-3, and with four of eight remaining games against teams with losing records, suddenly the Steelers are serious playoff contenders. Heck, they might even bring a playoff game to Heinz Field for the first time since 2011.
“I tell the young guys, ‘You all ain't never experienced Pittsburgh in the playoffs,' ” veteran cornerback Ike Taylor said this past week. “The ground shakes. We watch the games on tape, and you can see the ground shake.”
Taylor did not play against Indianapolis. A broken forearm limited him to watching from the sidelines. His healthy defensive teammates were mostly there with him because the Steelers held possession for 39 minutes, 43 seconds.
That is a lifetime in the NFL, and over those nearly 40 minutes, Steelers defenders witnessed a performance of a lifetime by the quarterback who had proven his own worst critic during a disappointing 3-3 start.
A lot will be made, deservingly so, of Roethlisberger's career-best 40 completions against a Colts pass defense that ranked fourth in the NFL. More will be made, again deservingly so, of him becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 500 yards twice. The most might be made — and, really, the praise will be as deserving as it is effusive — of his six touchdown passes.
Well, what if I argued Roethlisberger deserved better than his statistics?
Three of his nine incompletions were drops by wide receivers. Also, near the end of the first half, and facing a fourth-and-4 from the Colts' 34-yard line, Roethlisberger was tasked with punting instead of getting a chance to connect on a pass that might have extended another potential touchdown drive.
One of the Steelers' minority owners, Thomas Tull of Legendary Pictures (“The Dark Knight” trilogy) fame, greeted Roethlisberger outside the locker room after the game.
“The amazing thing is you left points out there,” Tull said as Roethlisberger widened his eyes and slightly shook his head in apparent agreement.
Every one of Roethlisberger's teammates heaped praise upon this team's best player, but center Maurkice Pouncey called attention to the lack of dirt on his quarterback's uniform.
Roethlisberger was not sacked. More of that, Pouncey said, will mean a lot more of what backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski said was available to the Steelers offense Sunday.
That would be the entire playbook, the one designed by offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who was noticeably beaming in the locker room after the victory.
What happened here on this final Sunday of October was something to cherish, to tell friends about if you were in the stadium, to remember for bar conversations down the road.
Someday, somebody will ask, “Where were you when Big Ben turned his 100th win into a Hall of Fame snapshot?”
What's left for this team to determine is whether someday somebody also asks, “Where were you when Big Ben sparked the Steelers on a path back to prominence?”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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