Roethlisberger hopes experience pays off

PITTSBURGH – Back in 2004, Ben Roethlisberger was taking the NFL by storm, leading the Steelers to a 15-1 regular season mark and winning the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

But it was what Roethlisberger did the postseason that year that was so much more unlikely.

The rookie, starting in his first playoff game, led the Steelers to a 20-17 victory over the New York Jets at Heinz Field, completing 17 of 30 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the victory.

Why was that so suprising?

Consider that since the 2003 season, just three quarterbacks have won in their first NFL playoff start – Roethlisberger, Carolina's Jake Delhomme and Dallas' Tony Romo. Ten other quarterbacks have failed in their first playoff start in that time.

"I had no idea what was going on," Roethlisberger now admits about that game. "I probably still have no idea what was going on. I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off."

He followed that up the next weekend with a three-interception performance in a loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship at Heinz Field.

But the experience Roethlisberger gained in those two games helped him tremendously the next season, as he compiled a 101.7 passer rating in the team's four playoff games as they won Super Bowl XL.

"It's like night and day. Any rookie, they don't know what to expect in the playoffs," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "The Jets really should have beat us, but the Jets missed a field goal. We came out the following week and I'm sure it was a game he wishes he could come back. But the following year, during the Super Bowl run, he played phenomenal."

Such is the life for a quarterback in the NFL playoffs.

A grizzled veteran of six postseason starts, in which he's compiled a 5-1 record, Roethlisberger admits that starting a game in the regular season and one in the postseason are two completely different things.

"The first time I went through this, you didn't know what to expect," said Roethlisberger, who will lead the Steelers (10-6) against the Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5) in Saturday's AFC wildcard game.

"It was like, ‘Oh, this is just another game.' You don't realize that it's not. It's not just another game. Every mistake is magnified. Everything you do has to be precise."

The Steelers are hoping that history of quarterbacks struggling in their first postseason start continues for Jacksonville's David Garrard, who has just 30 career starts under his belt, including 12 this season.

"I hope he goes out there and has a bad game, just stinks the place up," said Ward. Roethlisberger, however, expects Garrard – a six-year veteran – to handle his first playoff start a little differently than he did.

"When you're a veteran like that, I think it's a little better than a rookie doing it," Roethlisberger said. "Still, it's the postseason and it will be different. But I expect that because he's a veteran, he'll be able to adjust quicker than most."

It will help that Garrard does have some experience, albeit in a mop-up role. He played the final two series up in Jacksonville's 28-3 wildcard loss at New England in the 2005 playoffs, taking over for an ineffective Byron Leftwich and completing three of eight passes for 68 yards.

Still, that doesn't come close to the playoff experience of Roethlisberger, who has completed 89 of 147 passes for 1,210 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions in the postseason.

"It shows up when you know how much faster the postseason is, how much faster everybody is moving and the decisions you have to make," said Roethlisberger. "I've put in the extra film work and study time this week and hopefully it shows on the field."

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter

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