PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin did not confirm nor deny reports that this is indeed the final season for the future Hall of Fame quarterback. Roethlisberger, who did confirm that he received a game ball for his play during the Steelers’ 20-19 come-from-behind win over the Ravens, said that his focus is on the 2021 Steelers and Pittsburgh’s upcoming Thursday night game in Minnesota.
The 39-year-old quarterback looked like a younger version of himself during the final stanza of Sunday’s game. After subpar play from Roethlisberger and his teammates during team’s recent 0-2-1 skid, Big Ben and the Steelers responded with a much-needed win against their most bitter rival.
“My focus is on Minnesota and what we have to do to get ready,” said Roethlisberger, who went 21 of 31 for 236 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday that included the game-winning touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson. “I’ll address any of that stuff after the season. I’ve always been a one game at a time, one season at a time person, and I’m going to stay that way.”
Tomlin, Roethlisberger’s coach for 15 of his 18 seasons in Pittsburgh, shared Roethlisberger’s sentiment as it relates to his quarterback’s future. Tomlin said that he does not anticipate a possible growing outside narrative of a Big Ben “farewell tour” impacting his team one way or the other.
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“Ben doesn’t allow it to become an issue,” Tomlin said. “Ben has been pretty solid in terms of his expressions that he is singularly focused on what we’re doing now. He’ll deal with those things on the other side of this journey, and I’m with him on it.
“It is not a distraction. I thought it was funny that it was seemingly a story this weekend, to be quite honest with you.”
With the outside world more focused on the future, Roethlisberger and the Steelers showed why the present may be worth paying attention to. The Steelers’ 2021 season, which appeared to be all but over following last Sunday’s stinker in Cincinnati, came to life on Sunday thanks to 17 fourth-quarter points from Pittsburgh’s offense and a defense that managed to force an incomplete pass on Baltimore’s game-tying, two-point conversion attempt with just seconds remaining.
The Steelers’ defense, led by T.J. Watt and former Raven Chris Wormley, sacked Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson seven times while holding the Ravens to 135 yards in the second half. Pittsburgh’s defense ended Baltimore’s promising game-opening drive with an interception by Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has two picks in as many games.
“We were kind of on our heels a little bit,” Wormley said of Pittsburgh’s defense prior to Fitzpatrick’s pick. “They were driving and moving the ball and converting on third downs. Minkah is one of the best safeties in the league, so for him to step up the way he has the last couple of weeks, it’s encouraging, because we’re going to need someone like him for the next five weeks.
“That was a big momentum shift for the defense, for sure.”
The offense was largely led by Roethlisberger and Johnson, who shook off an early drop in the end zone to catch two touchdowns and finishing the game with 105 yards on eight receptions. Johnson is now less than 90 yards away from becoming the Steelers’ first 1,000-yard receiving since JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown both did so in 2018.
“We had guys that showed a lot of heart; he’s one,” Roethlisberger said of Johnson. “He drops that ball and then comes back and makes a bunch of tough catches, a bunch of physical type plays, running for extra yards. And other guys, too. … Everyone stepped up and made a play today, and that’s what makes me most proud of this group.”
The Steelers also received some tough running late from Najee Harris and Benny Snell, as Pittsburgh controlled the ball for over 10 minutes in the fourth quarter after having possession for less than 14 minutes during the game’s first three quarters. Along with opening up holes for Harris and Snell, the Steelers’ much-maligned offensive line allowed just one sack of Roethlisberger, who registered his 51st career game-winning drive.
While he mentioned several teammates during his postgame press conference, it was Roethlisberger who received the game ball following his performance on Sunday night. Roethlisberger said that he was caught off-guard by the gesture.
“I don’t think that I deserve it,” Roethlisberger said. “I think a lot of guys deserve it, and we deserve it as a group. It’s always humbling when you play this team at home and coach recognizes you like that. It’s kind of cool.”
Roethlisberger said that he spoke to Harris about how Sunday night was likely his first of many matchups against Pittsburgh’s main rival. Roethlisberger talked to Harris about how he can infuse his unique physicality to what is arguably the NFL’s best rivalry. The Steelers-Ravens rivalry cannot be discussed without mentioning Roethlisberger, whose one-on-one rivalry with former Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was mentioned by Tomlin to the team during the days leading up to the game.
Roethlisberger may not have many Steelers-Ravens games left in him (the two teams play in Baltimore in the regular-season finale), but Sunday’s game left open the possibility of the Steelers making the playoffs for an 12th time with Big Ben under center. The Steelers gained ground on Baltimore and Cincinnati on Sunday, as the Bengals fell at home to the Chargers earlier in the day. They still have work in front of them, but the Steelers showed on Sunday that any talk of Pittsburgh being a no-show come the postseason is premature.
But Sunday night’s postgame was not the time to talk about the future. For Roethlisberger, it was a moment to enjoy another win in the Steelers-Ravens rivalry, a win that kept the rest of the Steelers’ 2021 goals in tact.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ve enjoyed this game, and this game specifically. Winning at home in front of our fans, it’s awesome.”