2018-01-12 / Sports

Big Ben’s resurgence faces stiff test against Jags

BY WILL GRAVES
The Associated Press


PITTSBURGH STEELERS quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes in the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Pittsburgh earlier this season. Three months later, Roethlisberger doesn't want to talk about that five-interception meltdown against Jacksonville, as a shot at redemption awaits Sunday in the playoffs. 
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS PITTSBURGH STEELERS quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes in the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Pittsburgh earlier this season. Three months later, Roethlisberger doesn't want to talk about that five-interception meltdown against Jacksonville, as a shot at redemption awaits Sunday in the playoffs. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS PITTSBURGH

The words that threatened to define Ben Roethlisberger’s season were uttered almost as an afterthought and with more than a hint of frustrated sarcasm.

It just didn’t read that way as it made the rounds on social media, or sound that way during a three-second sound bite played endlessly on a loop.

“Maybe I don’t have it anymore,” the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said in a somber locker room three months ago after throwing five interceptions in a 30-9 loss to Jacksonville .

Roethlisberger didn’t mean it. Call it a visceral reaction to having two of his 55 passes returned the other way for game-deciding touchdowns. Three days later the 35-year-old was back to calling himself one of the “best in the world.” It wasn’t just idle talk. He followed it up by spending the better part of the next 10 weeks playing like it.

The quarterback who will stride onto the field Sunday for a rematch against the Jaguars in the divisional round of the playoffs has his swagger back. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey jokingly gave credit to the beard Roethlisberger began growing in the aftermath of one of the most forgettable performances of his career. Of course, that’s not the reality. The guys who surround Roethlisberger in the huddle know the swagger never really left.

The player who openly pondered retirement last spring, the one who quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner said in November will occasionally uncork a flutter ball while looking very much his age, heads to his 21st career.

Yet Pittsburgh’s offense will only go as far over the next month as Roethlisberger can take it. Though he downplayed looking for payback after the Jaguars shut him down in ways that few teams have in recent years, not everyone is buying it.

Not that Roethlisberger would admit it even if he is. Never one to go into great detail about how he goes about his job, Roethlisberger insists he’s focused simply on playing well. The fact it’s against the Jaguars is coincidental. There is no looking ahead to a potential shot at New England in the AFC title game, or a third Super Bowl that would provide an exclamation point on a potential Hall of Fame career.

“He’s confident in his ability and he’s confident in his receivers,” Heyward-Bey said. “He knows that we’re going to go out there and try and make plays for him. That’s what a quarterback needs. He has to have confidence in his guys.”

Roethlisberger’s confidence in himself was never an issue.

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