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Rookie QB stressing better play



Published: Mon, January 17, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Pittsburgh is 1-3 in AFC title games under Coach Bill Cowher.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Ben Roethlisberger made enough mistakes to fill a blooper show, and perhaps even stirred doubts among Steelers veterans who have believed in him so strongly all season.

But just when the imperfect-but-unbeaten rookie seemed to have run out of ways to make big plays and keep his winning streak going, he somehow got the Steelers to another Sunday.

Unlike Jets kicker Doug Brien, whose twin misses doomed New York on Saturday, Roethlisberger plans to make something of his second chance.

"It wasn't me out there," Roethlisberger said after the Steelers beat the Jets 20-17 in overtime and advanced to next Sunday's AFC Championship game. "It was tough going, and I did everything I could to lose the game."

Going for 29

Not that Roethlisberger knows much about losing. He is 14-0 in the NFL and has won 27 in a row dating to last season at Miami of Ohio, though he admittedly was more lucky than good.

"This was terrible," he said.

Bill Cowher didn't totally disagree with that assessment, though the Steelers coach said, "Ben is unflappable. He does display a calmness. ... You still have a sense that he's going to get it done."

Now Roethlisberger will try to become the first rookie QB to lead his team to the Super Bowl -- the Steelers will host the AFC title game for the fifth time in 11 seasons. They have won their last seven wild-card or divisional home playoff games, but are 1-3 in AFC Championship games under Cowher, losing to San Diego (1994 season), Denver (1997) and New England (2001).

Rookie errors

Roethlisberger made the kind of errors a rookie quarterback is supposed to make in the playoffs, an interception that was returned for a touchdown and another that led to the second of Brien's two missed field goals in the final 2 minutes of the fourth quarter.

Still, despite breakdowns that probably should have halted the Steelers' magical season and a winning streak that has reached 15 games, Roethlisberger led late scoring drives that ended with his game-tying shovel pass touchdown to Hines Ward and Jeff Reed's decisive 33-yard field goal in overtime.

Roethlisberger denied his right hand is hurting, though he looked to be shaking it in pain during warmups and again wore a glove to cover it. But his denial almost seemed to be a confirmation something is wrong: "I am not going to use any excuses. It's fine."

Even if his play wasn't. Roethlisberger was 17-of-30 for 181 yards and a 57.8 passer rating in the Steelers' first overtime playoff win since they upset Houston 26-23 on Dec. 31, 1989.

"I just remembered to stay focused, stay in the game," he said.

Extra chances

Even if it was mostly Brien who kept the Steelers in it. Brien missed a 47-yarder with 1:58 left in the fourth quarter and then a 43-yarder on the final play of regulation, both into the wind at the closed end of the stadium.

Heinz Field's unstable turf and shifting crosswinds have perplexed kickers since the stadium's opening in 2001. But, until Saturday, opposing kickers were 11-of-12 this season -- including Brien's 2-of-2 on Dec. 12, both from beyond 40 yards.

"I don't feel bad for him because I wanted to win the game, but I feel bad for him as a kicker," Reed said.

The Steelers seemed headed for a divisional-round loss remarkably similar to their 34-31 overtime defeat at Tennessee two seasons ago. Then, the Titans' Joe Nedney missed a 31-yarder but, given a second chance when Dewayne Washington was flagged for running into the kicker, hit the game-winning 26-yarder.

Reed came away with the football he kicked to end the game. He packed it securely in his duffel bag -- coincidentally or not, right beside his Bible.

"It definitely tests your faith," running back Duce Staley said.




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