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Big Ben Strikes Again

Roethlisberger is big, he's strong, and has taken more punishment than any quarterback in the league the last couple of years, perhaps save Leftwich. He's been carted from the field after hits. He's been carted from the street after a motorcycle accident. He's proven to be nearly indestructible. Oh, and he wins more than anybody out there, even though the talent around him is, well, pretty good. Eli Manning might miss Plaxico Burress, but Big Ben doesn't.

He's 15-4 as a starting quarterback vs. teams in the NFC, which ought to be of great interest to the Cardinals. He's got 24 touchdown passes to only 14 interceptions in those games, with a passer rating of 90.7. He was the difference between the two teams in the AFC championship game, as he is in most games the Steelers have played in his five seasons.

You want to know what quarterbacks in modern history (since 1950) have been better than Roethlisberger through five seasons? None. Nobody. Not Joe Willie Namath, not Joe Montana, nobody. Big Ben is the only quarterback to win 51 games his first five seasons. That's three victories better than Otto Graham, Dan Marino, Tom Brady and John Elway. If I had to win a game to save my own life I'd take Roethlisberger over everybody who played in the NFL this season, and that includes everybody named Manning. It's difficult to understand why the praise is so grudging.

"It's unfair," Leftwich said of the reluctant praise. "Not that it matters to Ben. But the Steelers are seen as a running team. When he first got here it was Bus [Jerome Bettis], then Willie Parker. They didn't throw it a lot. But he wins. They don't throw it 35, 40 times. Ben's capable of doing that if they ask, but they don't. It's run-run-run-run-pass. So what? He wins. I'll take him any day. He can win 10-7 or 37-34."

Roethlisberger and Donovan McNabb do more with less than any other quarterbacks in the NFL. We were reminded of that in the final minute of the first half here on Sunday when Roethlisberger heaved a perfect pass to Limas Sweed, who dropped it as he was going uncovered into the end zone. The ballgame should have been over right then and there at 20-7. Sweed should have been fined for staying on the ground for a minute because he was embarrassed after dropping so beautiful a pass.

Even so, Roethlisberger kept throwing it to him, kept at it patiently, kept taking whatever punishment the Ravens doled out (which was plenty), kept making small plays that added up to a field goal here, another field goal there, until it was 16-7 and the Ravens were two scores down with no way to strike quickly themselves.

In the championship game Sunday, in the cold and wind and swirling snow, all Roethlisberger needed to do was manage the game, not screw it up, which wasn't within Flacco's power. Asked after the game what he learned as a rookie quarterback who lost the AFC championship game to the Patriots, Big Ben said: "Don't turn it over. Flacco will be fine. He faced the best defense in the world tonight; they're ranked that way for a reason."

So now the Steelers have a shot at a second Super Bowl championship in four seasons because of the defense and because of Roethlisberger, who in terms of pregame attention very likely will be overshadowed by Warner.

Yet, the Steelers have to know that at just 26, Roethlisberger's best years should be ahead of him.

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