Roethlisberger back in saddle

PITTSBURGH – How hard did Ben Roethlisberger lobby his coach to play last Sunday? "Very hard," said Roethlisberger.

He ran for him. He threw for him.

"I don't know why he made his decision," Roethlisberger said of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

Not that anyone would ever admit to it, but the truth might be that Cowher wanted to make sure his quarterback was 100 percent healthy for the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday. It's that big of a game.

Roethlisberger will play, and he'll play with all the mobility he had prior to hyperextending his left knee two weeks ago against the San Diego Chargers.

Roethlisberger missed the loss Sunday to Jacksonville. He didn't lobby Cowher during the game and tried to help Tommy Maddox cope with one of the worst games of his career.

"People need to realize – and I know they won't – there were 45 mile-an-hour winds out there," Roethlisberger said. "It was tough. A lot of those plays were not his fault. The wind's knocking the balls down. There's no way he should've gotten the criticism that he did. I was there and I was trying to support him to tell him it definitely was not his fault."

Maddox was intercepted three times and fumbled in overtime. Did Roethlisberger talk to him after the game?

"It's hard for a young guy to talk to a veteran like that," he said. "What do you say to him? He's had so much more experience than me. I really just went up and patted him on the back and said keep your head up. That's all I can do."

But Roethlisberger will be back in the saddle for the showdown in Cincinnati. Not only will the Steelers and Bengals battle for the top of the division, Roethlisberger and Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer will vie for the top of the NFL passer ratings list.

Roethlisberger leads the NFL with a rating of 123.8, followed by Palmer at 113.6. But Palmer's Bengals are 5-1 and the Steelers are 3-2.

"He's the MVP right now of the league," Roethlisberger said.

"I think he's improved with the fact of playing one play at a time," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of Palmer. "I think that's the biggest thing you had to convince him of last year: just let things happen one play at a time and things are going to be alright. Once in awhile, it's OK to punt it."

Palmer, 25, was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2003 and moved into the starting lineup last year, when he had a passer rating of 77.3. In two games against the Steelers, he completed 33 of 62 passes for 329 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He was sacked 4 times.

Roethlisberger, 23, was the No. 11 overall draft pick in 2004 and moved into the starting lineup the third week of his rookie season. He had a passer rating last year of 98.1. Against the Bengals, he completed 32 of 46 passes for 312 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He was sacked 8 times, including 7 times in the Steelers' second win over the Bengals.

"It was a tough game for us," Roethlisberger said. "They came out and did a lot of different things, threw some blitzes at us. I didn't play my best game; it was probably one of the main reasons why it was so close. Hopefully we'll have a better game this time."

It would shock no one if these two quarterbacks think and talk about their games against one another for the next several years. They are young and talented and the foundations of two of the AFC's best teams.

"The fact that you have two franchise quarterbacks in the game, who are both at nearly the same level of development, is exciting," said Steelers radio analyst Tunch Ilkin. "It's a beautiful thing. There's a lot to look forward to."

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