Saturday, January 03, 2015

In best statistical season, Steelers' Roethlisberger could cement his legacy

Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, 10:48 p.m.

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Ben Roethlisberger will talk about winning — it's his favorite subject.
In fact, winning is the only thing that truly interests Roethlisberger.
Tied for the NFL lead in passing yards? Not interested in discussing that.
Throwing for an NFL-record 12 touchdowns in a two-game span? Not interested.
Throwing for 522 yards against the Indianapolis Colts? Not interested.
Having a chance to cement his legacy with a third Super Bowl title during a playoff run that starts Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens? Maybe a little.
“That resonates with him because the ultimate goal for him every year is to win the Super Bowl,” quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner said. “The only thing he thinks about is the Big One, playing in the Big One and winning the Big One. He's never mentioned statistics or legacy to me ever.”
Roethlisberger never will.
Since the day the Steelers drafted him with the 11th overall pick in 2004, it's always been about winning, not legacy.
“If that drives him in the lonely and quiet times, then great,” Fichtner said. “He never has brought it to anybody's attention. The years I have been around him, it has always been about wins.”
Wins and team first. Never statistics.
Some of that could have been because Roethlisberger never put up the gaudy stats like others. But even in the midst of his best statistical season, it's still team over legacy.
“I want to do everything for the fans, the team, the Rooneys,” Roethlisberger said, the 14th-highest-paid quarterback this season. “It is more about that than any personal legacy.”
But there is no denying what another title would do for Roethlisberger's status.
His statistics this season — tied for the league lead with 4,952 yards passing and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 32-9 while steering the NFL's second-best offense — have solidified him among the elite. A third Super Bowl title would place him in the same conversation as Tom Brady and Troy Aikman.
“It would put him in that discussion,” former teammate Jerome Bettis said. “He would've earned that spot.”
Roethlisberger has 106 regular-season wins and 10 more in the playoffs. He has two Super Bowl victories, three appearances, three Pro Bowls, 25 fourth-quarter comebacks and 35 game-winning drives — all of which validate him as one of the best.
“I don't think he needs to win this,” said Charlie Batch, who played nine seasons with Roethlisberger. “If he wins another, it validates everything I have already known by sitting in the room with him for all those years.”
Thinking this could be Roethlisberger's last chance to solidify a legacy might seem misguided, but history would disagree.
Ten quarterbacks have won a Super Bowl after age 32, but most of those came decades ago. Only one quarterback older than 32 (Brad Johnson in 2002 with Tampa Bay) has won a Super Bowl since the turn of the century. Roethlisberger turned 32 in March.
“He won his first 16 starts, and that was uncommon,” Batch said. “When you are a rookie quarterback, you lost. He changed that mindset. When you watch Ben, you watch him break down those barriers.”
Roethlisberger was sacked 189 times in a four-year span during his mid-20s. Though he missed only a handful of games, the Steelers believed a change was needed.
Roethlisberger needed to stay upright, or possibly by age 32 his career would be over.
The Steelers invested a pair of first-round and two second-round picks on offensive linemen. Then they hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley with the directive of lessening the hits on Roethlisberger by any means necessary.
It has worked.
Roethlisberger has been sacked fewer times during the past three years than he ever has. And he has missed only seven snaps during the past two years.
“I don't know with the way he played before that he was going to play until he was 40. But with this style, this guy is a horse,” NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said. “The change of style has really benefited him. The way he is playing now, he is getting the ball out as fast as Brady or (Peyton) Manning or any of those guys.”
Roethlisberger got the rid of the ball, on average, in 2.5 seconds this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Manning led the league at 2.3 seconds, and Brady was second at 2.4 seconds. Last season Roethlisberger was at 2.6 seconds and the year before that 2.8 seconds.
There were more quick throws, but that did not curtail Roethlisberger from throwing the long ball. He led the league with 42 passes of 25 yards or longer.
“I am most proud of him attempting to get the ball out quicker,” Fichtner said. “He knows that if he is on time with decisions, it makes our life and everybody else's life better. Every hit you take is a toll on you.”
Roethlisberger said he believes his game hasn't changed much from three years ago.
“I don't think it was as big as people made it out to be,” he said. “I am not playing any differently than I have before. A lot of it has to do with the guys running right routes, the line protecting and stuff like that.”
Football might be considered a young man's sport, but the quarterback position sometimes can be the exception.
Manning (38), Brady (37), Drew Brees (35), Tony Romo (34), Eli Manning (34) and Philip Rivers (33) are older than Roethlisberger and still playing at a high level.
Roethlisberger ranked in the top 10 in 10 categories this season: passing yards (tied for first), completions of 25 yards or longer (first), fourth-quarter passer rating (second), 300-yard passing games (second), passing first downs (second), 100.0 passer rating games (second), passer rating (third), completions (third), completion percentage (third) and touchdown passes (seventh).
“Now I think the idea of him playing into his late 30s is realistic,” Collinsworth said. “Before, not so much.”
Roethlisberger will be heading into the final year of his contract after this season. The Steelers said they plan to sign him to another long-term deal, which likely would lock him up for another four or five years — or until he's in his late 30s.
Roethlisberger refused to look past this season, just like he refuses to talk about statistics.
“I am not going to be one of those guys who is going to say that I can play for five, 10, 15 more years,” he said, “because (then) I am cheating myself and everybody else right now.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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