Roethlisberger gets rude NFL welcome

Forced into action, rookie throws for 2 TDs, 2 INTs

Ravens 30, Steelers 13

September 20, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Ben Roethlisberger's welcome to the NFL wasn't exactly easy.

The rookie quarterback picked No. 11 by the Pittsburgh Steelers in June's draft was thrown into the first five minutes of the third quarter of yesterday's 30-13 loss to the Ravens after Tommy Maddox went down with an injured right elbow.

So in the span of a game and a half, Roethlisberger had to face one of the most intimidating defenses in the league in an unfamiliar venue in front of an unfriendly crowd.

"They say you get your feet wet. I got my whole leg wet today," said Roethlisberger, who completed 12 of 20 passes for 176 yards and mixed two touchdown passes with two interceptions. "You come out in your first game against one of the best - if not the best - defenses in the NFL. I give a lot of credit to Baltimore. There were some mistakes made by me out there. Those are things you have to correct for next week."

Roethlisberger will get that chance. With Maddox out for an undetermined amount of time, coach Bill Cowher wasted little time announcing that Roethlisberger would start next week when the Steelers visit the Miami Dolphins.

"I would say that he wasn't dealt a real good hand to begin with," Cowher said of the rookie. "But I thought he did some good things. ... He'll step up and take the reins and go from there."

Roethlisberger's elevation was expected, but perhaps not this early. When Pittsburgh made the Miami of Ohio quarterback the third player at his position to be selected in the draft, the hope was that he would learn the rigors of playing in the NFL behind Maddox.

Maddox, who played decently in last week's win over the Oakland Raiders, fared poorly yesterday. Even before Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter hit Maddox and dislodged the football from his arm at the 12:11 mark of the third quarter, Maddox had completed just four of 13 passes for 67 yards and been sacked twice.

Maddox injured his elbow during Baxter's hit - which led to a Terrell Suggs 24-yard return that the Ravens converted into a Jamal Lewis 1-yard touchdown plunge. After the game, Cowher said a muscle was either strained or torn and Maddox would be sidelined for "an extended period of time."

Roethlisberger said he wished his first action came under better circumstances.

"You never like to see someone get hurt, especially someone like Tommy," he said. "I know it's an opportunity to play. I'm going to have to make the best of this opportunity."

Roethlisberger's initiation began humbly as his second pass of the game was intercepted by Adalius Thomas.

Another pass appeared to be a sure interception, but safety Ed Reed let the ball slip through his hands and end up in wide receiver Hines Ward's. That set up a 3-yard touchdown dump-off to wide receiver Antwaan Randle El.

On Pittsburgh's next possession, Roethlisberger engineered a nine-play, 70-yard drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown throw to Ward to cut a 23-0 score down to 23-13.

But Roethlisberger and Ward got their signals crossed on the Steelers' next series, and cornerback Chris McAlister returned an interception 51 yards to seal the Ravens' win.

Despite Roethlisberger's mistakes and naivete (Ward said the receivers spent part of the huddle time educating the rookie on the Ravens' coverage packages), Ward said he saw some promise in the rookie.

"He did a tremendous job," Ward said. "He came in there, handled the pressure and the noise level. Other than the interceptions, he played a good game. ... Ben's our guy."

For his part, Cowher said he has no qualms about resting the team's playoff hopes in the hands of a rookie quarterback.

"We will certainly find out," he said. "But I don't see any reason why he can't."

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