PITTSBURGH - Ben Roethlisberger insisted for weeks he wasn't playing as badly as his statistics might indicate. Those numbers were as terrible as the Steelers' 1-3 record, too.
Now that he's had a breakout game, is he is the Super Bowl-winning Big Ben of last season - or still a work in progress after two major medical problems only a few months apart?
"Hines (Ward) and I have been telling you guys from Week 1, we're close," Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "Eventually if you keep getting closer and closer, you're going to click. Hopefully we can continue to click like we did last week."
The Steelers (2-3) couldn't have been expected to start as poorly as they did, nor could they have anticipated routing Kansas City 45-7 as they did Sunday. Roethlisberger threw seven interceptions and no touchdown passes in three starts - the only NFL starting QB without a touchdown pass until last week - before throwing nearly as many TD passes (two) as he did incompletions (three) on Sunday.
That was the efficient, make-few-mistakes Roethlisberger that won 27 of his first 31 starts for the Steelers until losing his first three this season. His passer rating remains so low (60.2) that he is not among the league's top 30, but he hopes that scoring so many points and ending the three-game losing streak will give the offense some momentum.
"We all needed a game like last week," Roethlisberger said as the Steelers began practicing for Sunday's game at Atlanta (3-2). "We got a win. I think offensively we needed that as a group because we came out and played well in all phases of the offense as a group and put together an outstanding performance. I think that was big for us."
The Super Bowl champion Steelers are 1 1/2 games out of the AFC North lead following consecutive losses by Baltimore (4-2), though Roethlisberger said that's not on his mind with 11 games remaining.
"Right now, we're not thinking about winning our division, we're thinking only of winning one game and that's this week in Atlanta," he said. "Obviously, it's nice to know that we're close, but right now it's Atlanta and that's all we're focused on."
Clearly, though, he hopes this performance quiets those who were saying he had lost too much weight since his motorcycle accident and appendicitis attack, and questioned if he had returned too quickly from his two hospital stays.
"I felt like I've been practicing well," he said. "We've been practicing well and we finally took it out on the field on Sunday. Hopefully we can carry it onto the field on Sunday. As long as we play good on Sunday, that's all that matters to me."
Coach Bill Cowher felt Roethlisberger played better partly because he got better protection from an offensive line that did its job so well the Steelers outrushed the Chiefs 219-38.
The line played its best game of the season despite being without right guard Kendall Simmons (foot burn), who was replaced by second-year lineman Chris Kemoeatu. Simmons is questionable for the Falcons game, so Kemoeatu may start again.
"The way our offensive line is playing right now, I love it," Roethlisberger said.
"They're giving me time and protecting me. They'll tell you it's still going to be a challenge for them (against Atlanta). They are a good defensive line and they are going to bring a lot of pressure and they're very fast."
Notes:@ Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel on Falcons RB Warrick Dunn, one of the league's top rushers: "He's an amazing athlete. He's not a huge guy, but guys will hit him and you'll think he's down, but he's crawling and he'll get 10 more yards. You have to gang-tackle him, get him on the ground, pound on him, not let him find any seams." ... LB Joey Porter (hamstring) remains doubtful, and backup Arnold Harrison said he is prepared to make his second NFL start in his place. Asked to grade his play against the Chiefs on a 1-10 scale, he gave himself a 5.