Ravens' hit on Maddox ignited Steelers' season

OWINGS MILLS -- Gary Baxter can appreciate the irony.<br><br> It was his blitz, his crushing hit on Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox's elbow that launched the epic rookie campaign of Ben Roethlisberger and ignited the Steelers' breakthrough season.

When Baxter knocked Maddox out in the third quarter of the Ravens' 30-13 win Sept. 19 in Baltimore, he, along with the rest of the NFL, had no clue that the insertion of the first-round draft pick would springboard Pittsburgh (13-1) to a dozen consecutive wins.

"People have asked, 'Did he write you a Christmas card or give you a present?'" Baxter said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this would happen. It's quite apparent that he's definitely the MVP of that team. He's having, not a good year, not a great year, but a terrific year."

Instead of going backwards, the Steelers have vaulted into ownership of the AFC North crown.
Under Roethlisberger, they have outscored opponents 299-186. He was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl this week, and is a lock for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Of course, the towering former Miami (Ohio) star has been aided significantly by the veteran presence of receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, running backs Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley and gritty interior linemen Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings.

"I've been extremely lucky to have the guys around me that I've had," Roethlisberger said. "They've done a wonderful job of helping me out in every facet of the game, both on and off the field. I've truly been blessed."

Could the Steelers have duplicated this success with Maddox under center?

"Oh, who knows?" Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Tommy's an excellent quarterback. I imagine they'd probably have kept the same profile. You've got to believe that they'd be successful. But the way they've responded and rallied around a young quarterback and focused on the profile that it takes to win with that, it's impressive."

The 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger is so popular he's even had sandwiches named after him in the voracious Steel City.

He has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 2,400 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a 96.3 quarterback rating. He has flashed a rare combination of arm strength, mobility, toughness and sound decision-making skills.

"I think he has a lot of great athletic ability," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "I think he has a lot of smarts about the game at the same time."

Under Roethlisberger, the Steelers have managed to defend Heinz Field with convincing wins over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets.

Yet, none of that might ever have happened without Baxter's stinging hit on Maddox's throwing arm.
"What is the irony in that one?" Baxter said. "Knocking out a starting quarterback and the backup comes in and is having this wonderful dream-like season and doing an excellent job. You have to take your hat off to him."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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