On Saturday night, in the team’s third preseason game of the season against the Detroit Lions, Ben Roethlisberger made his in-game debut for the 2021 season. He got the start and captained three drives for the team’s offense before exiting the game. Two of those drives ended in touchdowns, the only such scores of the game for the Steelers, who got nothing but field goals the rest of the way in a 26-20 win over the Lions at Heinz Field.
During those scoring drives, Roethlisberger made multiple plays that had people seeing a younger, earlier version of the quarterback, and not the version that struggled more in 2020 than in years past. One of his plays came on a deep pass to Diontae Johnson, a gain of 43 yards on the first touchdown drive and the second-longest play of the game for either side. Speaking following the game, Johnson was glad he was back out there with his starting QB.
“It felt good, just to have Ben back out there,” Johnson said. “Just the energy he brings to the offense, and that shows that we want to play for him at all times and just go out there and make plays for him, just to get the crowd going is just exciting. And that’s what I felt like that’s what we did tonight. Those two drives we capitalized, we scored. Just going to have to carry that over into the regular season.”
The Roethlisberger-Johnson pass came on third down at the start of the team’s second drive in the first quarter, after beginning the game with a three and out. Johnson beat his man deep, and Roethlisberger went for the deep ball instead of a shorter, safer completion for the first. The risk worked, and six plays later, the Steelers were in for a touchdown when Roethlisberger hit tight end Pat Freiermuth.
That touchdown was one of the moments where Roethlisberger looked like his younger self, making an aggressive pump fake to get defenders out of position before hitting Freiermuth.
It followed another vintage Roethlisberger play on the team’s opening drive, when he evaded pressure in the pocket and got out left, then evaded another sack and rolled back right, getting through contact on the play to scramble and make a long throw to Eric Ebron, which resulted in a drop and a missed first down.
It was part of a sharp night from Roethlisberger, who finished the game with a second touchdown pass to Freiermuth, completing an overall 8-for-10 performance good for 137 yards across his three drives, in his first and potentially only preseason action of 2021.