Roethlis"BURGH" shows veteran poise

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> The Steelers can thank their running back, their wide receivers, their offensive line and their aggressive defense for a 34-23 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.<br><br> However, they must get down on their knees and count their blessings for their rookie quarterback.

Ben Roethlisberger played so well Sunday, he can now be mentioned in the same breath as Ed Rubbert.

"Who's that?" Alan Faneca asked with a hearty laugh.

Rubbert was the last quarterback - albeit in the strike games of 1987 - to win three consecutive games as a rookie quarterback. Roethlisberger, of course, has led the Steelers to three consecutive wins in as many starts.

Rubbert may not be memorable, but Roethlisberger is, has been and will be. Center Jeff Hartings used all three tenses when asked if he believed Roethlisberger could be so successful after starter Tommy Maddox went down with an elbow injury in the second game of the season.

"I did personally," Hartings said. "My brother went to Miami University with him and played with him a couple years, so I kind of had an inside scoop on his athletic ability. You can tell guys who have - I don't want to call it a swagger - but I always felt like he could step in and be in command. Today he made a couple plays that, yeah, you definitely look at and you're like, boy, this guy can play. The way he throws the ball on the run, being able to stop and still sling it 40-50 yards, that's just natural ability. I think Pittsburgh's going to be happy to have him."

With the Steelers 4-1 and in first place in the AFC North Division, Pittsburgh is ecstatic about Roethlisberger and what the future holds for the team.

Against the Browns, Roethlisberger completed 16 of 21 passes for 231 yards with a touchdown and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The interception bounced off Antwaan Randle El's hands and into those of Chris Crocker, who returned it 20 yards for a score. Roethlisberger also ran six yards for a first-quarter touchdown.

His touchdown pass was a 37-yarder thrown on the run to Plaxico Burress. Previously, Roethlisberger made a similar play by avoiding the rush of Ebenezer Ekuban, and taking a blow under the chin from Orpheus Roye, to hit Burress on the run. Burress caught the ball for a 48-yard gain, but fell down. Roethlisberger finished the drive with his touchdown run for a 14-7 lead.

What was most impressive about Roethlisberger?

"He hit Plax twice out of the pocket," said Faneca.

"He is very heady, very smart," said Browns coach Butch Davis.

"His demeanor," said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. "I was impressed with how he handled the whole situation, even after the interception that was returned for a touchdown. Even though it went through El's hands, it just didn't bother him. He went back out there on the next drive and went down the field."

Whisenhunt was asked what he thought of Roethlisberger's overall performance.

"I didn't think he was so good," Whisenhunt said with a straight face that eventually turned into a wicked grin.

"No," he said. "I'll tell you what though, there are some things out there that are open that he misses. I think that will come in time. But the things he does when there's not much there are special. The guys are adjusting to him. They're learning how he plays. They're doing a good job. It's exciting. The offensive line is really doing a good job."

Whisenhunt estimated he's simplified the offense by approximately 25 percent to allow Roethlisberger to play instinctively. Whisenhunt doesn't intend to add anything this week or through the bye.

"I think that has a cumulative effect," he said. "You have to be careful about that. You do things he feels comfortable with, and you find ways to do those things so they're different from week to week. I mean, we can design things and maybe something will be open, but if he's not comfortable with it he's going to have a hard time finding the right guys. So I think what you want to try to do is continue to keep things streamlined for him where you're not throwing a whole bunch of new stuff at him each week and let him perform."

After becoming the sixth rookie quarterback to win his first three starts (Phil Simms won his first four; Mike Kruczek his first six), Roethlisberger has a passer rating of 91.3. The team record is Terry Bradshaw's 87.8 in 1975.

As for Roethlisberger, after the game he credited his receivers, runners and blockers. He also credited the coaching staff, and didn't forget to mention the linebackers. He also mentioned that he does not like to lose. His teammates appreciate all of the above.

"Now we're 4-1," said Hines Ward. "You can't get any better than that, considering we didn't know what Ben was going to do. A lot of people started to jump off the bandwagon because we got a rookie quarterback. But it's a great feeling. We're 4-1 and we've got a big game next week in Dallas. If we can steal that, we're 5-1 going into the bye week. It's all up in the air then. Who knows how far this team can go?"

Nobody. Not even Ed Rubbert.

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