Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger gets wish, ends potential last game at Heinz Field with win

PITTSBURGH – Minutes before the kick-off of what was likely his last game at Heinz Field, Ben Roethlisberger faced the Cleveland Browns captains alone at the Pittsburgh Steelers midfielder logo on Monday night.

Other Steelers captains Cam Heyward and Derek Watt would normally flank the quarterback on the walk to the draw, but the pair came to a screeching halt, leaving Roethlisberger to move forward without them.

When Roethlisberger realized what was going on, he gently hit them, but they continued to hang back. Roethlisberger kept walking, until he was left alone in midfield for potentially the last draw at Heinz Field in his 18-year career.

“We knew if we had warned Ben ahead of time he would have said, ‘No, don’t do that,’” Heyward said. “So we got him out of hand. He was a little bored, but we wanted to give him every opportunity to celebrate that.”

It was the kind of appropriate low-key move from the veteran, who said earlier that he preferred to win Monday night at the pump and the circumstances in what was likely a final goodbye to his home ground.

The Steelers then made Roethlisberger’s biggest wish come true with a 26-14 win over the Browns.

“I’m so grateful to these fans and this place. There is no place like this,” Roethlisberger said tearfully in a post-game interview with ESPN.

Roethlisberger kept his usual pre-game routine Monday night, arriving four hours before the game, but he didn’t take the pitch for the final warm-ups until 46 minutes before kick-off.

“Ben did a really good job setting the pace,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “He was singularly focused. It was business as usual, and so he was easy to follow, and I think everyone got their vibe of him that way. Obviously, it was an extremely emotional night and all. that, but he’s been doing a good job getting the job ready for this approach all week. “

Roethlisberger hugged minority Steelers owner Thomas Tull, who ran a full front-page advertisement in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday to thank the quarterback. Tull also wore a black Roethlisberger jersey.

At the start of the pre-game warm-ups, Steelers owner and president Art Rooney II thanked Roethlisberger for his “great 18 years” on the video set, but outside of that, the Steelers paid tribute to the quarterback- back. In the fourth quarter of “Renegade”, no additional Roethlisberger moments were added to the highlight reel.

As expected, Roethlisberger was the last player to be announced individually, and he sprinted out of the tunnel to a loud ovation from the 63,624 fans, who chanted “Come on, Ben” after his introduction. The chant echoed through the stadium throughout the game as fans, who came armed with farewell signs, bid farewell to their franchise quarterback.

“Everything was pretty calm and collected throughout this week, right into the pre-game,” Steelers linebacker TJ Watt said. “Fairly normal. Until you walk outside and feel the energy. Seen all 7 jerseys, all 7 signs.

“It was really an atmosphere that I had never felt here before. It was really, really special. The fans made it so amazing for him. I’m so grateful that they were able to do it for him. It was a special night. “

The Steelers responded with energized and complementary play.

As the pass rush racked up nine sacks, including four from career-high Watt, Roethlisberger completed 24 of 46 attempts for 123 yards – including 34 first-half attempts – as well as a touchdown and an interception. . With that performance, Roethlisberger set an NFL record for fewest passing yards in a single game with at least 45 passing attempts, and he averaged 1.75 yards from the air per completion, his lowest ever. in one game since ESPN began tracking overhead yards in 2006.

“It’s funny because it’s probably not like you wanted it, other than the win,” Roethlisberger said. “And that’s all that really matters. And that’s the story of my career: not always pretty, but we find a way.”

To bolster the offense, Najee Harris put in his best performance as a pro, gaining 188 yards on 28 carries. His massive night helped him break Franco Harris’ franchise rookie running record of 1972, allowing him 1,172 rushing yards this season. He also scored a 37-yard touchdown in the last minute.

“He’s a hell of a football player,” Roethlisberger said. “Tonight it’s like he’s possessed. Some of the things he did were just special, and he gave us that victory.”

After kneeling in the winning lineup, thanks to the interception of Tre Norwood, Roethlisberger concluded his post-match interview and lingered on the pitch for 12 minutes. He raised his hand with outstretched thumb, forefinger and little finger, slowly circling around to tell the crowd at Heinz Field that he loved them. He walked along the perimeter of the South End Area, greeting and acknowledging fans who traveled, made posters and shouted “Thanks, Ben” and “Let’s go, Ben” throughout the game.

“This is our home,” Roethlisberger said afterwards. “I was born in Ohio but live here and always will be here. These fans and this place mean so much to me and my family and always will be. I always said they were the best fans of all. sport, and I’ll stick to that until the day I die.

“To see all the signs and the shirts and the towels, and hear them cheering me on as they come out of the tunnel, all that, I don’t know if I’ll ever put it into words. I wish I could bottle it and the have forever.But I will do it here and in my mind.

Tomlin watched the quarterback go around Heinz Field, and the coach allowed himself to reflect on their relationship.

“I have enjoyed the past 15 years with him,” said Tomlin. “Man, we’ve been through a lot. We’ve seen a lot. It’s been one hell of a ride. It’s been an honor to be a part of and enjoy it.”

Surrounded by cameras, Roethlisberger crossed the pitch and moved closer to the touchline and kissed Rooney before sitting on the bench, where he sat with longtime center Maurkice Pouncey a year after a playoff loss to the Browns. This time he sat alone.

“I just wanted to sit down and understand,” Roethlisberger said. “Just try to absorb every minute of this place because it’s so special, the fans are so special. I wanted to win this game more than anything for them. Obviously we have one bigger one – we have another game. There is a slim chance [to make the playoffs], but we have to keep fighting. “

After a while, he stood up and walked towards the tunnel, where he was greeted by his family. He gave them all a hug and then entered the tunnel with his wife and three children.

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