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fordfixer
01-24-2011, 03:48 AM
Roethlisberger can handle the pressure
Alex Marvez
http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/pitt ... ure-012311 (http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/pittsburgh-steelers-quarterback-ben-roethlisberger-handles-pressure-012311)

Updated Jan 24, 2011 2:35 AM ET
PITTSBURGH

Ben Roethlisberger had survived a four-game NFL suspension, the ruination of his off-field reputation, the loss of his best offensive linemen and vicious hits that would have sidelined frailer quarterbacks.

So in comparison, making the clutch throw that would guarantee his Pittsburgh Steelers a trip to Super Bowl XLV was child’s play – in more ways than one.

The completion that clinched Sunday night’s victory over the New York Jets had the kind of schoolyard feel that was a Roethlisberger trademark long before his life turned upside down in 2010. Facing a third-and-6 with two minutes remaining, Roethlisberger expected the Jets to bring a heavy blitz and was planning to target wide receiver Hines Ward. The Jets expected a quarterback draw and sent a lighter pass rush against a five-receiver set. Both sides then were forced to improvise.

Roethlisberger scrambled to his right away from pressure as the pocket collapsed. Throwing to Ward was out of the question because the pass window was too tight. That left Roethlisberger trying to choose whether he should run or throw with Jets defenders quickly converging. The decision would determine if the Steelers could run out the clock or if the Jets would have a final chance to complete what would have been the largest championship game comeback in NFL history.

Roethlisberger made the call that guaranteed his own personal and professional comeback wouldn’t get derailed.

Roethlisberger said he initially planned to run for the first down like he had done successfully on three earlier third downs. But when rookie wide receiver Antonio Brown popped open, Roethlisberger chucked the football his way just out of the reach of Jets safety Brodney Pool for a 14-yard gain.

“My thought was, ‘You know what? Let’s try and run it,’ ” Roethlisberger said afterward. “The worst-case scenario – you get tackled and let time tick down. I started running to the sideline. Next thing you know, A.B. just comes flying across the field. He beat them with speed. I just threw it and he made a heck of a catch.”

Three kneel-downs later, the Steelers began celebrating their record-tying eighth Super Bowl appearance in the frigid Pittsburgh weather. Some players jumped into the Heinz Field stands to revel with fans. Others mocked the Jets by extending their arms and twirling around like human airplanes. Steelers cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay went so far as to mimic the “night-night” end-zone celebration of New York running back Shonn Greene from the previous week’s victory against New England.

Roethlisberger did none of the above. He first raised a finger to the sky after taking the final snap. He then donned a white-and-gray AFC Championship Game cap and hugged a few teammates before dropping to one knee in prayer. Roethlisberger used a towel to cover his face from the emotion he began to show.

Roethlisberger was just as guarded in his postgame comments to the media. Queried what was going through his mind when kneeling, Roethlisberger would only say, “Just how awesome this is.” He provided another nondescript answer about his initial salute toward the heavens.

“Just thanking the Lord,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot as a team and personally. It just feels good.”

That was all the insight Roethlisberger would give when the media tried to get him to place Sunday’s victory into perspective considering all he went through since being accused of the sexual assault of an underage college student in Milledgeville, Ga., last March. As one reporter began to ask if he looked back to the beginning of the season, Roethlisberger interrupted and said, “I don’t. I don’t. I’ll stop you now. I don’t. Not at all.”

Memory lane is not a road Roethlisberger wants to travel down. While he wasn’t charged with any crime for the Milledgeville incident, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell still suspended Roethlisberger for six games under the league’s personal-conduct policy. The punishment was shortened by two games because Roethlisberger complied with what the NFL wanted, but his image still was stained. Roethlisberger had to rebuild his relationships with teammates and regain the respect of a fan base outraged by details of the alleged assault as well as sordid details from other off-field incidents that subsequently came to light.

Slowly but surely, Roethlisberger re-earned the trust of both by ditching his smug “Big Ben” persona and – most important – winning games.

“Ben has done a great job,” Steelers owner Dan Rooney told FOXSports.com after the victory. “Ben did his time. He did everything he was asked to do. He conducted himself as a real gentleman. I’m very proud of him. I think he’s going to be (regarded as) a fine person to the world as time goes on.”

Roethlisberger wasn’t in fine form against the Jets. He finished 10 of 19 passing with two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 35.5. He scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter but didn’t throw for a touchdown. His 133 passing yards were only 12 more than what Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall gained on his 27 carries. He was slowed early by a bruised thigh when kneed by Jets linebacker Calvin Pace, adding another injury to go along with the broken nose and fractured foot he suffered from earlier this season. The Jets also recorded a fourth-quarter safety when Roethlisberger fumbled a snap exchange with backup center Doug Legursky, who was forced into the game when starter Maurkice Pouncey suffered a first-quarter ankle injury.

After taking a 24-0 lead, Pittsburgh was shut out in the second half. The Steelers almost lost because of the strain placed on a defense that basically spent the first 12 minutes of the fourth quarter on the field after two long Jets drives.

“They threw a lot of different things at us and put a damper on the way we were moving it on offense,” Roethlisberger said. “Give them credit for slowing us down.”

But when the Jets needed to stop Roethlisberger, they couldn’t get it done.

“I thought we’d get it back,” Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez lamented. “It was tight. Ben scrambled and made a great play.”

The Steelers will need a better performance from Roethlisberger to defeat Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV. But that Feb. 6 matchup wasn’t immediately on his mind.

“Not yet,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy this.”

After all he’s been through, Roethlisberger has earned the chance to do just that.