BALTIMORE — On Sept. 19, 2004, a lean, clean-shaven Ben Roethlisberger came off the Pittsburgh Steelers bench at M&T Bank Stadium, making an impromptu NFL debut with no idea of what his future held. Eighteen years later, a more rugged and grizzled Roethlisberger is set to play his final game at quarterback on the same field, the home of what became his fiercest rival (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Barring Pittsburgh landing a longshot playoff berth, Roethlisberger’s career will come full circle — a vicious circle, by Ravens-Steelers standards — and close out a significant chapter in one of football’s greatest grudge matches.
“It’s kind of Shakespearean,” former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said before adding, “but I think it’d only be fitting if we win.”
Here’s how the postseason bracket looks at the moment and what scenarios lie ahead.
• Playoff picture and clinching scenarios »
• ESPN’s interactive NFL Playoff Machine »
• Standings » | Football Power Index »
Even as Big Ben prepares to take his final bow, current and former Ravens still are eager for the team to get one last shot at the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Suggs is attending his first game at M&T Bank Stadium since last playing there in 2019 just so he can see Roethlisberger’s farewell game.
No one has beaten the Ravens more than Roethlisberger. His 18 victories against them, including in the playoffs, are seven more than any other quarterback.
And no one has slammed Roethlisberger to the ground more than the Ravens. Baltimore’s 76 sacks of Roethlisberger are 12 more than any other team.
Roethlisberger’s departure signifies the last of the old-school players to say goodbye to this roll-your-sleeves-up rivalry, which no longer features the likes of Hines Ward, Ray Lewis, Troy Polamalu and Suggs. Future games between the Ravens and Steelers will have a different feel without Roethlisberger.
“In our [defensive meeting] room, we used to always say, ‘This guy is not just a quarterback, he is a football player,’” Lewis said. “And he’s a backyard-type football player. If you ask Ben after he retires to put on a Steeler shirt and I put on a Ravens shirt and let’s go in the backyard and let’s go at it again, he’ll say, ‘I’m down for that. I’m going to hurt. I’m going to go through it.'”
Here is a look at Roethlisberger’s role in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, through the eyes of former Ravens who played against him:
In Week 2 of the 2004 season, Steelers starting quarterback Tommy Maddox cocked his arm back to throw when Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter hit him from the blind side. Maddox got off the ground holding his right elbow. With 11 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third quarter, Roethlisberger replaced Maddox in what was the first appearance for the rookie No. 11 overall pick. Roethlisberger went on to throw for 176 yards and two touchdowns in less than a half of a 30-13 loss in Baltimore, and he then went on to win his next 13 starts.
Bart Scott, former Ravens linebacker: “We always used to say, ‘Don’t hurt the bad players,’ and Tommy Maddox was a bad player. We knock him out of the game and then Ben Roethlisberger comes in like, ‘Oh man, this is barbecue chicken.’ We got a young rookie quarterback coming in and he makes a couple throws and all of a sudden he’s out there like Willie Beamen [from ‘Any Given Sunday’] with the invisible juice.”
Lewis: “When Ben came in, we were like, ‘Whew, OK,’ Ben is not your 6-foot-1 quarterback. Ben is big [6-feet-5]. And the first thing we said was we have to get this guy to the ground. Don’t hug around his shoulder pads and think you got him down, right? And then I think the first couple series we realized that, wait a minute, it’s going to take more than just one person to actually get him down.”
Suggs: “What really stood out, it was just like how he didn’t miss a beat. I don’t think we made him make too many mistakes. Like we did all their fan base a favor when we knocked Tommy Maddox out of the game, and history kind of speaks for itself.”
Beatdowns in Baltimore
Roethlisberger is returning to the scene of the two most famous hits on him. In November 2006, an unblocked Scott rocked Roethlisberger so hard that he knocked him off his feet and onto his back.
Scott: “I can imagine it’s the same way that Tiger Woods feels when he hears that ping. When you hit it on a sweet spot. When you have the perfect swing, whether you’re Sammy Sosa or you’re Barry Bonds, it’s like the perfect hit. I literally thought I killed him.”
Lewis: “This is what makes him special in this rivalry. We all know about how the quarterbacks are favored and they get all the calls. He was the one guy, honestly, that never looked for a call. He wanted to win it the old-school way, which drove us crazy.”
Roethlisberger said your body felt like you’ve been in five or six car accidents after a Ravens-Steelers game, and he had the bloody face to prove it. On December 5, 2010, Roethlisberger had his nose broken by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata on the game’s first drive.
Ngata: “I’m going past my guard, and Ben’s right behind the guard. And so I’m like, just come down as hard as you can fast, and try to take him down. It just happened on accident, and [my left hand] just hit him right perfect in between the face mask and broke his nose. [But] I didn’t know at all. We get to the sideline and one of our guys from up [in the booth] said, ‘Hey, Haloti broke Ben’s nose.’ I don’t even remember even getting close to his head and because it was a quick pop.”
Scott: “You talk about being able to stare down the barrel of the gun, with all the exotic blitzes that we’ve brought to him. I can remember looking at his nose and it’s like an S. All he did was put tissue up his nose. The pain that this man has taken is legendary.”
With a broken nose, Roethlisberger led the winning drive, throwing a nine-yard touchdown to Isaac Redman with 2:51 left in the game. Of Roethlisberger’s 52 winning drives, 10 have come against Baltimore.
Ngata: “I’m surprised there’s not even more comebacks than that. He had the last laugh in a lot of those games. I swear, I’d look up [toward the end of games] and there’s still a minute and 12 seconds left. I’m saying, ‘Oh my, that is too much time for Ben.'”
“I can remember looking at his nose and it’s like an S. All he did was put tissue up his nose. The pain that this man has taken is legendary.”
Scott: “When somebody’s a tough guy, you think that it’s about his physical, but not his mental. How many teams can say, ‘Hey, when Ben Roethlisberger went to that no-huddle mode where he starts calling his own plays, that’s when we get afraid. That’s when we get nervous.'”
Suggs: “He’s one of those rare players that raised the level of not only the players around him, but the players that played against him. You couldn’t have a bad game and thought you were going to win against him. You couldn’t make mistakes and think you were going to win. He was always going to compete and he was always going to try to make a play. That’s going to be his legacy.”
The ‘fitting’ farewell
It’s unlikely that the Steelers make the postseason. In addition to winning in Baltimore, Pittsburgh needs the Colts to lose at the Jaguars and the Raiders and Chargers to not tie. If Pittsburgh fails to reach the playoffs, this game will put the finishing touches on a historic career for Roethlisberger, who ranks in the top-10 all-time in victories (164), passing yards (63,844) and touchdown passes (417). And his final snap would come in the same spot where he took his first one.
Ngata: “That would be awesome – especially if we get a win. Send him off with a loss, right? There’s just no better way to send your rival quarterback off than finishing his last regular-season game in Baltimore with a loss. That’ll be such a great ending.”
Scott: “Well I hope they end his career there. I hope that’s the exclamation mark. His career began there with us helping him out by knocking Tommy Maddox out, but hopefully it should end there and it’s fitting. His career should end there and they should knock him out for that, too.”
Lewis: “If it’s one opponent that he could have played last, it would’ve been Baltimore. And I guarantee you if you were to ask him the cast or the players on the other side of that, I guarantee you, he would go back and say, ‘Give me Sizzle [Suggs], give me Ray, give me that crew one more time. I want to dance with that crew one more time.’ But man, now that he plays in Baltimore, let me say this up front: I hope he doesn’t go out the way he wants to go out.”