The last of the Big Three quarterbacks to be picked in this year's draft will be the first one to start an NFL game.
While top overall choice Eli Manning sits on the New York Giants' bench and fourth selection Philip Rivers waits for his turn in San Diego, 11th pick Ben Roethlisberger takes over for the injured Tommy Maddox this week in Pittsburgh. When he takes the field Sunday in Miami, Roethlisberger will be the first rookie to start at quarterback for the Steelers since Bubby Brister in 1986.
Coach Bill Cowher initially put the starting job entering the season up for grabs. But it quickly became clear during preseason that Cowher would stick with Maddox, with the Steelers having missed the playoffs in four of the past six years. Cowher has no choice but to turn to his prized rookie now, however, with Maddox barred from throwing for at least six weeks because of an elbow injury and veteran backup Charlie Batch on the injured reserve list after undergoing season-ending knee surgery in August.
"I am comfortable,'' Cowher said during a news conference this week. "The more you are around the kid, the more you realize he has a good demeanor about him and a good presence about him. He is not overwhelmed by it. He understands the responsibility that comes with [starting]. I think he is more looking forward to it than he is worried about it. That is what you like about him.''
Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes but also threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and was sacked twice while making his NFL debut during a 30-13 loss at Baltimore last Sunday following Maddox's third-quarter exit. Roethlisberger completed 12 of 20 passes for 176 yards as the Steelers' record dropped to 1-1 after an opening victory at home over the Oakland Raiders.
The Steelers' current backup is Brian St. Pierre, a second-year pro who has yet to play in an NFL game. The club added Mike Quinn to its practice squad this week.
Not all the Steelers players are eager for the dawning of a new era. Guard Alan Faneca told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Exciting? No, it's not exciting. Do you want to go work with some little young kid who's just out of college?''
* JETS: Defensive end Josh Evans had back surgery and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.
* BEARS: Cornerback Charles Tillman will miss seven to 10 weeks with a right knee injury, a blow to a secondary already stretched thin by injuries to Mike Brown and Jerry Azumah. Tillman has a tibia plateau fracture, a hairline crack in the soft tissue between his right knee and upper leg.
* VIKINGS: Tight end Jim Kleinsasser will miss the rest of the season with a torn knee ligament. He was injured in Minnesota's Week 1 victory over Dallas.
News services contributed to this report.