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NKySteeler
09-06-2008, 09:49 PM
This Team Is In Bens' Hands
by Bob Labriola, Editor

In 2004, when the Steelers all along had been plotting based on a starting quarterback who was 33 years old and a veteran of over 1,000 NFL pass attempts, and he was a rookie and thrown in during the second game of the season, that wasn’t the time.

In 2005, even though he had claimed the job as his own by breaking all of Dan Marino’s rookie records and going 13-0 as a starter in the regular season, there still were too many
established veterans on the team. Jerome Bettis, Joey Porter, Jeff Hartings, Alan Faneca, Kimo von Oelhoffen — it was their team. That wasn’t the time.

In 2006, maybe, but then the appendectomy came and physically removed him from the locker room at a critical time in its development, and so that wasn’t the time.

In 2007, having a new head coach and a different make-up to the offensive staff meant everybody started with a clean slate, but along with that came a lot of mutual feeling out. That wasn’t the best time, either.

Now’s the time.

The ability. The experience. The production. The ring on his finger. The contract. Mix all of this together, and it paints a picture of a proven, veteran, championship quarterback who has the implicit level of trust from his team that a new nine-figure contract represents.

Ben Roethlisberger so far has passed every test his profession has presented to him, and along the way he has grown from the kid who was along for the ride into the man who
holds their fate in his hands. He holds their fate — his teammates and his coaches — just as surely as he will author this next bit of franchise history, because the football must pass through his hands on every play, and in the NFL that man is The Man.

Roethlisberger is 26 years old now, and the only one of his 63 NFL games in which he wasn’t the starting quarterback was in the second week of 2004 when Tommy Maddox was injured in the third quarter. He has attempted over 1,400 passes, which means he has accumulated an array of statistics that may or may not impress whoever. But biographical-type information doesn’t speak of his place on his team or his stature among his peers. That comes from what Ben Roethlisberger has done in those 63 NFL games.

First of all, Roethlisberger’s team has won 44 of his 62 starts, and no player has a greater influence on winning than the starting quarterback.

There were wins against talented opponents at critical times of a season, and he contributed to these and others by being flawless in some, by being spectacular in others, by being the difference in many. Since two wins ended in trophy presentations — the big one and the one you need to win to have a shot at the big one — these
credentials carry weight. And since Roethlisberger publicly has acknowledged his culpability in the losses, he has a credibility with his teammates.

Roethlisberger now is what he really always wanted to be, what every quarterback of his ability and confidence believe they deserve to be. He is the most important guy for his team in every game it plays, because, admit it, on game days the coach is only along for the ride. That’s the way it is with the NFL’s elite quarterbacks; remember, before uniting with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick were nothing but coaches who had been fired from their previous jobs.

It’s a players league, and if Roethlisberger is a player currently seen on a level below Manning (longevity and statistics) and Brady (championships), he is their equal in terms of importance to his team.

Ironically, what is used against Roethlisberger in arguments ranking the NFL’s best quarterbacks is actually what makes him special. The accompanying chart ranks quarterbacks based on the league’s own complicated-yet-incomplete system called
passer rating, and if the inclusion of Chad Pennington speaks to the screaming inadequacies of this formula, there are some big-time names on that list.

Roethlisberger doesn’t quite qualify because his resume is 64 attempts light, but in one of the categories used to calculate passer rating — arguably merely critical — he is better than all of them. Ben Roethlisberger needs fewer attempts to produce touchdowns than any of those other guys.

Sometimes his edge in touchdown percentage is slight (5.9-5.7 over Manning), while other times it’s notable (5.9-4.5 over Carson Palmer) and, sure, you still get a stuffed animal when you go with three shots at the milk bottles for a quarter, but for the big panda you better be good enough to pay the dime and do it on one try.

The Steelers are one of the dozen or so teams that will enter this 2008 NFL season with a chance at the big panda, and whether they are serious contenders or merely consigned to the periphery will be part health, part luck and part pluck, and the difference in a bunch of their games will come down to a handful of snaps.

In Pittsburgh, as it is in New England and Indianapolis, the starting quarterback has to be great for the season to end with a run at a championship, and so it will be for the Steelers in 2008.

This is what Ben Roethlisberger always has wanted, to be the hub of the wheel, and he has earned it. This is his time.