Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger does not participate on social media and it’s probably a good thing he does not. Hopefully that extends to mainstream media coverage as well, because I can never recall a QB coming off a more productive season that is so widely currently considered among the worst QBs in football. Even saw an article on a national publication that dropped Roethlisberger from a “Tier 1” QB (franchise QB) prior to 2020 to a “Tier 6” (good luck) after a 33 TD, 3,803 yards and 10 INT season.
It’s always been a “what have you done for me lately league” as pundits will change their stance following a single week.
The Playoff Loss
With no “next week” to erase the bitter and embarrassing playoff loss vs. the Cleveland Browns until September, your “sports guru” will do their usual surface level research and conclude that only the final month of the season is any indicator of future direction. After all, Roethlisberger must be in decline, he took a pay cut, is 39 years old, after elbow surgery he cannot throw deep anymore, etc. They will point to his 4 INTs in the playoff game, but outright ignore how he fought tooth and nail to bring the Steelers back, setting an NFL record of 47 completions in a single game (regular or post-season), throwing for 500+ yards and 4 TDs to outscore the Browns 37-20 over the final 3 quarters. Just imagine if the defense controlled the Browns in the playoffs like they did twice in the regular season, what tune would be sung about Roethlisberger’s comeback performance then?
Or try this scenario: If the Browns were down 28-0, who honestly thinks Baker Mayfield could have engineered any kind of comeback similar to that of what Roethlisberger did? And whenever they bring up how “bad” it was, it is rather convenient to forget about the final playoff game for Dan Marino: A 61-7 loss.
Blaming it on Ben
In recent years, Roethlisberger has taken the brunt of playoff losses more than any QB in the NFL since Peyton Manning in the 2000s. There has been one considerable difference and that is that Roethlisberger actually produced efforts that were good enough to win whereas Manning was abysmal. In fact, Roethlisberger outplayed Manning in both of their head-to-head playoff matchups. Compare and contrast with Aaron Rodgers, who has recently demonstrated that he has trumped any “drama queen” status that Roethlisberger has been deemed, but no one has ever blamed him for his repeated failures in the playoffs.
To take it a step further, often he hasn’t received credit for the win in Super Bowl XL because he played poorly and his underperformance in Super Bowl XLV against a team he shredded for 500+ yards the year before is part of the reason they lost.
Even more frustrating is how the “experts” go after the low-hanging fruit of failing to win a playoff game since 2016. Context is king and when Roethlisberger has a 5 TD and 469-yard game resulting in 42 points, but you still lose, is that on him? How about in 2018 the repeated bad calls down the stretch that cost them games vs. the San Diego Chargers (blatant false start on TD) and the two phantom pass interference penalties that handed the New Orleans Saints free points. Karma may have bit them back, but the Steelers should have been AFC North Champions and in the playoffs. So when they say Ben hasn’t won a playoff game since 2016, it’s insulting people’s intelligence as it’s really just been two games.
Remember the breakout game of James Harrison in 2007 vs. the Baltimore Ravens? Silverback’s 9 tackles, 3.5 sacks, FF, FR and INT put him on the map. That same night Ben tied an NFL record with 5 TDs passes in the 1st half but was overshadowed. Records that he holds such as the most 500-yard games (4) and games with perfect passer rating (4) are never mentioned and he couldn’t even win AFC Offensive Player of the Month when he had consecutive 6-TD pass games. He led the NFL in passing yards – twice – but the media was more focused on his having a “down year” because of his 16 INTs. They still insist that the 2005 win in the AFC Divisional Round vs. the Indianapolis Colts was an “upset” despite the Steelers already proven to be an elite team that were knocking on the door of the Super Bowl in 3 of the previous 4 years and Roethlisberger outplayed Manning. On that note, the Steelers 15-1 season and Roethlisberger’s historic start have been referred to as “the most surprising” and less than that of the 1998 Minnesota Vikings – who had a one year in the sun moment. He directed a drive to win the Super Bowl with :34 left, but it’s never in a category with “The Drive” and the team has never even voted him team MVP, when it’s obvious they would have been in a bad spot without him many times. He was not named Super Bowl XL MVP as most QBs would have been. Heck, with all due respect to Alex Smith, his recovery to play a minor fraction of the season is inspiring, but not really “Comeback Player of the Year” worthy, especially as it didn’t last. It’s not the award, but more giving credit where it’s due. There really just seems to be a pattern of not recognizing Big Ben for what he has done.
Never MVP Consideration
This is nothing new with Roethlisberger, he has never been privy to any real respect. While much of it has been self-inflicted as he acted like a condescending jerk for many years and did not have great reputation with the media, the fact that he has only been named to 6 Pro Bowls and not even a single MVP vote in his whole career is ridiculous.
Yet pundits still insist on the greatness of the “former MVP” Lamar Jackson, as if being voted MVP is a guaranteed predictor of future results. Jackson still has yet to prove he can throw outside the hashes and if he keeps that run first, run second, run often mentality, that MVP will mean even less than it does to “previous winners” like Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Steve McNair and Rich Gannon. They at least reached but failed to win, the Super Bowl. And really, would you take any of their careers over Roethlisberger’s? Roethlisberger should have been named MVP in 2017 – it just would have taken the officials from not overturning the Jesse James TD and he takes it home as the QB on the team with the best record.
Roethlisberger truly doesn’t care about the money or the MVP, but I’d bet a years salary that he is still haunted by that loss in Super Bowl XLV. He was in his prime, capable and able to go toe-to-toe in what should have been an all-time classic. In fact, Roethlisberger’s whole legacy would be different if he completed that 2-minute drive vs. the Green Bay Packers. That whole game shifted on just a few plays as the Packers were reeling. If there was one play though that could have been the difference was when he missed Mike Wallace deep on a sure TD. Even in Super Bowl XL, the game many say they won in spite of him, forgetting how he carried the offense through 3 playoff games. All he had to do was put air under the ball when they were about to score, something he has done in his sleep in the following years and the Steelers take a commanding 21-3 third quarter lead. Instead, he made an error in throwing a direct but soft pass, resulting in an INT that kept the game close.
Big Ben has never been at his best in that big game environment, but winning a 3rd ring would make it academic that he would be in an elite category. He’s competitive and it’s human nature to actually receive that long overdue recognition.
Here’s to believing he’s going to do it.