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Steelers 23, Ravens 16: Ben Roethlisberger hangs tough, Steelers hang on

At 36 years old, Ben Roethlisberger‘s still got it.

He can take the same kind of beatings he took when he was in his early 30’s.

Roethlisberger completed 28 of 47 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Steelers’ 23-16 win over the Ravens Sunday at Baltimore. He also ran for a touchdown, but for a couple of minutes early in the fourth quarter, it didn’t look like Roethlisberger would finish the game.

The Steelers quarterback scrambled for 12 yards and was taken down by Ravens defender Za’Darius Smith. Roethlisberger seemed to land on his right shoulder and stayed on the turf with the Steelers’ medical staff attending to him.

This wasn’t the first time in Roethlisberger’s career that Steelers fans have had to hold their breath and hope that he wasn’t hurt too badly after taking a hit. While some of his injuries have forced him to miss games, the Steelers always have avoided the worst-case scenario.

Was their luck about to run out?

This looked bad. The dreaded “out-for-the-season” cloud hovered over the situation for a few seconds there.

But Roethlisberger missed just one play. It turned out he just had the wind knocked out of him.

Swirling like the wind last week was the hype surrounding Sunday night’s Aaron Rodgers-Tom Brady matchup at Gillette Stadium, and rightfully so. Both quarterbacks are better than Roethlisberger. But there’s one thing Roethlisberger has done that neither Rodgers nor Brady has.

He’s played at least 11 games every year.

Sure, Roethlisberger’s been sidelined for clusters of games here and there throughout his career. But he’s never missed enough time to cost the Steelers a playoff berth.

Brady hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2008, but he did miss all but the first quarter of Week 1 that season with a knee injury. The Patriots just missed the playoffs that year and it’s a safe bet they would have made it with a healthy Brady.

Rodgers missed seven games in 2013 and nine games last year with a broken collarbone. The Packers couldn’t overcome Rodgers’ absence in 2017 and missed the playoffs.

Since 2009, neither Rodgers nor Brady have missed the playoffs when fully healthy. That’s more than can be said for Roethlisberger, but the playoffs are looking more and more likely every week for the AFC North-leading Steelers (5-2-1).

While the Steelers avoided disaster Sunday, there was evidence that their preparation for such a calamity is as good as it’s been since the days of Charlie Batch.

Those 12 yards Roethlisberger picked up before getting squashed by Smith? Turns out they were gained in vain because the Steelers committed a holding penalty. So leading 20-13 with 12:39 left, they faced a second-and-20 at their own 5-yard line with Joshua Dobbs standing in for Roethlisberger.

A fourth-round draft choice in 2017, Dobbs had never even attempted a pass in the NFL. So just hand the ball off a couple of times, try to get better field position for a punt and turn it over to the Steelers’ improved defense, right?

Not quite.

Dobbs’ first NFL pass was a 22-yard laser beam to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a first down. Back came Roethlisberger, who showed that he was just fine by completing a 51-yard pass to Jesse James to set up Chris Boswell‘s 29-yard field goal that increased the Steelers’ lead to 23-13 with 8:26 left.

The Steelers eventually held on and avenged their Week 4 loss to the Ravens at Heinz Field. They’ve won two straight games in Baltimore for the first time since 2001, the last year of the AFC Central, and 2002 and have won four of their last five overall against the Ravens going back to the Christmas Day classic that decided the AFC North in 2016.

The Ravens (4-5) have lost four of their last five. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2014 and John Harbaugh is on the hot seat according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. The Steelers, meanwhile, have been to the playoffs every year since 2014. They have the upper hand in this rivalry. Part of the reason for that is that Roethlisberger is clearly a better quarterback than Joe Flacco, but the Steelers also seem to have managed their backup-quarterback situation better than the Ravens.

Dobbs’ cameo was a factor in Sunday’s game, and so were Lamar Jackson‘s numerous appearances.

The rookie quarterback is doing more than just carrying a clipboard as Flacco’s backup. He ran the ball four times for 17 yards against the Steelers in Week 4. On Sunday, however, he gained just 10 yards on five carries.

On third-and-goal from the Steelers’ 5 in the first quarter, Jackson was wide open near the end zone, but Flacco didn’t bother to look his way and threw an incomplete pass. The Ravens settled for a field goal. Jackson hasn’t caught a pass and he’s only been targeted once. So it’s pointless to have him run routes.

The Ravens made a bold move drafting Jackson with the 32nd overall pick in April. The Steelers, however, made just as bold a move when they cut Landry Jones, who had been with the team since 2013, and made Dobbs the No. 2 quarterback behind Roethlisberger. While Dobbs had an impressive preseason, he didn’t figure to beat out Jones for a roster spot. Jones had experience in the system going for him, but the Steelers went with upside instead and it paid off Sunday.

The Steelers and their fans were forced to ponder an uncertain future for those few minutes when Roethlisberger was on the ground Sunday. Then Dobbs came in and made that picture look slightly more promising.

As long as Roethlisberger remains upright, however, there’s no time like the present for the Steelers.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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