It isn't always pretty on the stat sheet when it comes to Ben Roethlisberger, but the Steelers franchise quarterback does one thing better than anyone: thrive in the big moment. With their 23-19 victory over the New York Jets last night, Big Ben has led his team to their third Super Bowl in six years and the franchise's 8th overall.
For those football fans who were unfamiliar with Roethlisberger's style of play before last night (where have you been?), they got a taste of it on the last drive of the game.
Up only 5 points and facing a Jets defense who had suddenly rediscovered their swagger, the Steelers faced a 3rd-and-6 just after the two minute warning. With the Jets out of timeouts, common sense dictates running the ball and eating up 45 seconds of clock.
Roethlisberger, however, had other ideas. He dropped back to throw, rolled right away from pressure and found rookie wideout Antonio Brown for a first down and a trip to the Super Bowl. Another great play from possibly the best 4th-quarter quarterback of his generation.
Detractors will point to low yardage total and two interceptions as to why Ben is overrated and over-hyped, but look at the specific plays: the first INT came on a 4th and 1 from the 32-yard line when Rashard Mendenhall bobbled a screen pass that landed in the hands of linebacker Bryan Thomas. It was the same result that would have occurred if a running play was stuffed.
The second pick came on a second and 11 from from the Jets 36 when Roethlisberger tried to go depp down the field and didn't see the safety creeping. A mistake for sure, but no points resulted from it and the Jets started at their own 16.
Roethlisberger's stats were also hurt by the fact that the New York Jets simply forgot how to tackle in the first half. Rashard Mendenhall surprised everyone by rushing for nearly 100 yards in the first half and making the Jets look like a JV team.
Even Roethlisberger got in on the rushing attack, scoring a touchdown from two yards out and adding numerous big-time runs that extended drives and ate up clock. Those kinds of scrambles don't show up on a score sheet, but they were huge in the overall scheme of the game.
If you want to point to the fact that the Steelers didn't score again in the second half, that's fine. But, what about the 24 points in the first half? This was a Jets defense that just stifled Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks. Why couldn't they solve Rex Ryan's defense?
Many columns on Big Ben's legacy will be written in the coming weeks, probably sickening most people who aren't Steelers fans. But, the bottom line is this: Roethlisberger is a winner and winners go to Canton. A third Super Bowl in seven years? They can start crafting the bust right now.
If Roethlisberger wins two weeks from now, he will trail only Montana and Bradshaw in Super Bowl victories and be tied with Brady and Aikman. He'll have more rings than Favre, Manning, Young, Staubach, Starr, and Elway.
Let it also be noted that Roethlisberger is doing this with a receiving corps consisting of a on-the-downside-of-his-career Hines Ward, 2nd year man Mike Wallace, and rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. No one is going to be mistaking those guys for Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin.
The only piece of hardware missing from Roethlisberger's trophy case is a Super Bowl MVP award. Maybe if Santonio Holmes had caught the ball that hit him right in the hands on the play before his miraculous catch in Super Bowl XLIII, then maybe Big Ben would have already gotten that one too.
With Brady seemingly slipping (he turns 34 next year) and Manning lacking a supporting cast, isn't it possible Roethlisberger is the best quarterback in the league? He's won his past two AFC title games with one of the worst offensive lines in the league while going up against the fiercest defenses (Ravens 2008, Jets 2010).
With only Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers standing in his way to immortality, what do you expect Ben to do? If history is any indication, he will make a few little mistakes, dust himself off, and lead his team to the only thing he knows: victory.