Roethlisberger shines off field, too

Ben Roethlisberger didn't let a broken nose stop him last Sunday, nor will it stop him this Sunday. Yesterday he took reporters through some of the key plays and had some fun along the way.

PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger has gone through several stages with the local media, but on Wednesday, as he answered questions with tape all over his broken nose, he was at his very best.

He wasn't overly clever. Nor did he make any comments that'll end up on opposing bulletin boards. But Roethlisberger was thoughtful and relaxed, even funny.

"Mario Lemieux told me I finally look like a hockey player," was how he started the mini-conference.

Gone was any of the combativeness that's marked sessions in previous years. Gone, too, were the cliche-riddled remarks that had merely bided time. Also missing was any of the robotic insincerity that had been necessary earlier this year due to Roger Goodell's behavior modification program.

No, this was a different Roethlisberger. He even relayed the Sunday night conversation he had with referee Terry McAulay as Roethlisberger trotted out for the start of the Steelers' second offensive series, the one after Haloti Ngata had broken his nose.

"I just asked him if he saw the blood," Roethlisberger said. "I'm not one who cusses at the refs or anything, so I just asked him if he saw the blood from my head. His response was, ‘He was just trying to tackle you.' I just let it go from that."

While Roethlisberger could relax Wednesday in the locker room, he wasn't foolish enough to take any of the reporters' bait in the follow-up questions.

Q: Isn't it a penalty to punch someone in the nose during a play?

No response, only a chuckle.

Q: Is that what Terrell Suggs was doing, too, when he hit your helmet?

Roethlisberger laughed a bit louder, but still didn't respond.

One reporter – so impressed with Roethlisberger's showing against the Baltimore Ravens – put together a string of injuries with which the quarterback has dealt, and asked Roethlisberger how he can play so well under such conditions.

"I guess I'm soft or something," Roethlisberger said in a direct jab at Terrell Owens.

He'd called Roethlisberger "soft" a few weeks ago on some kind of TV show starring the Cincinnati Bengals' wide receiver. The Steelers, of course, play the Bengals this week and Roethlisberger's obviously ready.

"I'm practicing today, if that tells you anything," he said.

Roethlisberger could've taken Wednesday off along with Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward and Heath Miller, and nobody would've said anything; not with his injuries of late, and certainly not after the way he performed Sunday night against the Ravens.

Roethlisberger led the Steelers to only one touchdown, and that came on a third-down play after the defense handed him the ball at the Baltimore 9. And even that score might not have happened had the proper player been in the game.

Mewelde Moore was supposed to line up in the left slot and become the "hot" receiver on that blitz by the Ravens. But Moore would've certainly had a more difficult time breaking the tackles that his accidental replacement, the bigger Isaac Redman, had broken in taking the ball in for the touchdown.

Roethlisberger contributed more than just the pass to that play.

"Throughout the year it's been kind of Mewelde's play. He's a third-down guy and he's a big-time hot guy," Roethlisberger said. "When I saw [Redman] in there, not that I was shocked, but I just had to make sure he knew what his rules were on that, and if we got a cover-zero look, which we got, that he had to break right away. If you look early enough I'm telling him, ‘Hey, be ready. Be ready.' He did a great job. He caught it and the rest was him."

So, Roethlisberger had some luck riding with him on his only touchdown pass, but his words were the right words at the right time. He displayed that veteran savvy at other key points in the game, like on the fourth-and-1 play that drew the Ravens offside and kept a field-goal drive alive.

Why was Roethlisberger hurrying his offense at that particular point?

"I was trying to draw them offside," he said.

Whose call was it?

"Mine. I waved the punt team off. Pulled a Peyton Manning."

And how better to define Roethlisberger's savvy than his ability to once again keep the so-called greatest free safety in football history, Ed Reed, off the stat sheet.

In his ninth career game against Roethlisberger, Reed didn't break up a single pass. In those nine games, Reed has only one interception and two other pass break-ups. Roethlisberger has made the future Hall of Famer a virtual non-factor in the biggest games every season.

"I know where he's at," Roethlisberger explained. "People might sit there and say he's a non-factor, but that's probably because I didn't give him a chance to be one. There were a couple times I was going to chuck one deep, but I saw him and decided not to, or went away from him. So, he's a factor without being a factor, if that makes any sense."

Speaking of making sense, how does an incompletion become one of the biggest plays of a game?

Well, when the quarterback is athletic enough to fend off one of the best pass-rushers in the world, and savvy enough to leave the tackle box and throw the ball away. One reporter called it "the incompletion of the year."

"I wish I could've completed it," Roethlisberger said. "Suggs is a great player. I think I was lucky he was trying to get the ball at first, and then he tried to go for my head. My long arms kept him away and I got the ball off."

It allowed Roethlisberger a chance to go back to the 9-yard line and, two snaps later, throw the game-winning pass.

Did Roethlisberger get any credit in the film room the next day?

"We didn't watch any of it," he said. "We came in today and focused, really, on the Bengals."

A bit of a stretch perhaps, but the point was made, among many others.

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