Yesterday, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger saw a hook in the water, and he took the bait anyway. Sometimes, he does this intentionally. Other times, he just doesn’t seem to care, or wants to get it over with, and I think this was the latter.
He was asked if he felt that Sunday’s game would be the last that he plays at Heinz Field in his career. The implication is obvious to anybody who is following the game. Most likely, the Steelers will not play another game at Heinz Field this season, as the New England Patriots are widely expected to beat the Tennessee Titans.
So if he plays another game at Heinz Field, it will have to come during the 2018 season. And this is a pretty big deal, given that he has been very vocal for the past year or so about his belief that he should not look beyond any one season at this stage of his career.
But given how the 2017 season has gone, particularly during the second half, I have no trouble seeing why Roethlisberger will be looking ahead with more optimism than he may have even last season. After all, he is on quite an excellent run at the moment—one of the best of his career.
He has tossed at least two touchdowns in every game in which he has played since the bye week, 18 in total over seven games, which would put him on a season-long pace for over 40 touchdown passes, easily the highest mark of his career.
He cut down on his interceptions over the second half. He threw a very high volume of passes for a very high volume of yards while—and this is the most important part—staying very clean, and throwing to a bevvy of talented targets.
If a quarterback can stand back in the pocket while rarely being hit and throw the ball to a group of very talented players around him, then that is a quarterback who is going to look to keep playing and hold on to that for as long as he can, plain and simply, unless he is truly at the very end.
That is not Roethlisberger. He is not looking to walk away at any sort of deadline. That is never what he has said. He just doesn’t want to look past one season while the previous one isn’t over—or at least not until it’s almost over.
Had this question been asked of him a couple of months ago, he probably would have given an evasive answer. I take his response as one of saying, of course I’m going to play next year, but stop asking me and let me focus on finishing out this one.
Here is what he knows he will have for next season. He will have his offensive line. Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert are all under contract for next season—all but Foster are under contract for 2019 as well.
He will have Antonio Brown. He will have JuJu Smith-Schuster. If he doesn’t have Martavis Bryant, he will probably have somebody else in his place. He will lobby to keep Vance McDonald, and the team will make that work. Will he have Le’Veon Bell? That remains to be seen. But they can draft him another back to throw to, if need be. He has everything he needs already in place to entice him to stay.