Jumat, 09 September 2011

Broken beak is Ben's badge of Baltimore courage

Friday, September 09, 2011

By now, you might have heard Ben Roethlisberger plays pretty well against the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers have won seven games in a row in the contentious series with Big Ben at quarterback, including postseason wins last season and in 2008. They'll try to make it eight Sunday afternoon in Baltimore.

You probably also know some of Roethlisberger's signature moments against the Ravens. His five first-half touchdown passes and perfect 158.3 passer rating at Heinz Field in 2007. His winning 4-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 43 seconds left at M&T Bank Stadium in '08. His 65-yard touchdown pass to Holmes in the AFC championship game at Heinz Field that same season. His winning 9-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Redman with 2:59 left at M&T Bank Stadium last season. The comeback he led from a 21-7 halftime deficit in a divisional playoff game at Heinz Field last season. His 58-yard pass to Antonio Brown to set up the winning touchdown in that game.

But you'll never guess the career highlight Roethlisberger most cherishes against the Ravens.

Would you believe it's his broken nose in the game in Baltimore last season?

"That was no fun, I can tell you that," Roethlisberger said during a quiet moment after practice this week. "It's hard enough playing those guys anytime, but it's really hard playing 'em when you can't breathe."

No, it wasn't fun -- Roethlisberger said doctors told him his nose "looked like corn flakes" -- but it surely was significant to him. He was clubbed in the face by Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata early in the game. Ngata wasn't penalized on the play -- further proof to a lot of Steelers people that the NFL really isn't as interested in protecting Roethlisberger as it is the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings -- although he was fined $15,000 the next day about the same time Roethlisberger was having surgery.

"What makes me smile about that is I know people from Homestead, McKeesport, places all over the city ... real Steelers fans everywhere were watching and saw the blood all over the place," Roethlisberger said. "I hope they said, 'That's our guy. He's one of us. He never came out. He never quit. He's pretty tough.' "

There was another reminder of Roethlisberger's toughness late in that game, two plays before the winning pass to Redman. Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs -- "An animal," Roethlisberger called him with the utmost respect -- appeared ready to sack him but couldn't bring him down. Roethlisberger -- playing not just with gauze in his nose but with a broken right foot from the game against Buffalo a week earlier -- fought off Suggs before finally flinging away a shovel pass for an incompletion. It might have been the Steelers' most remarkable play of the season.

"I know people say I hold the ball too long and take too many sacks," Roethlisberger said. "But I'd like to know how many other quarterbacks would have taken a sack there. Time was running down. We were low on timeouts. I'm just going to keep fighting for every yard. I'm always going to fight for everything for my guys."

The Ravens learned Roethlisberger was a tough character long before that game. In 2006, they put two good lickings on the Steelers, sacking him a combined 14 times. Roethlisberger still says a sack by linebacker Bart Scott in the game at Baltimore is the hardest he has been hit. After the game, Scott bragged about feeling the air leave Roethlisberger's body.

Scott probably should have kept his mouth shut. The Ravens haven't beaten the Roethlisberger-led Steelers since those two games. They did beat the Steelers in 2007 when Roethlisberger sat out the last game to get ready for the playoffs, in '09 when he missed the game in Baltimore with a concussion and last season when he missed the home game because he was suspended.

"Luck. It has to be luck," Roethlisberger said of that 7-0 run against the Ravens. "It's just crazy to me because it's against that team and because of how good they are. I have no answer for why it's happened that way. It really is crazy. That's why I don't look at those numbers much. I hear people say I have such-and-such a record against the Ravens and such-and-such a record against [Baltimore quarterback Joe] Flacco. But it's not me. It's the team. That's why we've had success."

Roethlisberger sang a different song after the 31-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XVL in February. He threw two interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown. He failed to lead his offense to the winning touchdown in the final two minutes, something he had done to win Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals.

It wasn't about the team for Roethlisberger after that disappointing loss in Dallas.

"I don't blame anyone but myself," he said. "I feel like I let down the city of Pittsburgh, the fans, my coaches, my teammates ..."

OK, so taking blame is what $100 million quarterbacks are supposed to do.

Still, it was admirable.

"Look here," Roethlisberger said, reaching into his locker to pull out his locker nameplate from that Super Bowl. "I have another one under my mirror in my bathroom at home. I don't think about that game a lot now because I'm so focused on what's happening right now. But I still can't believe we didn't win it. A little reminder never hurts. It's motivation for me."

Probably more than you can imagine.

"I want to put on a good show [Sunday]," Roethlisberger said. "I don't want the game to be close. I want us to win big. I don't know if that'll happen, and I'll be really happy if we win, 2-0. But I do want to show I'm back and we're back."

One almost certainly will lead to the other.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. More articles by this author

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