Big Ben makes offense click
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger heads onto the field for his first game since being suspended four games for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
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You can't simply Googlemap the intersection of performance and expectation, so, by any reasonable standard, the quarterback found his destination pretty easily on this sun-glistened Sunday.
Threw for nearly 300 yards.
Found the end zone.
Didn't rattle despite a fairly high rate of turbulence.
In sum, not bad at all for a guy playing his first meaningful football since January.
Yeah, Colt McCoy was impressive all right, but, on the day Ben Roethlisberger finally made it all the way back from that rainy night in Georgia (poetic license perhaps trumping meteorological accuracy), McCoy's first professional start was little more than a bold footnote to No. 7s return to the apparent good graces of Steelers Nation.
There were but a very few boos when Roethlisberger was introduced to a packed Heinz Field Sunday afternoon, and those nearly were drowned by a thunderous ovation from an audience that seems to sense that another long, successful Steelers autumn has gotten its legs.
And, more importantly, its golden arm.
"It was amazing," Roethlisberger said of his reception a couple of minutes after he'd finished taking apart the Cleveland Browns. "It was part of the emotions I was having. I had tears I my eyes."
Planned demonstrations and random protests by some portion of the fan base that still resents Ben's misadventures in misogyny did not amount to much, which would invite the conclusion that Roethlisberger's full-bore image rehab is all but complete, the outstanding balance easily negotiable by the consistency of civil public comportment.
Most of the North Side gathering yesterday was far more concerned that Ben overthrew Mewelde Moore on the Steelers' first possession, overthrew a wide open Mike Wallace in the fourth quarter, and missed on a couple of throws he usually doesn't, at least not when he does something other than fret for the past six months.
"I was putting just a little extra on it," Ben said of an expected initial anxiety. "The ball was coming out what we call hot, coming out [too] high and [too] strong. We left some plays out there, but that was a good Browns defense that we played."
Maybe so, but it was also a Browns defense with two rookies in its nickel package, one of whom Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey had just finished conversing with during a Steelers timeout -- fellow University of Florida rookie Joe Haden.
"We were real close teammates," Pouncey said. "Then, after he intercepted, I went up to him and said, 'Man, you can't be runnin' that long!' "
Haden took Ben's Mewelde-intended misfire 62 yards the other way, accounting for what was technically Roethlisberger's longest completion of the day. But the impact on Mike Tomlin's offense shouldn't be measured by the arithmetic dimensions of Ben's afternoon (he completed 16 of 27 passes for 257 yards, three touchdowns and one interception). The Steelers, who had converted just 10 of their previous 35 third-down opportunities in Roethlisberger's four-week absence, were 7 for 14 Sunday. A team that had been averaging only 13 first downs per week yesterday earned 22. More ominously for Pittsburgh's opponents, the offense, after a balky first half, began to look dangerous again.
This game changed from the aesthetic equivalent of two drunks rolling on a barroom floor into an aerial ballet late in the third quarter. Pinned inside the 10 repeatedly and nursing an uncomfortable, 7-3 lead, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians gambled on first-and-10 from the Steelers' 4. Cleveland had called a corner blitz, and Eric Wright flashed threateningly past Roethlisberger to his right a second before Browns linebacker Scott Fujita crashed into the quarterback.
Mike Wallace pulled it in 50 yards downfield.
"That was a little risky right there," said Ben (ya think?). "It was one of those plays where we just wanted to take a shot. I just chucked it, and [Fujita] got my arm when I let go of it, but, fortunately, the ball was gone when he hit me."
Roethlisberger found Heath Miller on a crossing route for 36 yards on the next play, then nailed Hines Ward cutting incorrectly toward the post three plays later for the touchdown that triggered a rout.
"The coaches told me after that Hines ran the wrong route, but we were on the same page," Roethlisberger said.
Ward dragged veteran corner Sheldon Brown into the end zone with the play that seemed to drag all Roethlisberger's dormant capabilities back into the sunlight. He found Rashard Mendenhall for 8 yards at the sideline on a subsequent third-and- 7, making possible Mendenhall's 3-yard touchdown run, and hit Miller in stride two possessions later for the 14-yard score that made it 28-10.
"Him being back is going to open things up for everybody," said Wallace, whose three catches covered 90 yards. "I didn't think he was going to be flawless. Then we'd have nothing to work on."
First Published October 18, 2010 12:00 am