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Big Ben has Pittsburgh on the brink of another Super Bowl.
By Charean Williams
Where there’s Big Ben, there’s a way.
Somehow, someway Ben Roethlisberger manages to find a way to win in the postseason. In his seventh season, Roethlisberger already has won two Super Bowls and has a chance for a third. Roethlisberger is 9-2 in the postseason, giving him a better postseason winning percentage than Joe Montana (.696) and as many postseason victories as Bart Starr. Only seven quarterbacks in NFL history have more postseason wins than Roethlisberger: Montana (16), Terry Bradshaw (14), Tom Brady (14), John Elway (14), Brett Favre (13), Troy Aikman (11) and Roger Staubach (11).
“He may not be Brady or all those other guys, but you can’t knock the guy for what he has done,” Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. “History shows he is a proven winner in the playoffs.”
The Steelers are in the conference title game for the fourth time in seven years. They have won a record six Super Bowls, with two of those coming in the past five seasons. It was Roethlisberger’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left that gave the Steelers a 27-23 victory over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
He did it again last week, too.
The Steelers were tied with the Ravens 24-24 and faced a 3rd-and-19 at their own 38 with 2:07 left in regulation. The Steelers could have played defense, calling for a run that, based on how their defense had played in the second half, likely would have resulted in overtime. Instead, Roethlisberger talked offensive coordinator Bruce Arians into sending rookie Antonio Brown deep. The 58-yard completion set up the game-winning touchdown, a 2-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall with 1:33 remaining.
It was just another big play by a quarterback who is quickly becoming known as big-time.
“He’s a special quarterback, and he’s done that his whole career,” tight end Heath Miller said. “He’s never mentioned among the top quarterbacks for some reason. I don’t know why that’s the case. He just gets the job done. He brings his team home victorious.”
Williams is getting his due
Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews are the faces of the Packers defense, but Tramon Williams is the heart of it. Though his peers failed to recognize him with a deserved Pro Bowl berth, he has proved in the playoffs that he is one of the league’s top cornerbacks.
“He is having a Pro Bowl season,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “When these playoffs and the Super Bowl are completed, everybody in the country is going to know who Tramon Williams is. That’s the type of level that he’s playing at. He’s been very consistent. He’s making the big plays when the opportunity presents itself. Tramon’s playing great.”
Williams played just as well in the regular season as he is playing now. He allowed 40 catches for 533 yards and three touchdowns, according to STATS, Inc., with 23 pass breakups and six interceptions.
His teammate, Woodson, Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel and Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall were selected for the NFC. Hall gave up the third-most receptions in the league this season (70) and the second-most touchdowns (nine), while Woodson had four pass interference penalties, three defensive holding penalties and a league-leading four illegal contact penalties.
Williams is showing Pro Bowl voters why they were wrong.
He intercepted Michael Vick’s pass in the end zone in the waning seconds to secure the Packers’ victory over the Eagles in the wild card round. And he twice intercepted Atlanta’s Matt Ryan last week, with a 70-yard return for a touchdown on the last play of the first half.
“I don’t think I could have sat up there and told you I was capable of this,” Williams said. “I’ve always been a smaller kid going up against bigger guys, but I was always athletic. … It’s what you work for to be great and pretty much be the best. You sit back and watch other guys make plays and do things and get all the attention, and as a competitor, somewhere deep down inside, you want to do the same things those guys are doing.”
Fourth and short
• Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt will hire his third defensive coordinator in his four years with the team. He fired Clancy Pendergast after the 2008 season and let Bill Davis go earlier this month.
• The Cardinals will try to get a contract extension worked out with receiver Larry Fitzgerald. That was expected after they traded Anquan Boldin to the Ravens last year. Fitzgerald’s contract expires after the 2011 season, and he already was the league’s highest-paid receiver. His deal could affect the future of receiver Steve Breaston, who will be a free agent. The Cardinals will have to decide whether to try to bring back Breaston or go with Andre Roberts and Early Doucet.
• Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has one year left on his contract and sounds as if he will return for a 15th NFL season. The Falcons want him back, even though he turns 35 in February. Gonzalez made the Pro Bowl, started all 16 games for the 11th time in 14 seasons and caught 70 passes.
• Ed Reed turns 33 in September and had hip surgery before last season. But he is expected to return to the Ravens for a 10th season. He led the NFL with eight interceptions despite playing in only 10 games, making him the franchise leader with 54.
• The Bills lost their final two games against division rivals New England and the New York Jets by a combined 72-10 with 13 turnovers and no offensive touchdowns.
• The Bills aren’t hiding their interest in Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Buffalo, which has the third overall choice, plans to play multiple fronts next year after failing to make a smooth transition to the 3-4 defense in Chan Gailey’s first season as head coach.
• Ron Rivera, 49, becomes the first minority head coach of the Panthers and the first Latino coach in the NFL since Tom Flores.
• The Panthers planned to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall draft pick. But with Luck staying in school, the Panthers have to find a Plan B. Jimmy Clausen, a second-round pick in 2010, threw three touchdowns in 10 starts and had the league’s worst passer rating at 58.4.
• The Packers and the Bears have met only once before in the playoffs. That was 69 years ago, a 33-14 victory by the Bears in a semifinal game on their way to the 1941 championship.
• Bears returner Devin Hester returned five punts for 128 yards against the Packers this season, an average of 25.6 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown in Week 3.
• Running back Cedric Benson, who was critical of the playcalling for most of the season, is not expected to return to Cincinnati. The Bengals also could lose Chad Ochocinco. They have picked up the option on his contract, paying him $6 million in base salary in 2011, but the receiver has voiced doubts about whether he can co-exist with coach Marvin Lewis following his critical comments late in the season. Cincinnati could end up with three different starters at the four skill positions, with Terrell Owens also not expected to return.
• The Bengals offense has finished 20th or worst the past three seasons.
• The Broncos are expected to trade Kyle Orton to allow Tim Tebow to take over the starting quarterback job. Brady Quinn is expected to remain as Tebow’s backup.
• The Lions won games with three different quarterbacks. Starter Matthew Stafford played in only three games because of injuries to his right shoulder. Detroit, which put 18 players on injured reserve this season, had three different starting running backs, five middle linebackers and five right cornerbacks. It even finished the season with a backup kicker.
• Gary Kubiak is on his third defensive coordinator in five seasons as head coach. He gave Richard Smith and then Frank Bush a chance to be defensive coordinators for the first time. Both were fired. This time, he hired Wade Phillips, who is switching the Texans to a 3-4 scheme.
• The Colts had 18 players on injured reserve. They used 72 players during the season.
• Patriots quarterback Tom Brady now has lost his past three postseason games.
• The Saints ranked fourth in total defense and sixth in total offense. It was the first time in franchise history that the Saints have ranked in the top 10 on both sides of the ball. Their defensive ranking was the lowest since they were fourth in 1997.
• The Giants allowed 42 passing plays of 20-plus yards. Of those, 21.4 percent went for at least 30 yards.
• This marks the third consecutive AFC Championship Game that Rex Ryan has been a part of. He was the Ravens defensive coordinator two years ago when they lost to the Steelers, and Indianapolis beat Ryan’s Jets last season.
• Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was sacked a league-high 19 times against the blitz. He fumbled nine times and all six of his interceptions came in his last seven starts.
• The Eagles allowed 33 touchdowns in 43 red zone visits by opponents. That 76.7 success rate by the opposition was the league’s worst since the 1988 Houston Oilers.
• The Steelers were 7-1 on the road this season and just 5-3 at home during the regular season. They are 1-2 in championship games at Heinz Field and only 1-3 in their past four title games at home. In their history, the Steelers are only 5-5 in AFC Championship Games played in Pittsburgh.
• The Chiefs are the only one of the eight division winners who had a losing record within their division. Kansas City went 2-4 against AFC West teams.
• The Chiefs have 23 players without contracts for 2011, including outside linebacker Tamba Hali.
• Quarterback Chad Pennington said he will attempt to come back from the fourth major injury to his throwing arm. He was named the Dolphins’ starter in Week 9 but was injured on his second snap.
• The Chargers, who have a long list of free agents, are expected to let running back Darren Sproles leave. He has earned $14 million the past two seasons, but he had only 267 rushing yards, 520 receiving yards this season while fumbling three times.
• David Carr is the only 49ers’ quarterback under contract for 2011. Alex Smith and Troy Smith are scheduled to be free agents and are not expected to return to San Francisco. Practice squad quarterback Nate Davis was signed to a future contract by the Seahawks last week.
• The Seahawks have 27 potential free agents. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, 35, tops the list. He has indicated his desire to remain in Seattle.
• The Bucs started 10 rookies, the most by a winning team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Running back LeGarrette Blount led all rookies in rushing with 1,007 yards, and receiver Mike Williams led all rookie receivers with 65 receptions for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. Williams is the first rookie to have double-digit touchdown receptions since Randy Moss in 1998.