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Brian Billick On Ben Roethlisberger’s 2004 Debut Vs Ravens: ‘I Would Have Said Nobody Touch Maddox’ If We’d Known How Good He Was

That we can scoff and stamp about in disappointment that the Pittsburgh Steelers won only two Super Bowls with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback is an immense privilege. The list of quarterbacks who have won two or more in their entire careers is a fairly short one, and Pittsburgh fans get to boast of two.

And former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick got a front-row seat for the beginning of Roethlisberger’s journey. As you might recall, it was his team that forced him onto the field for the first time in a regular season game in week two of 2004 when the Ravens knocked starter Tommy Maddox out of the game. In hindsight, he wishes that they hadn’t.

When he first came in, he came in against us because Tommy Maddox got hurt”, he said on 93.7 The Fan earlier this week. “If we would have known how great a player Ben was going to be, I would have said nobody touch Maddox. We want this guy to stay in the game”.

Roethlisberger was the 11th-overall pick of the draft in 2004, so it’s not like he wasn’t eventually going to be thrown into the starting lineup. But the Steelers didn’t plan to rush him. He was actually supposed to begin the season as the third-string quarterback, but backup Charlie Batch suffered a season-ending knee injury.

The rookie had a decent, but not inevitable preseason that year. He went 8-for-13 for 84 yards and a touchdown in week one before throwing his first interception a week later on 8-for-14 passing for 132 yards. He threw another pick a week later, going 7-for-11 for 74, ending his preseason completing two passes on five attempts for 45 yards—including a 38-yarder while taking a roughing the passer penalty.

But that wasn’t predictive of the Hall of Famer he would become. That 2004 draft was disproportionately successful at the quarterback position, even if J.P. Losman turned out to be a first-round bust. Anyway, he would go 12-for-20 in his NFL debut for 176 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 30-13 loss to the Ravens. He wouldn’t lose again until the AFC Championship game. You can watch highlights here; the NFL won’t allow an embed.

“I don’t think there has ever been a player in the league that his stat line would be 18-27 for four touchdowns and 350 yards”, Billick said of Roethlisberger’s early career. “What he did with the limited throws he had, given the nature of the way they played, the way he could create plays beyond the design of the offense and physically wear you out by keeping the ball and getting the ball in the last minute. Just a spectacular player”.

Of course, it wouldn’t have made much difference in the long run whether they knocked Maddox out or not. Then again, what if Maddox started all that 2004 season? Would Roethlisberger have been prepared for a Super Bowl run in 2005? Fortunately that’s a question we’ll never need to have the answer to.

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