Between the first and the second games that the Pittsburgh Steelers played against the Ravens, there was one key difference more than any other that stood out in dramatic fashion—quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t really healthy, and it showed. The veteran quarterback played awfully poorly, even if the overt numbers might not reflect it so obviously.
Roethlisberger’s one interception during that game was off of a batted pass by a defensive lineman, who popped the ball up in the air and then picked it off himself. But the reality is that he could have, and very nearly did, thrown nearly half a dozen interceptions in that game, had the Ravens been able to complete the opportunities they were given.
Roethlisberger’s performance against the Ravens the second time around—short of an abysmal two-interception third quarter—was virtually night and day, and he led the offense to a trio of fourth-quarter touchdown drives, including two go-ahead scores, and the ultimate game-winner.
It should go without saying that a healthy Roethlisberger made a big difference in that game, and a healthy Roethlisberger should go a long way toward the Steelers offense finding a great deal more success on Sunday against the Dolphins than they had the first time around.
Roethlisberger suffered a knee injury early in the second quarter after he was hit low scrambling out of the pocket. He threw an interception on the play as he came up hobbling, and sat out the remainder of the second quarter, but returned in the second half, and as might be expected, played like an injured quarterback.
His first drive of the half ended with another bad interception. He then led the offense to a pair of three-and-outs before finally securing a too-little, too-late touchdown against a defense playing much more conservatively with just over a minute to play that made the score 23-15.
Roethlisberger had three drives in that game prior to his injury. On one of them, the Steelers scored a touchdown, followed by a successful two-point conversion attempt, and on another, he ended up taking a nine-yard sack while on the Dolphins’ 30-yard line on third down, which knocked them out of field-goal range.
In spite of the fact that the Steelers did manage to go 4-1 in the five games prior to that Miami loss that sparked a four-game losing streak—and marked the last time that they have lost—it is clear to me that the offense is in a much better place now than they were at that time of the season.
I would expect that Roethlisberger will have far more success against the Dolphins this time around, in January weather at Heinz Field in front of his home crowd, than he had in a game before the offense was set up in the way that it is now, during which he played the majority of it after suffering an injury that required surgery.
Still, there is a reason that this rematch is coming in the playoffs, after all: the Dolphins are a good team. Something to keep in mind in light of their 1-4 record that they brought into the game, as they went on to win nine of their next 10 games before dropping the finale to New England—yet another potential playoff opponent against whom they did not even have Roethlisberger.