The real Roethlisberger stands up

PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger was a transposed digit away from pitching a perfect game Sunday, his best game by far this season, but the former toast of the town wouldn't go so far as to say he is back.

"Not yet. I won't say that yet," Roethlisberger said. "I felt good out there today, though. I felt that things were really clicking and things were going well and who knows; hopefully. I'd love to pick it up and play like this every week."

They don't come much better than this one. Roethlisberger completed 16 of 19 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers' 45-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The critics smiled in his face after the game, and they asked him about the other critics who had the nerve to point out the 41.7 passer rating he took into the game.

"We had a lot of critics this week," Roethlisberger said, "as we probably deserved."

There was no "probably" about it. Roethlisberger came into the game with a 0-7 touchdown-interception ratio, but he picked the Chiefs apart from the start on Sunday.

Coach Bill Cowher said after the game that he was proud of the way Roethlisberger accepted the criticism with his thumb pointing back at himself. But Cowher had to be more proud of the way Roethlisberger kick-started the Super Bowl champs out of their three-game funk.

"He stood up to it all," Cowher said. "That speaks volumes about people and I think that's matured our football team."

Roethlisberger got some help from his young receivers. Santonio Holmes took the second pass of the game, a short curl, and turned it into a 50-yard gain that led to the Steelers' first touchdown.

Cedrick Wilson started the second drive with a 19-yard reception before Roethlisberger threw possibly his worst pass of the day: A deep ball to Nate Washington hung up in the air, but Washington might've caught it had he not mistimed his jump. Roethlisberger talked to him on the sideline and told him he would come back to him and that Washington would not only catch it, but score a touchdown.

It happened exactly as predicted. Roethlisberger's next pass was his first touchdown pass of the season, a 47-yarder to Washington. A fake pump, a fake handoff and a fake tackle by the safety played a part in Washington's touchdown.

"He definitely said that," said Washington. "Ben has just as much confidence in me as I have in him, if not more."

The pass gave the Steelers a 14-0 lead and there was no looking back. On the four series, Roethlisberger converted a third-and-15 with a 28-yard pass to Hines Ward to set up a Willie Parker touchdown. Roethlisberger's next pass was a 13-yard scoring strike to Ward for a 28-0 lead.

At the half, the Steelers led by 31-0 and Roethlisberger had a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He would finish with a rating of 153.8 as his season rating improved to 60.2.

Roethlisberger was asked to describe the key to the passing game's success, and he broke it down so that even his critics could understand.

"Throwing to the guys in the black jerseys, not the white jerseys," he said as a room full of critics smacked their foreheads.

Anything else?

"I'll tell you what: The pocket today was big. I had lots of time to sit in there. I don't think I really had to get out of the pocket at any time," he said. "The line did a phenomenal job. I can't say enough for how good those guys did, all five of them. Those guys gave me throwing lanes and gave me a pocket. When we do that, and the receivers get open, I think we can be pretty dangerous."

Roethlisberger, according to those who watch the film, had been close to putting this type of game together. Right tackle Max Starks, who lockers next to Roethlisberger at the Steelers' practice facility, is one who saw it coming.

"You keep going, you keep going. You're a hair or so off. Eventually the sights get just right for you and he exploded today," Starks said. "It was a great performance. He did a great job today; great management, great job on the field. He was the same as he's always been: cool, calm, collected, demanding attention like a quarterback's supposed to. He played his role very well today."

Had Roethlisberger been so "cool, calm, collected" throughout the three-game losing skid?

"He might've been a little edgier than he normally would," said Washington. "Ben is a relaxed guy in the huddle. To see him come out tonight and get back to being the relaxed guy and being confident and making the plays that we know he can make, it felt good to have him back out there like that."

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