PITTSBURGH - Granted, it isn't always pretty, but Steelers fans have come to expect the unexpected from rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
He delivered again yesterday, completing two crucial, third-down passes to keep the game-winning drive alive in overtime as Pittsburgh edged the New York Jets 20-17 in the AFC playoffs.
Before that, Roethlisberger had completed 14 of 26 passes for just 149 yards and tossed two interceptions, one of which was returned 86 yards for a Jets touchdown and another of which might well have cost the Steelers the game.
After Jets kicker Doug Brien hit the crossbar on a 47-yard field goal attempt with two minutes to play in regulation, Roethlisberger immediately turned the ball back over to the visitors with a poorly thrown pass well short of receiver Plaxico Burress that was intercepted by David Barrett.
The Jets took over at the Pittsburgh 37 and advanced to the 23-yard line before quarterback Chad Pennington, on a bit of a strange call, took a knee and lost yardage.
Brien missed this time from 43 yards as the clock expired and the Steelers counted their blessings and responded with a winning drive in overtime. They moved 72 yards in 14 plays before Jeff Reed ended it with a 33-yard field goal.
"Ben showed me a lot because he kept fighting the whole game even though he didn't play as well as he would have liked," said Hines Ward, the receiver who caught both of the third-down passes in overtime.
When Pittsburgh played host to the Jets during the regular season Dec. 12, Roethlisberger suffered through his worst outing as a Steeler, completing nine passes for 144 yards, throwing two interceptions and compiling a poor 33.6 passer rating.
"It was a big learning experience for him," Ward said. "It was his first playoff start and it came against a team he didn't have a great deal of success against the first time. But when it mattered, he responded. We got another chance in overtime and we rallied around him."
This time, Roethlisberger finished 17-of-30 for 181 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions and a 57.8 rating.
Roethlisberger said it was a good experience "getting the first [playoff game] out of the way," but he was by far his harshest critic.
"I did everything I could to lose the game," he said. "I didn't play the way I intended to and our offense didn't play the way we intended to. A lot of that comes back to me."
Roethlisberger's coach, Bill Cowher, offered a bit kinder assessment, calling his rookie quarterback unflappable.
"You see some of the things that took place, a lot of adversity, yet there is a calmness about him," Cowher said. "Something happens and he just moves on to the next series. I like the look in his eyes when the game is on the line. Even after the interception [the Jets] returned for the touchdown and even after the interception late in the game that set them up for a field goal attempt, he was still focused.
"Sure, there are times when maybe he looks too much for the big play instead of playing it safe, but I don't want to harness him too much. Why? Because he's a special quarterback."
He certainly has done special things.
The win yesterday was Big Ben's 14th straight without a loss as the Steelers' starter.
If he makes it 15 straight next Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger will complete a rather nifty move from Findlay High School to Miami University to the Super Bowl.
Contact Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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