Benching Big Ben for slow start bad idea
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You want to know why former Steelers coach Bill Cowher had such a hard time even thinking about benching Ben Roethlisberger last season when Big Ben often struggled?
Last night was why.
Roethlisberger got off to a horrible start against the Cincinnati Bengals in a game the Steelers needed for some breathing room in the AFC North Division race. Three of his first six passes were overthrown. The team's first three drives went Big Ben interception, three-and-out and three-and-out. You almost could hear the Heinz Field crowd -- wet and probably a bit irritable on yet another dreary night at the ball yard -- begin to murmur. Roethlisberger was 2 of 6 for 18 yards with an interception. The Bengals led, 7-0.
Then Roethlisberger took over the game and turned it into a 24-10 victory that gave the Steelers (9-3) a two-game lead over the Cleveland Browns (7-5) in the division hair-pull, a much-needed cushion as they head to New England Sunday.
It's why you never bench the great ones.
The Steelers' three possessions in the second quarter ended in a touchdown, a field goal and a touchdown. Roethlisberger was 14 for 18 for 113 yards and a touchdown in the quarter, one of his incompletions when he spiked the ball. At one point in that stretch, he completed eight consecutive throws. Maybe it wasn't as impressive as the 15 in a row he completed in the muck against the Miami Dolphins a week ago. But it was impressive nonetheless considering the steady rain and sandy field conditions.
Roethlisberger and wide receiver Hines Ward had a nice little game of pitch-and-catch going all night. They connected five times in that second quarter for 33 yards and the 2-yard touchdown pass that gave the Steelers a 17-7 halftime lead. They picked right up in the third quarter, teaming three times for gains of 14, 10 and 8 yards on a scoring drive, the final pass a touchdown toss that bumped the lead to 24-10 and put Ward at the top of another category in the Steelers' record book. It was his 64th career touchdown reception, breaking Hall of Famer John Stallworth's franchise record.
It's easy to think Roethlisberger and Ward wished the conditions were sloppy every game. Last night and against the Dolphins, Big Ben found Ward a total of 20 times for 178 yards. Their good pal, Jerome Bettis, wasn't that good in the mud.
"If I put it close to him, he'll make the plays. That's Hines Ward," Roethlisberger said. "I'm incredibly proud and honored to get him that record."
As accurate as Roethlisberger was throwing the football after that rough start, he made the play of the game with his toughness. It was a second-and-goal play at the Bengals 6 midway through the second quarter. Roethlisberger avoided defensive end Justin Smith as he started to scramble around left end, skipping away from defensive end Johnathan Fanene along the way. By now, it was clear Big Ben had the end zone on his mind. Near the goal-line he gave up his body and dived over cornerback Leon Hall at the same time he took a violent hit from linebacker Landon Johnson. It wasn't so shocking that Roethlisberger scored, but it was surprising that he got up so easily and finished a 21-for-32, 184-yard, two-touchdown, two-interception night.
Is this a tough guy or what?
"I don't think. I'm just trying to score," Roethlisberger said.
"[Teammate] Larry Foote told me I don't know when to slide. I told him, 'You've got to know when to slide and when not to.' I thought I could get in."
Said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin: "Ben is a tremendous competitor. He gets that wild look in his eye. You love that about him. His teammates love that about him. They rally around that. They know this guy is going do whatever it takes to lead us to a victory."
All of it brought back memories of a Roethlisberger performance in Cleveland last season and something former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said afterward. Like Cowher, Whisenhunt cringed at the idea of benching his quarterback, even after Big Ben was 7 for 16 for 48 yards with three interceptions in the first three quarters against the Browns. In the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger led three touchdown drives, completing 18 of 29 passes for 224 yards and a couple of scores. The Steelers won, 24-20.
"He's so good that he's capable of doing that at any time in any game," Whisenhunt said.
That's why Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback.
That's why you stick with him.
First Published December 3, 2007 12:25 am