In the wake of a masterful team effort by the Pittsburgh Steelers, sports pundits have waxed poetic about the incomparable Antonio Brown and his teammates Darrius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton who were last seen at Heinz Field running wild through the San Francisco 49ers' secondary. Taking nothing away from the fine efforts of these three men or from the ever-reliable Heath Miller, as I watched the Steelers dismantle the 49ers in every phase of the game, it was No. 7 who rose head and shoulders above the rest.
Quite simply, almost every time that a Steelers receiver got open, he'd find a fastball hitting him either directly in the hands or squarely between the numbers of his jersey. Ben Roethlisberger was slinging the football with some major heat and precision throughout the kind of ideal Pittsburgh afternoon on which football truly was meant to be played. Thanks to an offensive line that kept Ben upright and practically untouched through four quarters of play, the team's franchise player put on yet another demonstration of why many sports fans in the Steel City and elsewhere recognize Roethlisberger as the best quarterback in pro football today and, by the end of his career, perhaps the greatest pro quarterback of all time. Count your blessings Steelers fans; you're never going to see another one like Big Ben.
The NFL certainly has its share of stellar quarterbacks, some of whom enjoy statistical advantages over Roethlisberger. But No. 7 remains in a class by himself when it comes to making absolutely perfect throws that are impossible to defend. On Sunday at Heinz Field, we saw this trait on display time and again, as bewildered 49ers cornerbacks and safeties wore expressions of shock and disbelief. They seemed to be asking, "Where the heck did that ball come from?" The answer, of course, is from the laser arm of the Steelers' QB.
Perhaps it's only members of Steelers Nation who watch him play every week that realize Ben has the ability to absolutely nail passes, not only passes that other NFL quarterbacks couldn't throw, even on their best days, but passes that others wouldn't even attempt to throw. When I visited the Steelers' training camp at St. Vincent College earlier this summer, we sat on an embankment close to the sideline overlooking the practice field. On three or four occasions, Ben was calling signals and he threw long passes directly towards where we were sitting. These were exactly the same kind of deep sideline passes that Markus Wheaton grabbed for a huge gain against the 49ers on Sunday. Despite seeing them with my own eyes, I still cannot believe the velocity and accuracy of those throws. It seemed that they had been launched from some sort of high-powered football cannon rather than by a human arm.
It's no surprise to me that Darrius Heyward-Bey is starting to look like the receiver that many thought he'd never become. Nor will I be surprised when Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton become household names in the league. If you've got the hands and the athleticism, Big Ben will make you a star. And when former players such as Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace and Antwaan Randle El got their big paydays and moved on to supposedly greener pastures, I also wasn't surprised when none of them attained anywhere near the success that they had wearing black and gold.
It's not my aim here to assign undue gravity to a single, early-season victory, however impressive it might have been. But there are some striking differences between the supporting cast which Ben has enjoyed in the past and the one that he's working with in 2015. In recent years, the Steelers' OL has quietly developed from being the butt of jokes into one of the best units in the league. And Le'Veon Bell gives Ben the game-breaking runner and sure-handed, outlet receiver that this team never had before in a single body (within my memory at least).
Armed with weapons like these, plus the aforementioned receivers, Ben Roethlisberger might very well be unstoppable this season. As we know only too well, of course, it's a very long season and a lot of unforeseen things can happen. But what also seems certain is that a bunch of defenses around the league are going to be absolutely torched by No. 7 and his teammates before January rolls around. There seems little doubt that this will be a great year to watch Steelers football.