Big Ben leaves Steelers in good hands with Watt, Harris


Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) greets fans after an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns on Monday, Jan.3, 2022, in Pittsburgh.  The Steelers won 26-14.  (AP Photo / Don Wright)

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) greets fans after an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns on Monday, Jan.3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 26-14. (AP Photo / Don Wright)

PA

Ben Roethlisberger shook hands with his wife Ashley, surrounded himself with the couple’s three children and disappeared into the nooks and crannies of Heinz Field.

There is at least one game left in the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback’s career. And with a little luck, maybe a 12th visit to the playoffs.

Still, the outpouring of emotion in what became a more than three-hour retirement party in a 26-14 win over Cleveland on Monday night left very little doubt that it was the end for Roethlisberger. .

The tears were real. The hugs, chants and tributes from the players he’s shared a locker room with over the years – some of them still early in their NFL journeys, some of them long retired – too.

For nearly two decades, Roethlisberger has helped provide the Steelers (8-7-1) with the kind of stability and success that the vast majority of the league’s other 31 franchises have long desired, but rarely – very rarely – Appreciated.

Perhaps that is what made the clash with Cleveland so appropriate. The Browns passed the Ohio native in the 2004 draft, going to tight end Kellen Winslow with the sixth overall pick, leaving the Steelers to catch Roethlisberger at 11.

Almost 20 years later, the Browns are still looking for a long-term solution to the sport’s most important job. Baker Mayfield’s prospects appear to be fading week by week with his left shoulder in tatters and his future at Cleveland is murky at best.

It’s a darkness the Steelers are going to throw themselves into over the next few months for the first time in a generation. Maybe they’ll splurge free agency on a high-priced veteran. Maybe they will trade. Maybe they’ll use their first-round pick on someone like Pitt’s Kenny Pickett. Perhaps they will look to replacement Mason Rudolph, currently the only quarterback on the contract roster for 2022.

Pittsburgh is hoping to avoid the long search for a successor it endured after Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw’s career ended in 1983. It took the Steelers 21 years to land Roethlisberger, although the franchise is in a different place. now than it was when Bradshaw’s right elbow finally gave way.

The group Bradshaw left behind lacked identity. This will not be the case this time around. Along with outside linebacker TJ Watt and rookie running back Najee Harris, the Steelers have two worthy heirs to the “face of the franchise” nickname Roethlisberger has supported for so long.

Watt’s four sacks against the Browns brought his total to 21 1/2 this season, one short of the NFL record set by Michael Strahan in 2001. Harris beat Franco Harris’ club mark for yards on the ground as a rookie after accumulating a season. best 188 yards Monday night, including the decisive last-minute touchdown.

The gift of course belongs to Roethlisberger, however Sunday’s visit to Baltimore turns out. The future belongs to Watt and Harris, something that has not been lost on Watt, who is set to be a Steeler for life after signing a huge contract in September that will put him in his 30s.

There may come a point in a decade when it will be Watt who fades into the ether with his family chasing him and his legacy safe. Knowing that possibility made Roethlisberger’s departure even more poignant.

“You put so much into it, so much is going on behind the scenes, the sacrifices, and it’s not just yourself that you feel when people really bring them home to recognize and appreciate it like tonight.” , said Watt.

“I don’t think people really understand how special it was, not just for him, for us to see how well received and treated he was and how really, really special a place it was. . “

One who will carry a different vibe – if not different expectations – with Roethlisberger’s familiar No.7 lost in history.

WHAT WORKS

Center JC Hassenauer took over from injured and struggling rookie Kendrick Green and made a compelling argument that he deserves an extended look in 2022. With Hassenauer providing the kind of midfield push that the Steelers lacked for one Most of the season, Pittsburgh has racked up 190 rushing yards, their highest in a game in more than four years.

WHAT IS NOT

Maybe it’s the miles on Roethlisberger’s surgically repaired right arm. Maybe it’s all season pass protection issues. It might be a wide receiver group that seems to be regressing a bit, but first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s passing plan leaves a lot to be desired. Roethlisberger averaged just 2.7 yards per attempt while completing 24 of 43 for 123 yards with one touchdown and one interception, a surprising amount of shots coming to or behind the line of scrimmage by design.

STORE

Punter Corliss Waitman put in a solid second straight week while replacing inconsistent rookie Pressley Harvin III. Waitman averaged 48.8 yards on five kicks, including a 53-yard boomer out of the end zone despite a heavy strain in the third quarter.

SOLD OUT

Wide receiver Diontae Johnson is in the midst of the best season of his three-year career and caught Roethlisberger’s 417th touchdown pass in the first half, but also struggled to hang on to a few easy throws that would have produced positive footage if he had been able to hold up.

INJURIES

Offensive lineman Trai Turner’s status is uncertain with a knee injury. Pittsburgh is hoping several defensive starters – including linebackers Devin Bush and Joe Schobert – drop off the COVID-19 roster in time to take on the Ravens.

KEY NUMBER

2 – the number of times in Roethlisberger’s career he entered the final week of the season with the Steelers already eliminated (2006, 2012). For a quarterback who continues to insist his career isn’t all about the numbers, this one might be worth keeping in mind when his Hall of Fame discussion begins. in five years.

NEXT STEPS

Try to sweep Baltimore for the second season in a row hoping Jacksonville, the NFL’s worst team, can somehow muster the energy to beat the Colts, the only scenario the Steelers would advance to the playoffs.

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Naomi C. Amerson