Ben Is Great

Dale Lolley's notebook with an ode to the great Ben Roethlisberger:

In Ben they trust.

The Steelers now have a modicum of control their own destiny thanks to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

A few weeks ago, a report surfaced that Roethlisberger would seek to be traded in the offseason, and the Steelers would be more than happy to oblige to rid themselves of his contract.

Both the Steelers and Roethlisberger quickly denied any such thing was going to happen, but that didn't stop some from running with the story as if it were a fact.

The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth.

There are plenty of reasons why, but the biggest is this: with Sunday's win over Cleveland, the Steelers are now 37-11 in games started by Roethlisberger against AFC North opponents. More importantly, he's now 18-5 in AFC North road games.

Coming into Sunday's game no team in the AFC North had gone on the road this season against an AFC North opponent and won.

Now, there is one. Anybody want to bet he can't lead the Steelers to another win Thursday night in Baltimore? I certainly wouldn't bet against him.

As long as winning your division remains the easiest way to earn a playoff spot, Roethlisberger isn't going anywhere.

The Steelers remain a long shot to win the division - though Cincinnati certainly has at least a couple of losses remaining on its schedule.

But they're very much alive in the AFC wildcard race. And Roethlisberger has been a huge part of that, just as he was a huge part of the team's horrible start.

Roethlisberger had five touchdowns and five interceptions in the first four weeks. Since then, he's thrown 14 touchdown passes with five interceptions.

More importantly, he quit turning the ball over on fumbles.

In other words, after a slow start, he began playing like an elite quarterback again. And you don't trade an elite quarterback unless you have a viable replacement. The Steelers do not.

In each of the past two games, the Steelers have put more of the offense in Roethlisberger's hands, allowing him the freedom to run more of the no-huddle offense that he's longed for basically since joining the Steelers in 2004.

It's working thus far.

And the Steelers just might no-huddle themselves right into the playoffs.

Following Sunday's win, the Steelers joined a logjam of AFC teams at 5-6.

The Steelers have the best quarterback of that group.

With two Super Bowl victories and three trips to the NFL championship game under his belt, Roethlisberger is certainly the most accomplished.

If he can take the Steelers into the postseason after that horrendous first month, it just might be his biggest accomplishment yet.

@ Troy Polamalu wouldn't admit to it and neither would head coach Mike Tomlin, but the Steelers almost certainly saw something with the Cleveland running backs not named Willis McGahee that made them think they could strip the ball out.

Polamalu got one key forced fumble - actually he just took the ball away - from Chris Ogbonnaya right before the end of the first half. He very nearly had one doing the same thing earlier in the game before being knocked away by a teammate as Polamalu pulled at the ball.

@ The Steelers pretty much stayed away from Joe Haden early in the game, almost ignoring wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Then, on their fourth possession, Brown, who had been targeted just once to that point, was targeted four times in a span of seven plays.

He finished with six receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown, a 41-yard bomb on which he all but lulled Joe Haden to a standstill before kicking in the afterburners and blowing past Cleveland's star corner.

That catch, by the way, was only the second 40-plus-yard gain allowed by Cleveland this season.

@ As he ran into the locker room, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin yelled, "Let's get going men. It's Tuesday already."

That was in reference to the short week the Steelers will be working on as they prepare to head to Baltimore Thursday to face Baltimore.

As we all know, the NFL has scheduled Thursday games every week this season. But this will be the first and only time this season that a team will be forced to play on the road Thursday night after playing on the road the previous week.

Yes, the Steelers only had a 2-hour bus ride to get to Cleveland, but a road game is still a road game. Not only that, but the Ravens were also at home this week.

That's about as bad of a jobbing from the schedule maker as I can remember the Steelers getting in quite some time.

@ William Gay's interception return for a touchdown was not only the first of his career, it was also the first return of any kind for a touchdown by the Steelers this season.

And yet, since Week 3, when they got tight end Heath Miller back in the lineup, the Steelers have averaged 24.9 points per game.

Since they got rookie running back Le'Veon Bell in the lineup in Week 4, that average is 25.1 points per game.

The point of that is that the offense has never been the issue this season. And if the Steelers defense is going to start turning the ball over and getting sacks as it did Sunday - getting five and four, respectively - Pittsburgh is going to keep on stacking wins.

@ More importantly, Roethlisberger has been sacked just once in the past two games, including none Sunday against a Cleveland defense that entered the game with 31 sacks.

@ I thought the key on Sunday was that the Steelers came out in a cold, windy stadium and established their running game, even though they were running their no-huddle.

That wasn't only important Sunday, but it was also important for future games as they showed that they can have success - Bell had 10 carries for 43 yards in the first half - running out of their no-huddle look.

@ In case you missed it last week, Jason Worilds told me that fans comparing him and Dallas linebacker Sean Lee are being foolish because the two play completely different positions and Worilds didn't get much of a chance to play before because he was stuck behind two Pro Bowl linebackers.

After Worilds had six pressures on Sunday - matching Cameron Heyward's game against the Jets for the most by a Pittsburgh defender this season - the question now should be how seriously do the Steelers have to consider re-signing Worilds after this season?

At this point, I'm thinking pretty seriously.

@ Steve McLendon was in a boot and on crutches after Sunday's game and the Steelers' nose tackle won't play Thursday night against Baltimore. He'll probably miss the week after that as well with a badly sprained ankle. At least it's not broken, which is what the team originally feared.

But backup Al Woods not only got his first career sack Sunday, he had his first career two-sack game.

In fact, the Steelers had a season-high five sacks and not one came from a linebacker.

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