Monday, September 15, 2008
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CLEVELAND -- I took a fair amount of grief last week for opining that Ben Roethlisberger is the NFL's best quarterback now that Tom Brady is done for the season. It didn't all come from Peyton Manning fans and Tony Romo fans. A lot came from Steelers fans, who made it clear they love Big Ben, but that I'm seriously overrating him.
I'm sticking to my opinion and I'll give you two more reasons why:
Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.
Those guys would make any quarterback pretty good.
Let me put it another way:
Would Terry Bradshaw have been so terrific without John Stallworth and Lynn Swann?
Ward and Holmes were huge in the Steelers' 10-6 win against the Cleveland Browns last night on a wet, blustery, miserable evening beside Lake Erie, in a game that gave them early control of the AFC North Division and a two-game lead over the Browns (0-2). Ward scored the only touchdown with an 11-yard catch in the second quarter and bailed the Steelers out of big-time trouble with a 31-yard reception late in the third quarter. Holmes set up Jeff Reed's 48-yard, third-quarter field goal with a fabulous catch for 48 yards.
Ward and Holmes combined for 10 catches for 153 yards in the abysmal conditions.
It's fair to say Roethlisberger wouldn't trade 'em for any pair of wide receivers in the league.
"I know I wouldn't trade 'em for anybody," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was saying as midnight approached last night. "They both block. They both do everything we ask of them. And they're both capable of making huge plays."
It wasn't surprising that Ward tormented the Browns again. He always seems to do something to beat them. Last night, it was that touchdown catch in the middle of the end zone, one play after he took a big hit and couldn't hang on to what would have been a superb touchdown grab. You noticed Roethlisberger had no trouble coming right back to him, didn't you? Certainly, Big Ben didn't hesitate to look for Ward again on a second-and-10 play from the Steelers' 2 late in the third quarter after the Browns had cut the Steelers' lead to 10-3 and appeared to be taking control of the game. Ward's 31-yard catch didn't lead to a score, but it changed the field position.
"I try to be perfect, but I'm not perfect," Ward said of his drop in the end zone. "I make that catch 98 percent of the time, but I didn't make it on that play. It was nice to be able to come right back and redeem myself."
Ward celebrated the touchdown by scratching like a dog -- right in front of the Dawg Pound, of course.
"Just marking my spot," he said, grinning. "That silenced 'em. That was real nice."
It was the third consecutive game against the Browns in which Ward scored a touchdown. It also continued his red-hot start; he had six catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-17 win against the Houston Texans last week.
"I'm healthy for the first time in a long time," Ward said. "That's what I can do when I'm healthy."
It also figured that Holmes would make a big play against the Browns. The pride of The Ohio State University loves playing in Ohio. He's now 5-0 as a pro in games in Cleveland and Cincinnati. His major contribution on this hideous night was the 48-yard catch, a terrific grab because he had to outfight cornerback Brandon McDonald for the football. It gave the Steelers a first down at the Cleveland 36, and Reed came on to kick what proved to be the clinching field goal three plays later.
"He can do that every game," Arians said. "I was a little bit mad at myself last week because I really didn't give him a lot of opportunities. We've got to take at least two or three shots [deep] a game with that guy."
Big-time players make big-time plays when it counts.
So it was last night for Roethlisberger, who, despite the rotten conditions, completed 12 of 19 passes for 186 yards and had a passer rating of 113.0.
So, too, it was for Ward and Holmes.
Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette