It’s fitting that the last true remaining iconic player of this series led the Pittsburgh Steelers to victory Sunday.
Love him or hate him, but Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a Ravens killer.
All the other top cast members have retired, such as Pittsburgh’s Plaxico Burress, Jerome Bettis, Joey Porter and Baltimore’s favorite No. 1 villain, Hines Ward. Gone on the Ravens’ side are Shannon Sharpe, Bart Scott, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs.
Big Ben is still around. I know what you’re thinking. Why couldn’t he have left with the rest of the characters?
At age 38, Roethlisberger has been chastised so much this season for being too old and having lost his arm strength. Years ago, the Steelers went to a quick-strike offense so he didn’t have to take any additional punishment. It didn’t appear Pittsburgh would be a playoff-caliber team until Roethlisberger retired.
Even if they get into the postseason, Pittsburgh isn’t going far. But guess who got eliminated Sunday?
Big Ben strikes again.
Including the playoffs, Roethlisberger is 19-11 against the Ravens and 17-10 in the regular season. He has orchestrated 11-game-winning drives against Baltimore, including the 15-play, 65-yard march that ended with a game-winning 36-yard field goal from Chris Boswell in overtime.
It’s time for Roethlisberger to leave. Please go.
The worst part is that Roethlisberger was so ineffective for most of the game. Either he zigged when his receivers should have zagged or sometimes he just threw passes into the ground short of the intended target. Maybe some of it can be blamed on rain-soaked footballs, but Roethlisberger has thrown a lot of bad passes this season.
But in crunch-time, he is right up there with Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. He’s like the pizza man, because he always delivers.
With the Ravens up 10-6, Roethlisberger led the Steelers on a 10-play, 50-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Chase Claypool with 2:54 left in regulation. The pass to Claypool was a beauty, a quick dart on a slant in which Roethlisberger quickly shifted his feet and threw an accurate pass.
Roethlisberger was only getting warmed up. The game-winning drive was a series that football fans come to expect, but Ravens fans hate. Roethlisberger converted on a third-and-7 from the Pittsburgh 31, a third-and-9 from the Pittsburgh 46 and a fourth-and-8 from the Steelers’ 41. Which pass was the best? The third-and-7 conversion to Pat Freiermuth was great because safety Geno Stone was draped all over the rookie tight end and Roethlisberger put it in the perfect spot.
The fourth-down conversion was just as good because Roethlisberger put touch on the pass, almost like a shot put. The Ravens played man-to-man and zone, but they had no answers for him.
“He made a couple plays against man coverage, I think, [in] critical situations that were key,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Then when he made the last one, he found it against zone [coverage]. He just made some throws, and they made some catches in critical situations.”
Roethlisberger was only 8-for-15 for 66 yards in the first half but finished 30-for-44 for 244 yards with one touchdown and a passer rating of 80.1.
After the game, another long-time veteran, Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell, put the game into perspective.
“You know, you have to pay respect where respect is due,” Campbell said. “We made it hard on him. We definitely made it hard on him, and he just kept coming. You have to respect the competitor. He’s a Hall of Fame player for that very reason, because when the game is on the line, that’s when his best football comes out. He made the plays he needed to.
“It just sucks, because we felt like we had the opportunity to win the game, and we didn’t get it done. It’s really a testament to them. They made the plays, and we didn’t. ‘Big Ben,’ he’s a legend for making the plays in the critical moments. He’s a warrior. Much respect to him.”
When the Steelers fell to 1-3 early in the season, there were some who had written them off. Later in the season, there were doubts about coach Mike Tomlin and whether he would finish with a losing record for the first time in his 15 years in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers ended the season at 9-7-1, while the Ravens finished at 8-9 with six straight losses. The dismal showing left Harbaugh in a sour mood after the game.
Ravens fans had to be feeling the same disappointment. Through the years, they’ve lost their big-name starters to retirement, but Roethlisberger is the last man standing.
But he is still winning, and still beating the Ravens.
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“It’s pretty special,” Roethlisberger said of playing in Baltimore. “Do you expect anything different in this rivalry? It’s special. Anytime you come to this place and get a win. People always ask me where is my least favorite place to come and play? It’s always Baltimore, and it’s for a couple of reasons. It’s because of how good the team is and its defense. And this place is always crazy loud. The fans are ruthless, which I think is a compliment to this place and how hard it is to play here. So, it’s pretty special to get this win.”