Maybe in previous seasons, when the Ravens had more outspoken players such as Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott or Shannon Sharpe, they would have been inclined to engage in some verbal jousting with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
But not this Ravens squad. They are on a self-imposed verbal lockdown. No need to wake up the 6-foot-5, 240-pound giant.
“He’s still Ben Roethlisberger,” Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser said. “He’s still that Hall of Fame, great guy, and you have to respect that. Regardless of what people say, of how he’s been playing, whether it’s good or bad, he’s still Ben Roethlisberger, and he can still go out there and make plays. So, we respect that guy, and we’re not going to look at him any other type of way [than] besides who he is.
“We’re going to go out there and make sure that we’re going to put our best game plan against him, because we know the type of guy he is.”
Great players get that type of reverence, even in the twilight of their careers. Plus, there is an unwritten rule about offending veterans and the risks associated with such a move. When the aging great ones get ticked off, they can find a little something in the reserve to ratchet their game up to another level.
The Ravens don’t need to inspire Roethlisberger. He is 15-10 against them in his career, including a 2-1 record in the postseason. When you look through the NFL record books, Roethlisberger’s name is always mentioned in the same space with all-time great quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Dan Marino.
But this season, at age 39, his statistics are more comparable to those of the Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield, the Denver Broncos’ Teddy Bridgewater and New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson. So, the Ravens need to let him sleep and put as much butter on the Roethlisberger bread as possible.
“He is getting it out quick, and he is very accurate,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Roethlisberger. “He’s very big. We’ve played him more than anybody else, probably, over the years. He’s made plays that were just jaw-dropping plays against us. You guys have seen them; the throws he’s made, the scramble plays he’s made, the red zone plays he’s made going out to his left and finding somebody — those are all indelibly marked in my brain, as you can probably tell. So, he’s unique.”
Unique enough that it appears that neither the Pittsburgh front office nor coach Mike Tomlin wanted to make the hard decision of moving on from Roethlisberger, even though his career had been on a downward spiral for the past two or three years. Both sides have maintained their loyalty.
Roethlisberger was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2004. He has been named to the Pro Bowl six times and has led the league in passing twice. He still owns seven NFL records and ranks sixth on the all-time passing yards list with 62,870.
Most importantly, he won two Super Bowl titles, XL and XLIII. The Steelers have tried to get Roethlisberger back into some kind of groove by hiring three offensive coordinators — Todd Haley, Randy Fichtner and Matt Canada — since 2012, but not much has really worked.
And the Steelers still wouldn’t say bye-bye to Big Ben.
But it’s not about scheme, philosophy or play selection. It’s about a quarterback who has fading skills and continues to hang on. It happens in every sport and once happened here in Baltimore with the legendary Johnny Unitas in the early 1970s before he left to play with the San Diego Chargers in 1973.
When Roethlisberger first came into the league, he modeled himself after Hall of Famer John Elway, the Broncos’ mobile and hard-throwing quarterback. Because of his size, even defensive linemen struggled to bring down Roethlisberger.
But he isn’t elusive anymore. In fact, sometimes you cringe when he gets hit in fear of him seriously getting hurt. The Steelers have adjusted because few quarterbacks get rid of the ball as quickly as Roethlisberger, who can’t throw as deep as he used to. He is still gutsy and will try to jam the ball into tight windows because that’s his nature. It’s his competitive side.
But the Steelers aren’t going anywhere with him as the starter. He has completed 64.6% of his passes for 2,522 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions this season while averaging 6.6 yards per completion. He has been sacked 24 times.
Last week, in a 41-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Roethlisberger completed 24 of 41 passes for 263 yards and two interceptions, including one that was returned for a 24-yard touchdown by former Steelers defensive back Mike Hilton on a pass that hung in the air as long as a Sam Koch punt.
The only remaining place for Roethlisberger to go in his career is the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. And he’ll have no problem getting in, just as the Ravens should have no problem defending him Sunday.
Unless, of course, an old Roethlisberger plays like the old Roethlisberger.