Ben Nets Two-Ring Lead on Rivers

There's no way to know at this early stage where Ben Roethlisberger's career will lead or whether he someday might wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he surely put an entirely new perspective on his stature with a superb performance in Super Bowl XLIII Sunday night.

The story of the Pittsburgh Steelers was supposed to be written by their defense, the league's best, a unit that allowed more than 300 yards in only one of its previous 18 games.

Instead, on a night the defense permitted more than 400 yards to the Arizona Cardinals and saw a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead disappear, it was Roethlisberger who took command in the final three minutes by leading a drive that earned him a place in history alongside the late-game Super Bowl heroics of quarterbacks like Joe Montana, John Elway and Tom Brady.

Roethlisberger did it with his arm, but he also did it with his powerful legs and torso. The aggressive Cardinals kept coming after Roethlisberger, whose offensive line this year was not up to Steelers standards, but they couldn't sack him when it counted.

Pittsburgh's winning drive covered 78 yards in eight plays in 2:12.


QB Ben Roethlisberger
AP

All eight plays were passes by Roethlisberger. Six were complete, for 88 yards. Yes, that's 10 more yards than the length of the drive, because it began with a holding penalty. Did we happen to mention that this was not one of Pittsburgh's better offensive lines?

This was the usual pattern of the game: An Arizona defender would break through a crack in the Pittsburgh line. Roethlisberger would be forced to escape from the pocket. He would keep his poise, keep his eyes looking downfield and find a receiver to throw to.

"Most quarterbacks would not have been able to make those plays," said Arizona defensive end Bertrand Berry. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, whose two fourth-quarter touchdown drives would have made him the hero but for Roethlisberger's late work, praised Roethlisberger's footwork and said, "He was very poised."

He had to be. As good as he was at getting out of trouble, the Steelers still allowed two sacks and gave up a safety when center Justin Hartwig was called for a holding penalty in the end zone rather than let Roethlisberger get hit.

Roethlisberger completed 21 of 30 passes for 256 yards and one touchdown, the end zone, tip-toe catch by Santonio Holmes, who was not the primary receiver, of a 6-yard pass with 35 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh became the first team to win six Super Bowls, and Roethlisberger (two) joined Brady (three) as quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls in their first five NFL seasons.

This one was special. And it should change the way Roethlisberger is viewed.

When the Steelers won the Super Bowl three years ago, Roethlisberger was completing just his second NFL season and he played poorly. Last week, he said he expected to play much better this time because he was more experienced and more relaxed.

And he was right.

"He's not the same guy he was in the last one," said Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh coach who became the second African-American coach, after Tony Dungy, to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. "He was a young guy in the last one. He's a franchise quarterback (now)."

"I felt a lot better (tonight)," Roethlisberger said. "I didn't have the jitters. I actually didn't feel really nervous, but then when the planes flew over (in a pre-game ceremony), that's when I was the most nervous."

Because the Pittsburgh defense and running game are both so strong, Roethlisberger generally had been viewed as more of a caretaker than a franchise quarterback even though he was in the starting lineup for an NFL-record 51 victories in his first five seasons.

The winning drive dispelled that caretaker notion, especially the winning play.

Holmes, chosen as the game's MVP, was no more than the third receiver on the play. Roethlisberger said he wanted to throw to the flat first, but it was covered so he looked next to Hines Ward, who also was covered, "getting held," Roethlisberger said.

"But all of a sudden, I saw (Holmes) go to the corner. I threw it and thought it was going to be (intercepted). He made a heck of a catch."

Actually, there wasn't really much threat of an interception.

Holmes was in the back corner of the end zone, and Roethlisberger floated the pass over three defenders, including nickel corner Ralph Brown, who was closest to Holmes. Brown jumped. The ball floated over his outstretched hands into the outstretched hands of Holmes, who is only an inch taller. Holmes stretched his arms to the sky and kept his feet on the ground with a ballet-like move, falling to the ground outside the end zone still tightly clutching the ball.

A short time later, after a final stop by the Pittsburgh defense, Joe Namath -- hero of another Super Bowl stunner 40 years ago -- presented the Steelers with another trophy for their collection. He passed through a receiving line that allowed players and coaches to touch it.

One man did not.

"I see five of them every day" Tomlin said. "I know what they look like."

Now, he can see six of them every day. And that's more than any other franchise in the league.


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