The reports of Ben Roethlisberger's demise as an elite quarterback have been greatly exaggerated. With one much-needed big night — in Thursday's 40-17 Steelers rout of the Titans — Big Ben silenced those who were doubting what he had left at age 35 — including himself.
Shockingly, the offensive outburst against Tennessee was the first time Pittsburgh had scored 30 or more points in a game this season and the first time Roethlisberger had thrown more than two TD passes in a game.
His performance was very efficient given his volume: 30-of-45 passing, 299 yards, four TDs, no INTs and a 115.0 passer rating. Facing a good Titans run defense that was capable of containing Le'Veon Bell (12 carries, 46 yards), the Steelers didn't shy away from putting a game on Roethlisberger's right arm, and he responded.
It doesn't hurt to have the NFL's best wide receiver, but even Antonio Brown was having an "off" season based on his sterling standard before he busted out Thursday for 10 catches, 114 yards and three TDs — doubling his scoring output for the season. Much of that early "slump" was tied to missed connections and inconsistent targeting from Roethlisberger.
Sure, Roethlisberger was throwing against a bad Titans pass defense, but similar matchups didn't produce close to the same results against Cleveland, Kansas City and, just last week, Indianapolis. In fact, Roethlisberger was so bad for much of the game against the Colts that he almost cost the Steelers a victory.
The pressure was on during a short week — and with Roethlisberger expressing his disdain for Thursday night football — to play much better in a critical matchup against a fellow playoff-caliber AFC team. It didn't matter that old defensive friend Dick LeBeau did his best to bring heat on Big Ben as Pittsburgh's attack became one-dimensional — Roethlisberger was vintage Big Ben as he came through with the tough, grinding plays so Pittsburgh could pull away.
Roethlisberger does look old and slow at times, but that has been the case for a while. The future Hall of Famer's biggest trait has always been having the guts to hang in and make a big pass downfield; that's something he will never lose.
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Roethlisberger's low passer rating going into the game (83.8) suggested he was having his worst season since 2008, but his yardage and TDs were on pace to be much higher than nine seasons ago. He also succumbed to a lot of pressure that season, taking 46 sacks. Despite being dropped three times by the Titans, the pace for 2017 is just 22.
At the end of '08, nobody really cared about Roethlisberger's numbers except two: his five fourth-quarter comebacks and his team's 15 wins — including Super Bowl XLIII.
At 8-2 in 2017, the Steelers are well within reach of a 12-4 regular season, which would be their best record since '08. That's despite the Killer Bs' fantasy football stats not being pretty. The defense has bought Big Ben, Brown and Bell — and welcome addition JuJu Smith-Schuster — plenty of time to find their mojo.
You knew at some point, though, that the baton had to pass to the other side. The Steelers need Big Ben to get on a roll before the big, bad Patriots come to Heinz Field in Week 15. Facing a bad Packers pass defense at home will be a welcome tuneup. The opportunity to bury the Bengals and Ravens — their reeling rivals in the AFC North — in consecutive weeks before New England will also be embraced.
As good as Pittsburgh's front seven has been, the Steelers know they need Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell meshing and at their best to have any chance at a deep run. It's not a coincidence the team's last three playoff runs have been cut short because of injuries to Bell, Brown and Bell again.
With Smith-Schuster emerging as a consistent threat, it was inevitable Brown would go off like this again. In turn, Martavis Bryant has become a luxury fourth big-play option. All of that played out against the Titans. The Steelers made them pick their poison, and they ended up swallowing the toughest pill.
None of that works, however, unless Roethlisberger is decisive and in a groove about knowing when to go deep and when to take the short to intermediate stuff when it's open. After a few red-zone snags early against Tennessee, Roethlisberger regained command there, too.
Roethlisberger has been in the results business since he made his first start for the Steelers. Going for substance over style points has made him unique among his contemporaries, a throwing throwback.
Getting caught up in the numbers with Big Ben has been a bad way to measure him over the years, yet it took some gaudy stats to remind us all of the big impact he's still capable of having. Go figure.