You could never root for him? That’s understandable.
But if you think Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger is anything less than an elite NFL quarterback, you’re wrong.
Roethlisberger might not have the gaudy statistics of New England’s Tom Brady or Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning — and, in fact, some of his numbers are cover-your-eyes bad — but there’s no debating his most important statistic:
Look at last Sunday’s victory over the New York Jets in the AFC championship game. Roethlisberger completed 10 of 19 passes for 133 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. In terms of the box score, he was thoroughly outplayed by the Jets’ Mark Sanchez, who completed 20 of 33 for 233 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
But what happened on the critical plays? On third-and-12, Roethlisberger kept a touchdown drive alive with a 12-yard run. Later, on third-and-four, he ran for five. And with two minutes to go, and the Steelers protecting a five-point lead, Roethlisberger completed a 14-yard pass to Antonio Brown to convert a third-and-six. Game over. Let the kneel downs begin.
It was a typical Roethlisberger game — he didn’t make all the plays, but he made the ones that counted.
“There ought to be a stat for ‘What did you do when you needed a pass completion to win the game,’ ” Hall of Fame coach John Madden said in a phone interview. “That’s where Ben’s stats would show up, when you make the play when you need to. A lot of guys get stats when they don’t need them. Ben doesn’t.”
Think about Super Bowl XLIII, when Roethlisberger directed a do-or-die drive in the final minute, and, with 35 seconds to play, threw a pass where only Santonio Holmes could reach it. Touchdown. Game over.
If that drive were directed by Brady or Manning, it would go down as one of the greatest in Super Bowl history. It would have a nickname the way other historic moments do. As it was, more people talked about the feet of Holmes than the touch of Roethlisberger, and it was the receiver who was named the game’s most valuable player.
That’s not to say Roethlisberger doesn’t catch more than his share of breaks. The Steelers kept him despite the accusations of sexual assault that resulted in his suspension. Many fans are ambivalent about him, cheering the player but wanting nothing to do with the person.
Strictly as a player, however, Roethlisberger hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves. There are many theories for that. He’s a lumbering (but effective) runner. He frequently holds on to the ball too long. He plays for a franchise traditionally known for its defense and power-running game.
“Bottom line, if you ask football people, they’re going to put Ben Roethlisberger up there with [Manning and Brady] almost unanimously,” said Bill Polian, Colts president. “No one would leave him out. And others who have made the Pro Bowl, for example, wouldn’t even get consideration if you took a poll of all 32 general managers.”
Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl rings, and there will always be people who say he didn’t deserve the first one. He had a lousy game in Super Bowl XL against Seattle, finishing with a 22.6 rating, the worst for a winning Super Bowl quarterback.
What a lot of people forget, though, are the key plays Roethlisberger made along the way to put the Steelers in that position.
Can the Steelers win without him? Well, they were 3-1 when he was suspended at the start of the season. Then again, the Patriots won 11 games in 2008 without an injured Brady.
That’s not to suggest Roethlisberger outplayed Brady this season. No quarterback did. But there’s one statistic both Brady and Manning would happily swap with the Pittsburgh quarterback.
Roethlisberger is 10-2 in postseason games, a .833 win percentage. Brady is 14-5 (.737), and Manning is 9-10 (.474).
So, as you watch the Steelers make a run at Super Bowl victory No. 7, know that they wouldn’t be in this position without the player who wears the same number.