The Ben Roethlisberger Story: The Emergence of a Rookie

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The Ben Roethlisberger Story: The Emergence of a Rookie
(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Looking back on that Steelers offense in 2004, it's astonishing to think of the changes that have come and gone in Pittsburgh.

Tommy Maddox was the Steelers' starting quarterback, Charlie Batch second on the depth chart, with rookie Ben Roethlisberger sitting at the No. 3 spot, hoping against hope to see some playing time in the course of a Steelers blowout.

The backfield was made up of starters Deuce Staley at running back, Dan Kreider at fullback and Jerome "The Bus" Bettis coming in for short yardage situations, as he was starting to show his age.

The receiving corps consisted of most notably Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, two great targets for any quarterback, at least that year. The offensive line was as solid as a rock with Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings holding down the trenches.

Ben got his first chance to shine in week two of the regular season, against heated and respected divisional foes the Baltimore Ravens.

Tommy Maddox injured his elbow at the start of the third quarter and backup Charlie Batch had a knee injury, which left one of two options: either go with the rookie out of Miami of Ohio, or give Antwaan Randle El the quarterback job for the game.

They chose Ben Roethlisberger.

Although losing the game, he did throw for two touchdowns.

Were the Steelers in a good situation? Well, history tells us yes, but would anyone believe that a rookie quarterback could handle the pressure, especially in a tough AFC North? Alan Faneca certainly didn't, as he questioned whether or not Roethlisberger was ready to be a starter in the NFL.

A media uproar ensued and Faneca finally went to Roethlisberger and man to man explained to him that no team wants to lose their starting quarterback, especially not that early into the season. Roethlisberger completely agreed. That speaks a lot on his character.

The good news in the whole situation was the Pittsburgh offense, it was ready made for any quarterback with even a small talent level to find success in, perhaps that's why Maddox got to be the starter in the first place?

A trio of good receivers, a simply phenomenal running game all rounded off with an offensive line that was as good as you'd find in the league that year.

Ben's first start came against the Miami Dolphins, and it started horribly, with an interception by Patrick Surtain on Ben's first throw of the game. The Pittsburgh faithful were ready to flush the season down the drain.

Oh ye of little faith.

Ben rode the heels of his defense to a 13-3 win, throwing a touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game away for good.

Another AFC North opponent, this time the Cincinnati Bengals looked to beat the Steelers that year, but Roethlisberger recorded his first come from behind win to give the Steelers the 28-17 win.

The very next week against the Cleveland Browns Roethlisberger showed that he was mobile, running for a score as well as passing for one in yet another AFC North victory.

Roethlisberger led yet another come from behind win in his rookie season, this time against the Dallas Cowboys.

Three starts, three wins, with two of them coming from behind. The Steelers had certainly found a special player. Special enough to have Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells comparing him to Dan Marino.

At first, as with any rookie quarterback, the offense was very simplified, utilizing the talent in the rushing attack and preying off of that with play-action passes.

Come the month of November however, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt started to trust the young quarterback more, allowing him to call audibles at the line.

The fifth and perhaps most impressive start of Roethlisberger's young career came against the unbeaten New England Patriots, who were at the time riding a 21 game regular season winning streak. Needless to say, this streak came to an end to the tune of 34-20, with Roethlisberger looking flawless.

Jerome Bettis also came in to replace the injured Deuce Staley (hamstring) and looked like the Bus of old.

The next week the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles opposed the rookie quarterback and like the Patriots went home with their first loss of the season, mainly due to Jerome Bettis carving their defense up with 149 rushing yards.

Talk of an eminent Super Bowl berth and victory started due to the Steelers record of 7-1, because the last team to start the season with that record went on to win it all.

In Roethlisberger's seventh start, he set an NFL record. No quarterback in the illustrious history of the NFL had ever began their career with a 7-0 starting record. Maddox was healthy by now, but that didn't matter, Roethlisberger was playing red hot football and there was no reason to sit him.

Teams started to back off on Ben around this point in the season, not bringing the heavy blitzes, but trying to force him to throw into coverage. What did the Steelers do? They started "The Bus," of course; he'd go on to rush for 941 yards that season.

Ben somehow made yet another clutch performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, orchestrating a last minute touchdown drive to win the game 17-16.

Roethlisberger was hurt by Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens in the next game, though the Steelers still throttled them, he'd be forced to sit the next game out, allowing Maddox to start and get the win.

The Steelers were in the playoffs, led by a rookie quarterback. The New York Jets would give them a scare in the first game, in which the Steelers won in overtime off of a Jeff Reed field goal after Doug Brien missed a game winning score for the Jets.

They faced the New England Patriots once again, but this time Roethlisberger truly looked and played like a rookie quarterback. An early interception spelled disaster for the Steelers Super Bowl hopes as it clearly affected Ben's confidence.

On the other side of the game, Tom Brady once more set the standard for a post season quarterback, looking nearly flawless.

The Patriots won that game 41-27.

The season was over, but what a great ride for the rookie quarterback from Miami of Ohio.

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