Imagine, for a second, a Pittsburgh Steelers playoff game without Ben Roethlisberger. Funny to think, isn’t it?
The guy has missed more than a full season’s worth of games since he entered the NFL due to various injuries and/or suspensions, but come playoff time, Ben is always under center for the Steelers. So when he walked into the press conference after last Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins with a boot on this foot, worry started to creep in for some. Others — perhaps more cynical others (waves politely) — thought Ben donned the boot to prove a point to his coach, like, “Hey, Mike, this is what can happen when you keep me in for the fourth quarter of a blowout win. Did you forget I already missed the biggest regular season game of the year? Are you trying to get me killed?”
If there’s one fault of Mike Tomlin it’s that he never knows when to pull the chute on a game, leaving his stars in far longer than they should. Antonio Brown was returning punts in the fourth quarter of a blowout a few weeks ago, so it stands to reason he would keep Ben in a playoff game way too long.
And yet, according to reports, the boot wasn’t a big deal and wasn’t Ben’s idea. Per the PG, Roethlisberger aggravated an old injury, and the boot wasn’t just precautionary, it’s already off.
He’ll be fine. (He should be fine.)
Joey Porter’s arrest notwithstanding, Ben’s health will be the biggest story of the week, even if it’s a non-story at this point already. That’s because, simply, the Steelers would have no chance in Kansas City without Roethlisberger. Put another way, if Landry Jones is taking snaps this Sunday, the Steelers are either up by three scores with under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter (with Tomlin, it won’t be a second sooner or a point closer) or something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Roethlisberger is 12-6 in his career in the playoffs, including a 4-1 record in the Divisional round. Yes, QBWINZ is an oversimplification of how he’s done in the postseason, but it’s not insignificant that with Roethlisberger under center, the Steelers are 9-3 after the Wild Card round, with three AFC titles and two Super Bowl rings.
Ben’s numbers have actually been better in the Wild Card round over his career — a 65 percent completion rate and 90.4 passer rating to 61 percent and an 89.4 rating in the Divisional round — but he’s thrown 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 195 attempts in Wild Card games to six touchdowns and just three picks in 149 attempts in the Divisional round.
Hitting your targets is good in the playoffs, but not hitting the other team is always better.
In his playoff career, Roethlisberger has tossed 24 touchdowns, rushing for three more and has 21 picks, including the utterly meaningless one at the end of the win over Miami. In Steelers’ playoff losses, he’s thrown eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions — that’s in just six games! — while in their 12 wins, he’s chucked 16 and ran for three, while tossing 10 picks.
Roethlisberger has a career passer rating of 94.1, but just 85.0 in the postseason. Part of that has to do with the increased level of competition, but more goes to the handful of really awful performances he’s had in the playoffs, like the Super Bowl
loss to win over — (Note: thanks for the pick up on that gaffe, internet) Seattle (22.6 passer rating) or any time he’s faced the Jets (35.5 and 57.8 ratings, both in Steelers wins). And yet, when Ben has a playoff passer rating higher than 90, the Steelers are 8-1 all-time.
When Ben throws two or more touchdowns, the Steelers are 5-3, compared to 7-3 when he throws 1 or none. Huh. That doesn’t prove much of anything. Well … (he writes more confidently) the Steelers are 6-1 when Ben does not throw an interception and 8-2 when he throws one or fewer. They are 4-4, including last Sunday, when he tosses two or more picks.
Of course, that’s all just history and context, and it doesn’t say what he’s done against the Chiefs. But this does: In Pittsburgh’s 43-14 win over the Chiefs in Week 4 this season, Ben was 22-for-27 (81.5 percent) for 300 yards and five touchdowns. His 152.5 passer rating was the seventh-best of his career and his yards-per-attempt of 11.11 was his best all season.
Roethlisberger has faced the Chiefs six times in his career, and is 5-1 with a 72.8 completion percentage and 118.7 quarterback rating, his best rate against any team he’s faced more than twice.
The Steelers will need more than just a good game from Ben to win. Le’Veon Bell will have to be great, and the defense will have to contain Chiefs offensive stars Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. This is not the same Chiefs team the Steelers faced earlier in this year, nor the squads Ben played earlier in his career. Kansas City has won 10 of its last 12 games to secure an AFC bye after falling to the Steelers in Week 4. And that game was in Pittsburgh, not Kansas City, which will be a much more hostile environment for Ben.
And yet, Ben is 4-2 in hostile playoff environments, with the only two losses coming in Denver, both last season and in the debacle known forever as the Tebow game.
Tim Tebow isn’t walking out of the Arrowhead tunnel on Sunday, and neither is Peyton Manning. But Ben sure will be, even if it’s with a slight limp.