With each step that Ben Roethlisberger takes closer to football normality, more and more people jump onboard the hype train, not just for the quarterback, but for his team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the most part, in today’s game, as a quarterback goes, so goes his team, so that’s understandable.
Roethlisberger suffered a serious elbow injury the specific nature of which remains a mystery, but which required surgery and ultimately limited him to a total of six quarters of action during the 2019 season. In the previous year, he led the NFL with over 5100 passing yards and also set a new franchise record with 34 touchdown passes.
Earlier this month, he posted a video clip showing himself throwing footballs to some of his teammates, such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, and of him getting his beard shaved. He said that he would not shave his beard until he could throw a legitimate NFL-level pass to his teammates.
And so here we are. His continued recovery inch by inch strips away the uncertainty of who he will be during the 2019 season, and inch by inch, the belief in his ability to return and play at a high level is infecting our media. The latest to buy into the Roethlisberger return is Gil Brandt, who for NFL.com named him the returning player most likely to have a big impact in 2020. He writes:
After suffering a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2 of last season, Roethlisberger said he wouldn’t cut his hair or beard until he was able to throw again. Then, earlier this month, a video clip appeared of Big Ben winging the football to some of his teammates — and sitting down in a barber’s chair. A shave and a haircut never felt so good. Roethlisberger will return to a team whose No. 1 RB (James Conner) and No. 1 WR (JuJu Smith-Schuster) are still unproven commodities — but the Steelers’ defense is also in much better shape than it was when he first landed on injured reserve, having coalesced after the midseason acquisition of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Even with Roethlisberger at the advanced age of 38, having him on the field immediately elevates Pittsburgh to playoff-contender status.
The Steelers went 8-8 last season, including 8-6 in the 14 games that Roethlisberger did not start. They lost considerably in week one to the New England Patriots, but hung around until the end against the Seattle Seahawks in a game that also featured a rare successful non-DPI challenge reversal that went against Pittsburgh and helped Seattle win.
It’s borderline inconceivable that the Steelers will not be at least as good this season as they were a year ago now that Roethlisberger looks to be well on his way to being ‘back’. The belief in his return continues to mount, as Brandt’s list shows.