Trash talking is a massive element of professional sport, probably no more so than in America.
But when you have elite quarterbacks with the talent of Ben Roethlisberger on the opposite side of the ball in the NFL, poking the beast isn’t advisable.
The Jacksonville Jaguars found that out to their cost in the early hours of Monday when – seemingly set to pounce on a precious first win in five games – Big Ben chimed into action as time ticked down late in the game.
Instead, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers and Roethlisberger who pounced. There was 1:17 remaining in the third quarter when the veteran QB connected with Antonio Brown for a 78-yard bomb – a record extending 11th receiving touchdown of the season for the wide receiver.
Up until then, the only thing of note the 36-year-old Roethlisberger had thrown were a couple of interceptions to Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Ramsey had more interceptions than Pittsbugh had points for a long stretch – the record six-time Super Bowl champions were 16-0 behind until that late third quarter score.
An arrow from 11 yards then found the arms of tight end Vance McDonald with a little over two minutes left and suddenly Roethlisberger had a couple of touchdown passes to mirror those picks.
But when James Conner somehow let an easy grab escape his grasp that would have resulted in a touchdown with under a minute left in the fourth, it really didn’t seem like it would be Pittsburgh’s day.
Roethlisberger took matters into his own hands, or rather, his feet. After laying siege to the Jaguars’ line and seeing their drive kept alive by two idiotic face mask and holding penalties, the 6ft 5in, 109kg QB kept the ball and sought out the endzone, diving across the plane for the winning score with five seconds left.
“They’re a really good defence. They like to talk a lot, before the game, during the game, but I’m carrying the game ball home,” said Roethlisberger after the game.
Linebacker Telvin Smith had reportedly been in his face after the two interceptions, reminding Roethlisberger of his errors.
Lighting a fire under any quarterback rarely turns out to be a good idea, let alone a future Hall of Famer with as much talent and longevity in the game as Big Ben.
From trash talking to talking of all-time greats. And Roethlisberger certainly belongs to that group. He is already among the NFL’s all-time leaders in several categories.
He is the only quarterback in history to throw for more than 500 yards in three different games. The only other quarterback to do it more than once was Drew Brees.
Upon defeating the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL he became the youngest starting QB to win the game’s greatest prize – surpassing Tom Brady.
Yet, despite undoubtedly being one of the best ever, Roethlisberger never seems able to propel himself into the GOAT (greatest of all time) conversation.
Unofficially, everyone agrees Brady is just that. At 41, Father Time’s record of five Super Bowl wins, plus a myriad of individual accolades, speaks for itself.
Brees, 39, has thrown himself into the conversation this season after decimating a number of big milestones, including breaking Brett Favre’s record for career pass completions (6,479) and Peyton Manning’s all-time passing yardage record (73,409).
Roethlisberger’s career 54,267 total passing yards place him seventh all-time – behind Brees, Manning, Favre, Brady, Dan Marino and Eli Manning.
Yet only Brady has more Super Bowl rings than 36-year-old Big Ben’s two (the younger Manning also has two).
His playoff record is also up there with the very best. His 13-8 win-loss mark is sixth all-time, with Brady (27-10) some way ahead.
He has led the Steelers to the playoffs in 10 of his 14 seasons. Brady has taken the New England Patriots to the post-season in 15 of his 18 campaigns and Brees six of 12 since joining the New Orelans Saints in 2006.
Roethlisberger’s vintage performance on Monday proves the ageing quarterback is still operating at the top level – and what’s even more impressive is how he’s led his team to an impressive 7-2-1 record without 2017’s star player, Le’Veon Bell, who has sat out the entire campaign so far over contractual issues.
The talent he possesses in his cannon of an arm doesn’t detract from misgivings off the field – Roethlisberger is far from the perfect human – but on it the veteran gunslinger is as dangerous as any of his contemporaries in a straight shootout, either with his arm or even as he showed on Sunday, occasionally with his legs.
It clearly meant a lot to an emotional Roethlisberger, seen kneeling and sobbing on his own on the sidelines following the winning score.
As the trash-talking Jaguars saw victory snatched from their grasp, they were left eating their words as they stare at a six-game losing streak at the bottom of the AFC South, while Big Ben and the Steelers sit unbeaten in six and atop the AFC North.
This is a Jaguars side that lost by a mere four points to New England in the AFC Championship game in January. It was their first playoff run in a decade, and time is against them if they are to make the post-season again this year.
Meanwhile, the Steelers keep rolling and Big Ben keeps ticking along.
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