The Steelers' season and Big Ben's statistics seem frighteningly similar to another defending Super Bowl champ and quarterback. The team? The '02 Patriots. The QB? Tom Brady.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The quarterback, having won a Super Bowl in his second NFL season, is playing inconsistently in his third, and the defending champions are in a nosedive near midseason.
Fans grouse about whether the quarterback is a one-hit wonder, and they pine for the cagey old veteran quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers of 2006? It could be, but it also describes Tom Brady and the New England Patriots of 2002.
New England won its first Super Bowl after the 2001 season, and Brady was the game's MVP. The Patriots opened defense of their title in 2002, as did the Steelers this year, with a big victory -- against the Steelers.
Yet four consecutive losses left them 3-4, and Brady was playing below expectations. In those four losses, Brady threw seven interceptions and six touchdown passes and had a passer rating of 64.3.
Coach Bill Belichick did not replace his young quarterback, but it did not stop the fans
from wondering whether Tom Brady, who became a starter in his second season when an injury sidelined Drew Bledsoe, was a fluke. Many also bemoaned the fact that the team had traded Bledsoe early in 2002 and had put too much faith in Brady too soon.
The Patriots finished the 2002 season at 9-7 as Brady improved his play, but they did not make the playoffs. They went on to win the Super Bowl in each of the next two seasons, and Brady pocketed another of the game's MVP awards. They made the playoffs last season and, after Brady threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-7 victory Monday night at Minnesota, the Patriots are 6-1 and on track to try to win a fourth Super Bowl in the past six seasons.
Roethlisberger had a better start to his career than Brady-- "unprecedented," Bill Cowher called it yesterday. He broke all of Dan Marino's rookie records while going 13-0 as a starter in 2004. Last year, he finished third in the league in passer rating and his team won the Super Bowl.
Yet, after playing poorly in parts of four of his six starts this season -- games in which the Steelers are 1-5 -- Roethlisberger, like Brady in 2002, is coming under question by fans and media. There are media polls, including one by this newspaper today, asking whether Roethlisberger should be benched in favor of backup Charlie Batch.
Yesterday, Cowher was asked at his news conference if he thought of pulling Roethlisberger in the midst of his four-interception game Sunday at Oakland and if he will be on a "shorter leash?"
Cowher issued an emphatic, "No," thus taking the same approach Belichick did with Brady in 2002.
Cowher said, however, that he thinks Roethlisberger is trying too hard and that perhaps a downturn could be expected from a young quarterback who had so much success in his first two NFL seasons.
"The important thing is how you deal with it," Cowher said. "Ben Roethlisberger is a good football player, he's a good quarterback. He will learn from it. I think the greatest thing about that is he recognizes that. He's accountable. He's a stand-up guy. Those things will make him a stronger player, a stronger person through the course of time. I truly believe that.
"What he's done in the time he's been here is unprecedented. ... The thing is, he played two pretty good games in the weeks prior to this game. There had been no turnovers. He had not thrown an interception in two consecutive games, one at home and one on the road."
Roethlisberger, overall, has completed 62.2 percent of his passes and thrown six touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His passer rating is 70.7.
Cowher was asked if all of Roethlisberger's "maladies" had anything to do with his performance.
"That's a hard question to answer. It's all speculation," he said.
Roethlisberger left the previous game in Atlanta in the third quarter because of a concussion. He resumed full practice Thursday after receiving clearance from doctors.
"Based on last week and talking to him and the week of practice that he had, there was no question about him playing," Cowher said. "What happens when you lose, a lot of things come under the microscope, as they should. But all the speculation about him, about me, that becomes a part of it. You've got to be able to deal with it."