What the nationally-broadcast matchup showed was something Steelers fans saw all of last year: Ben Roethlisberger goes down, Ben Roethlisberger comes back in.
Everyone was praising Ben on how tough he was for playing on a third-degree ankle sprain that left him hobbling for a second-half touchdown to Antonio Brown. Thing is, Steelers fans saw the same thing last year, on the road, against Baltimore for the division crown.
Sorry ESPN, it is not groundbreaking news that Ben Roethlisberger is the toughest quarterback since Brett Farve's glory days.
What is newsworthy is the conversation that followed the toughness discussion: Ben Roethlisberger's maturation as a quarterback.
Since that incident in Georgia, Ben Roethlisberger has changed. His teammates alluded to it last season, the media clips show it this year, and his stable life seems to prove Big Ben's maturation is coming full circle.
With all of the hype surrounding a 7-1 Tim Tebow or a third-string T.J. Yates, many people forget that a rookie in 2004 took the field in the second game due to injury and rattled off 15 straight wins, leading one of the most storied franchises to its best regular-season record.
And that ,in his second year, this same quarterback fulfilled a promise to a veteran teammate and won the Super Bowl.
What people want to remember is the cocky player between then and now—the player infamous for his prickly disposition with fans at training camp and entourage that followed him around the country.
Ben Roethlisberger is no longer that player. Against the Browns, he showed it to the world. He is the face of a franchise, realizes this responsibility and embodies the toughness of every player to come before him on the Black and Gold.
Big Ben is the leader and against Cincinnati, he began to force experts to consider adding another "L" word to his title: legend. Ben now has more completions than Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw (2,042 to 2,025), who is by far the best quarterback to play for the Steelers (with the exception of a bench-warming John Unitas).
Bradshaw has been the statistical benchmark for all Steelers quarterbacks and Roethlisberger is about ready to eclipse him in every major category. Roethlisberger only needs 1,961 yards to catch Bradshaw for career yards (achievable in approximately eight games if Ben's career average-per-game continues to hold) and trails Bradshaw by only 53 touchdowns (looking at three more seasons).
Assuming Ben finishes his career as the best statistical quarterback in Steelers history, will the rest of resume be enough for the Hall of Fame?
The answer is yes.
Ben Roethlisberger has already been to three Super Bowls—tied for seventh all time—trailing only Elway, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Roger Staubach and Jim Kelly, while he has won more than Kelly and the same as Staubach. It is very likely the Steelers have a window for another Super Bowl push this year and next, putting Ben in elite territory.
Winning another? His name is now in the same group as only Bradshaw, Montana, Brady and Troy Aikman. Another caveat? Roethlisberger is also the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
If the Super Bowl argument is not enough, look at the way Ben Roethlisberger has redefined the quarterback position. While pocket passers like Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning will always be looked favorably upon, what Ben does is something defenses have to adjust their game plans for.
Roethlisberger's ability to extend plays is not the product of a running quarterback; it relates to his toughness, brashness and ability to reset the pocket to give his wide receivers more time to get open and make a play.
This is what has led Ben to 20 fourth quarter come-from-behind wins, an ability that helps his career record of 79-32 with a playoff record of 10-3.
The final argument against Ben's Hall of Fame candidacy is his off-field incidents. Michael Irving made the Hall of Fame with his troubled past because he proved his maturity over time and moved past his demons. Roethlisberger, if he keeps on this track, will do the same.
Moral of the story: Ben Roethlisberger is a Hall of Fame player who is now mature enough to live up to his potential.
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