Roethlisberger still has it

At 24, Ben Roethlisberger has done things most other quarterbacks only dream about. Sure, he's struggling, but you don't give up on him and you certainly don't bench him.

In his first two NFL seasons, all Ben Roethlisberger did was lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl victory, a pair of AFC Championship game appearances and a 27-4 record in games he started.

Those who suggested that Roethlisberger was merely an offensive caretaker, along for the ride while the running game and defense took care of business, were oversimplifying things, as evidenced by his 98.3 passer rating and seven fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories.

After watching Roethlisberger perform over the previous two seasons, one started to get the idea the young quarterback had what can only be referred to as "it."

Nobody can accurately describe "it," but it's that moxie certain athletes have that makes them special.

They may not be the biggest or most-gifted athlete but they seemingly will their team to victory time and again.

Tom Brady has it, as does Derek Jeter. Michael Jordan had it and so did Joe Montana.

They all had or have that innate ability to make a big play at just the right time to help their teams pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

And before this season, it looked as if Roethlisberger would be the latest poster boy for the it crowd.

But for most of this season, Roethlisberger appears to have lost it.

His gambling style, which helped him make so many big plays in his first two seasons, seems to have caught up with him.

"Maybe. I don't know," said Roethlisberger. "You just go out there and you play the game the way you know how to play it. That's how I play it and I'm not going to change. That's how I play football. It's worked for me in the years of my life, and hopefully we'll turn it around and I'll play better football."

Call it bad luck. Call it fate. Call it defenses catching up with him. Call it whatever you'd like. But those passes that were deflected by defenders in previous seasons are now getting intercepted. The scrambles for first downs or touchdowns that Roethlisberger made before haven't been available.

Some will blame injury – the motorcycle accident, appendectomy, concussions, knee injuries – for these problems. But the bottom line is that we will likely never know just how those things have affected his play.

Heck, for as bad as his statistics are, even in this season we've seen Roethlisberger have some games when he looked like the best quarterback to ever put on a helmet. We've also seen him when he's looked like the worst.

The bottom line is that he's still a 24-year-old quarterback and maybe we were all spoiled – including Roethlisberger – by his early success.

What we have to remember is that at 24, Montana was in just his second NFL season and was still sharing time with Steve DeBerg. Brett Favre was in his second season as a starter with the Packers, but third in the league, and throwing 24 interceptions. Many Hall of Fame quarterbacks would kill to have accomplished what Roethlisberger has at 24.

Most young quarterbacks go through growing pains that are part of their maturation process. The Steelers and Roethlisberger are dealing with that now.

In the short term, it might cost them a few victories, as it did Sunday against Oakland.

The bet here is that Roethlisberger hasn't lost that innate ability that made him special in his first two seasons. And when he works his way through his current problems, he'll be a better quarterback – and the Steelers will be a better team – because of it.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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