Change in the air with Roethlisberger, Steelers
[url="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/steelers/2009-12-28-steelersfolo_N.htm"]http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football ... folo_N.htm[/url]
By Jim Corbett, USA TODAY
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger has played big in reviving the Pittsburgh Steelers' wild-card playoff hopes. He enters Sunday's regular-season finale at the Miami Dolphins helping his team transform from run-heavy and defense-oriented to coach Mike Tomlin's preferred "Air Roethlisberger" flight plan.
Some days have been more productive than others, as Sunday's up-and-down, 23-20 survival victory against the Baltimore Ravens proved.
But during an uneven, 259-yard effort that included one interception and another pickoff that was negated by a Ravens penalty, Roethlisberger underscored how different these 8-7 Steelers are. He became the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season in the franchise's 76-year history.
With 4,108 yards and 23 touchdowns, Roethlisberger has elevated his brand of "backyard" football into a spread attack averaging 22.5 points, spinning out of tackles with his rugged scrambles to hit big plays from outside the pocket.
The Steelers passing offense, averaging 263.1 yards a game, is ranked No. 7 in the NFL. And the Roethlisberger-centric attack has compensated for a once-stout defense that has surrendered six fourth-quarter leads.
In addition to the first 4,000-yard passer, the Steelers also have a 1,000-yard rusher in Rashard Mendenhall and three players with 70 or more catches in wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes and tight end Heath Miller.
"It's awesome to have the 1,000-yard rusher and the two 1,000-yard receivers and for Heath to catch more balls (71) than any other (Steelers) tight end," Roethlisberger said.
A two-time Super Bowl winner, Roethlisberger has his team alive for a third title shot since the Steelers made him the 11th overall pick in 2004.
Two weeks ago against the Green Bay Packers, Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards, including a 19-yard winning touchdown to rookie Mike Wallace on the final play to restore Pittsburgh's wild-card chances.
That passing yardage was the most in Steelers history and 10th best in league history.
Against the Ravens, Roethlisberger led a drive capped by his 24-yard touchdown pass to Holmes that put the Steelers ahead 20-10 before halftime.
"We did everything wrong on that play," Roethlisberger said of the touchdown to Holmes. "I shouldn't have thrown it. He shouldn't have looked for the ball. But it worked. We play backyard ball when it counts."
Roethlisberger thrives in two-minute situations. His five winning touchdown passes in the final two minutes are the most in the league since 2004.
The Steelers quarterback is 59-26 as a starter during his six-season career.
"It's funny because he doesn't look like he can scramble because he's so big," Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "But he does a great job of eluding you."