The Pittsburgh Steelers were really up 10-0 early practically before the Tennessee Titans even got a chance to move the ball. Courtesy of a vintage Ben Roethlisberger opening drive and a quick interception that translated into a field goal, the Steelers dug a hole their visitors were never able to climb out of.
But the truth is that things grew pretty dim there for a while on the offensive side of the ball following that opening drive. Even the field goal that I mentioned alludes to the reality of what I just said. They were given possession inside the 25-yard line with that interception return and mustered only a field goal out of it.
They got two more field goals—another one coming from an interception that was returned this time to the 20-yard line—to go into halftime with 17 points and a nine-point lead, but it didn’t feel very satisfying, especially for the offense.
And not for Roethlisberger.
He and several of his offensive teammates after the game talked about a ‘challenge’ that he issued to his unit, including himself, during a halftime speech of sorts, and they came out of the locker room scoring touchdowns on three consecutive drives to bury the Titans.
As Jeremy Fowler wrote on Twitter, he said that he “used halftime to challenge the entire offense, himself included, to ‘step up and do something’, and not rely on the defense to bail them out”. I’m sure that many people sitting on their couches or barstools were thinking the same thing.
“He told us to pick it up”, Marcus Gilbert recounted, according to Mike Prisuta. “Somebody’s got to make a play”. Gilbert’s wing man, David DeCastro, was a little more expository in the rundown of Roethlisberger’s missive.
“He didn’t call anyone out”, Will Graves quoted the two-time Pro Bowler as saying. “He called all of us out. Linemen. Receivers. Himself. Running backs. Purely positive. It was a challenge. He challenged us. The guys responded’.
And he’s right. Pretty much the entire offense played better in the second half than they did in the first half—outside of that first drive. Roethlisberger, perhaps especially so, took his performance to another level, playing easily his best half of football since last year, perhaps since the Dallas game a year ago, or even longer.
It certainly helps to respond to a challenge when you are the player most responsible for your team’s success and you do your part. But this also speaks to Roethlisberger’s leadership qualities, and the reality that his men will go to battle for him. there’s a reason his linemen have threatened to retire when he does. He’s their leader. He has their respect. And last night, he delivered.