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ROSSI: Big Ben carries Steelers on his broad back

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (TNS)

A one-legged quarterback just won an NFL game.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes as Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Paul Kruger (99) pressures in the fourth quarter on Sunday

OK, that's not completely true. Ben Roethlisberger has two legs. It's just that on his left one, the knee is tweaked, the shin is bruised and the foot is battered.

Still, on a Sunday when he wasn't expecting to play, Roethlisberger only needed one healthy leg to beat an NFL team.

Sort of.

The Cleveland Browns are an NFL team in name only.

With no logo on their helmets but impossible-to-read words all over their shirts and pants, they look lousy. They also lack discipline and structure under coach Mike Pettine. And apparently, owner Jimmy Haslam learned nothing about building a winning organization from his time as a minority partner to the Rooney family.

Steelers 30, Browns 9.

It was the same old story, the same old song and dance at Heinz Field. Except the Steelers danced with a quarterback whose foot was in a protective boot only a few days before.

“I'm not going to practice for a while,” a grinning Roethlisberger said after passing for 379 yards and three touchdowns.

Might not be fair if he did.

During the latest masterpiece performance of a masterful career, Roethlisberger looked quite capable of carrying the Steelers deep into the postseason.

It was a good look given his bad-luck season.

He looped in deep throws to Martavis Bryant. He powered quick strikes to Antonio Brown. He worked the middle to Heath Miller. (He even managed to sneak into a team photo with alumni from the Super Bowl XL team that rode Big Ben's arm to that Big Game.)

On the Steelers' second touchdown drive, Roethlisberger basically drew two penalties by himself.

On first-and-10 from midfield, his deep attempt for Bryant forced a pass-interference foul (accepted). To get the ball 35 yards down the field, Roethlisberger stood in and absorbed a roughing-the-passer call (declined).

A week ago, Roethlisberger barely could walk on a sprained foot that prevented him from finishing a win over Oakland.

“He perked up at the very latter part of the week,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

“I'm sure he was (limited physically), but obviously not enough to minimize his effectiveness.”



That's their story this season. It's a familar one, too.

The Steelers are 6-4. They've amassed that record despite getting their three most important players — Roethlisberger, Brown and Le'Veon Bell — into 10 of 41 quarters.

They're only going to get those 10.

That shouldn't prevent them from winning at least 10 games.

Given another gift from the NFL schedule-makers with a late-season bye, the Steelers again are poised to ride a closing stretch against soft opponents into the postseason. Their remaining opponents were a combined 27-24 before games played Sunday, and 15 of those wins belonged to Denver and Cincinnati.

On Sunday, the Broncos benched Peyton Manning in a blowout loss at Kansas City. He was 5 for 20 with four interceptions — a performance you'd expect from the old Andy Dalton, not arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

Dalton is the best quarterback the Steelers will face after their quarterback spends most of two weeks healing.

If Big Ben heals, the Steelers will be the team with which no AFC playoff team wants to deal.

Even with a defense that managed to hold noted aerial artist Johnny Manziel under 400 passing yards. Even with DeAngelo Williams, 32, a backup-turned-starter, as the only running back worthy of dressing. Even with the likelihood of a literal “road” to the Super Bowl.

Even with all of their shortcomings, the Steelers are standing on solid ground going into the bye week.

They're not perfect.

They are perfectly capable of getting hot and going a long way, if not all the way. And they need only look to the guys who their quarterback posed with Sunday.

How do you remember the magical season from a decade ago?

“We played our best at the end,” former left tackle Marvel Smith said. “We had gone through the hard part, a lot of injuries, some hard losses. We were healthiest at the right time.”


“Ben was great down the stretch, better in the playoffs,” Smith said. “That didn't hurt.”

Roethlisberger better get his rest before and after the bye. He's going to need sturdy legs to carry the Steelers on his back.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter .