PITTSBURGH - Take a bow Ben Roethlisberger. Now take a seat. The Steelers quarterback played just two series Thursday night in the team's 24-14 preseason victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field, but those two series were enough to have him ready for the regular season.
Roethlisberger quarterbacked the offense so well that the Steelers should not have to play him at all in the final two exhibition games - next Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons and on Sept. 1 in Carolina.
Roethlisberger's final numbers for the evening: 8-of-12 passing for 125 yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 140.6. He led the Steelers on touchdown drives of 80 and 96 yards, taking up more than one quarter of combined time.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Ben Roethlisberger follows the blocking of Maurkice Pouncey during the first half Thursday at Heinz Field.
The drives were masterful, with the Steelers converting all seven third-down opportunities - although one came with the help of a big facemask penalty. And Roethlisberger connected with seven different receivers.
The touchdown throws were both beauties with Antonio Brown breaking free from Asante Samuel for a 29-yard score on third-and-7 in the first quarter and Roethlisberger running out of the pocket and hitting Hines Ward in the back of the end zone for a 20-yarder on third-and-18 in the second quarter.
"We found ways to make plays, and guys found ways to get open,'' Roethlisberger said after turning the offense over to Byron Leftwich. "I found a way to get them the ball.''
The performance was extra encouraging because it came against the Eagles' first-team defense, which boasts its dream team of cornerbacks in Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Roethlisberger looked like a quarterback who has something to prove after losing the Super Bowl in February.
Yes, it is only the preseason. It's not time to get too carried away, especially after the Steelers started the year off with a thud in Washington, D.C., last Friday.
But the Steelers should feel great about Roethlisberger's performance, unlike the Eagles who saw Michael Vick complete 8-of-12 passes, but three of the eight were caught by Pittsburgh defenders. Even Brown, a receiver, threw an incomplete pass on a reverse and ended up with a better QB rating than Vick's 13.5.
Coach Mike Tomlin will probably start Roethlisberger against the Falcons and play him for a series, but it's not worth the risk. The offensive line is still a work in progress with left guard Chris Kemoeatu coming back from knee issues, Tony Hills, Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster battling for the right guard job and right tackle Willie Colon trying to get back up to speed after missing the entire 2010 season with an Achilles tear.
The left tackle spot also took a hit Thursday when starter Jonathan Scott exited the game after one play with a right knee injury. Backup Marcus Gilbert, a rookie, finished the first series for Scott but then also left the game with a left knee injury.
Roethlisberger was forced to throw on the run several times but didn't want to state the obvious - the offensive line needs to get better.
"We made a lot of mistakes,'' Roethlisberger said. "I don't think we protected well. It was probably my fault more than anything.''
To put Roethlisberger behind that line for too many more meaningless snaps would be, well, meaningless.
He sat out four regular-season games last season and came back without missing a beat. Certainly, he can sit out these final two weeks and be ready to face the Steelers' AFC North Division rival, the Ravens, in the opener on Sept. 11 in Baltimore.
"To come out and get 14 points on a great team like the Eagles shows that we are moving in the right direction toward Baltimore,'' Ward said. "That's all I'm concentrating on is the Baltimore Ravens.''
If Roethlisberger plays as well in that game as he did Thursday night, the Steelers will more than likely get their real 2011 season started in the best fashion possible.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.