Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is no longer a young man. In terms of football years, he’s practically a senior citizen, entering the season as the second-oldest player in the NFL behind the seemingly-ageless Tom Brady.
After offseason rumors about his potential retirement, Roethlisberger is back in the Steele City for his 18th season, marred by plenty of questions about how much life he has left in his right arm.
Roethlisberger’s first preseason appearance was a raving success
The questions were at least temporarily staved off when Roethlisberger took the field in the Steelers preseason game. He looked as good as he has in years, showing pump fakes to the defenders, showing a little mobility, and uncorking a deep dime to Diontae Johnson.
The ball traveled 38 yards in the air, which was his longest throw in terms of air yards since Week 13 of 2018 according to Next Gen Stats, per ESPN.
In three drives to start the game, Roethlisberger completed eight of 10 passes for 137 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and had a perfect passer rating of 153.8.
“I feel great,” Roethlisberger said, according to The Athletic. “My arm feels pretty good compared to last year. I felt good [in 2020], but I didn’t know kind of how it should feel. It feels pretty good right now.”
Ben Roethlisberger is now another year removed from a lost season
Heading into last season, Roethlisberger was recovering from a lost year because of an elbow injury that he believes is the first of its kind for an NFL quarterback, according to NFL.com.
The 2020 season got off to a fantastic start despite what appeared to be some limitations to his arm strength. The Steelers got off to an undefeated start through the first 11 weeks, and Roethlisberger averaged 254.5 passing yards per game with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions with a 67.5 completion percentage over that stretch. He played good and safe football, and their defense was dominant.
And then it wasn’t.
Last season went off the rails
Roethlisberger, and the entire team, struggled mightily down the stretch, starting with a stunning loss to the Washington Football Team in Week 13, 23-17.
To be fair, Washington has an emerging dominant defensive front, anchored by last year’s No. 2 overall draft pick, defensive end Chase Young. Roethlisberger had a decent game, throwing for 305 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. It only got worse from there.
They lost again the next week to the Buffalo Bills, 26-15.
Between the Washington game and their Week 16 tilt with the Indianapolis Colts, Roethlisberger’s completion percentage dropped to 61%, and he threw eight touchdowns to four interceptions.
If Roethlisberger has regained his arm strength heading into his 18th season, the playbook will open up. As his yards per attempt continued to drop over the season from 6.50 through the first 11 games to 5.67 over the final four, the offense grew stagnant.
Heading into the final year of his contract, Roethlisberger and the Steelers will aim to add one more Lombardi Trophy to the resume of the future Hall of Famer. Maybe then, he could ride off into the sunset.