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Ben Roethlisberger played every snap of the 2013 season

Despite injury-plagued Decembers in the last three seasons, Roethlisberger was healthy and performing at a high level down the stretch of 2013.

Karl Walter
It's amazing the difference a healthy quarterback can make.

We savaged Ben Roethlisberger down the stretch of the 2012 season as the team spiraled out of postseason hopes as he slogged his way forward, clearly injured and out of sync with his offense.

We had nothing but good things to say about him from a higher perspective after he seemed to ratchet his game to a higher level over the second half of 2013. He had a few throws he wish he had back, and he struggled a bit at the start of the year, but his resolve in helping lead the Steelers to a 6-2 mark in their final eight games, including wins over two divisional champions (Cincinnati and Green Bay), was admirable.

What's better (and worse to a degree) is the fact he played every snap for the Steelers in their 2013 season. That's the first time he's done that. He started 16 games, and all 16 of those games meant something. Even with a blowout loss to New England, he was on the field at the end. Perhaps that was a bit reckless, but when the leader of the team wants to stay in the game, it's tough to take him out.

It's not good because the Steelers didn't have a throwaway Week 17 game with the postseason to follow, and they didn't engineer any blowout wins, pushing Bruce Gradkowski onto the field.

Oh well. Roethlisberger remained healthy all season, that's the important thing. And with the significant decrease in sacks over that eight-game period in comparison to where they started, there are many reasons for optimism in Pittsburgh moving forward.

That feeling will be re-established whenever it is the team announces Roethlisberger's extension (file that under nearly certain to happen) not long into this offseason.