Ben Roethlisberger is my guy. When he was drafted, I jumped up and down (literally), and predicted that he would lead the Steelers to six Super Bowls, winning five of them. There might be other quarterbacks with better statistics, but I will take Big Ben ten out of ten times. For years, I have debated with people about the value of Ben Roethlisberger versus the media darlings, such as Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. People have provided me with coincidental statistics and banal rhetoric… to no avail… because, again, Big Ben is my guy. Period.
So, on a day where Roethlisberger tied Terry Bradshaw for the most victories by a Steelers quarterback (107), it might shock some to hear me say: Ben could have played better.
I know that you are probably dumbfounded and I really can not blame you. In the first half, Roethlisberger completed fourteen passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns, the twenty-third time that he has passed for more than 200 yards in the first half. Ben finished the game with 369 passing yards and a passer-rating of 155.8, the thirty-ninth time that he has surpassed the 300 yard mark. Most importantly, he completed five passes of over thirty yards, a feat that has not been done by a quarterback in over a decade.
Yet, it is this last statistic with which I have a gripe: Ben could easily have had three more deep completions and/or touchdowns in this game.
For example, after the Pittsburgh defense held San Francisco on a goal-line stand, Antonio Brown was open along the sideline. Ben underthrew Brown, who had to come back for the ball, and the pass was broken up. Instead of a ninety-plus-yard touchdown to Brown, the Steelers had to punt. The other two “missed opportunities” were not as glaring, because they were masked by the fact that the Steelers eventually scored touchdowns on those drives (a long pass to Markus Wheaton and another long pass to Brown, set up two separate DeAngelo Williams touchdown runs).
I know, I know: I am nitpicking, but the onus of winning is resting squarely on Big Ben’s shoulders. As he goes, this team goes. Considering the youth of this defense, the Steelers can not let those aforementioned opportunities slip away. Sure, the last two passes would have merely padded Roethlisberger’s stats (a few more yards, and two more touchdown passes), but that first example was seven points left on the field.
More importantly, if the Steelers had indeed scored a touchdown, right after holding the Niners on fourth-and-goal, the psyche of the Niners players would have been absolutely crushed. Again, this sounds like complaining about the mirrors on a Lamborghini, but teams who go far in the playoffs take advantage of those opportunities. Swings in momentum like that would psychologically crush Pittsburgh’s opponents… and see them driven before them.