With ugly win, Roethlisberger joins elite

Ben Roethlisberger has a chance to win his third Super Bowl with the Steelers at 28.
Ben Roethlisberger has a chance to win his third Super Bowl with the Steelers at 28.
Posted: January 24, 2011

PITTSBURGH - There is nothing pretty about Ben Roethlisberger, on the field or off. Especially off.

Three months after serving a four-game suspension for his abhorrent behavior in a Georgia nightclub, Roethlisberger is going to his third Super Bowl. There's nothing anyone can do about it, now that the New York Jets failed again in the AFC championship game here.

Along with the Eagles' own Michael Vick, Roethlisberger was the other big redemption story in the NFL this year. That is, if you define redemption as "making people forget your shameful past by winning football games."

He may not be any better a guy, but it is time to acknowledge that Roethlisberger is one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL. He isn't an artist like the Colts' Peyton Manning, the Patriots' Tom Brady, or the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, the guy he will face in the Super Bowl next month. He just wins games.

Roethlisberger will have a chance to tie Brady with a third championship. At 28, he is younger than Terry Bradshaw (30), Joe Montana (32), or Troy Aikman (29) when each won his third Super Bowl.

This win over the Jets was quintessential Roethlisberger. He threw for only 133 yards. He threw two interceptions, one that ended a third-quarter drive that could have put the game away. He fumbled a snap in his own end zone and recovered it for a safety that gave the Jets two points and led directly to seven more.

"It doesn't matter how we played," wide receiver Hines Ward said, summing up the Roethlisberger era. "We're going to the Super Bowl."

Roethlisberger single-handedly kept both teams in this game. Ultimately, he did just enough to beat the Jets. That would be the Jets who went to Indianapolis and beat Manning in the first round, then went to New England and beat Brady last week. Coach Rex Ryan's aggressive, dominating defense came to Pittsburgh and got humiliated in the first half.

Ryan and his quarterback, Mark Sanchez, are now edging into Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb territory. They have made it to two conference championship games in their two seasons in New York, but have come up short both times. In a conference with the Patriots, Steelers, and Colts, it isn't going to get easier.

That's the thing about Roethlisberger. He has gotten these opportunities, and he's cashed them in.

Roethlisberger didn't take the Jets apart by flinging the ball around Heinz Field. With temperatures in the teens and the field hard as the brick sidewalks along Penn Avenue, that wasn't the Steelers' game plan.

But it would be wrong to say Roethlisberger did nothing but turn around and hand the ball to Rashard Mendenhall. He did much more.

On a day when Chicago's Jay Cutler drew (premature and possibly unfair) criticism for leaving the NFC title game with a knee injury, Roethlisberger came up limping after the Steelers' eighth play from scrimmage. He had been driven into that icy turf, his knees at awkward angles, after pitching the ball to Mendenhall.

Roethlisberger didn't just remain in the game. Six plays later, facing third and 12 in Jets territory, he spotted a big gap in the defense and took off on a run. Instead of sliding safely, Roethlisberger dived, took a hit, and gained exactly the 12 yards he needed for a first down.

Three plays later, Mendenhall ran in from the 1-yard line. The 16-play, nine-minute-plus drive was a statement. The Steelers were going to dictate this game to Ryan's swaggering Jets. At least until they had built a 24-0 first-half lead.

Roethlisberger made two other important plays with his legs. He rolled out to his right near the goal line, saw the Jets defense was AWOL, and ran for an easy touchdown to make it 17-0. In the second half, he ran for an important first down.

While his numbers were wretched, Roethlisberger did make some important throws. He pump-faked twice before finding Ward for a 7-yard gain to set up the first Steelers touchdown. He completed passes to tight end Heath Miller and wide receiver Antonio Brown for vital first downs on the Steelers' final, clock-killing possession.

"They were gutsy calls," Ryan said, admitting he expected the Steelers to run the ball on both plays.

"We weren't going to play not to lose," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

He trusted Roethlisberger, who had 105 passing yards at that point, to make those throws. And he did. In a quarterback-driven league, the Steelers still win with defense and a powerful running game. Their 1970s ancestors were more freewheeling offensively than these guys are.

But Roethlisberger has won Super Bowls for two different head coaches, Bill Cowher and Tomlin. If he was virtually a bystander for the first one, he was outstanding in the second.

Now he's going to a third, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter: @SheridanScribe. Read his blog at http:// go.philly.com/philabuster or his recent columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan


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