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PITTSBURGH – Minutes before what was likely to be his last game at Heinz Field, Ben Roethlisberger faced Cleveland Brown’s match captains alone with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ midfield logo on Monday night.
Fellow Steelers captains Cam Heyward and Derek Watt would normally flank the quarterback on the walk to the coin toss, but the pair stopped and let Roethlisberger go on without them.
When Roethlisberger realized what was happening, he played against them playfully, but they kept hanging back. Roethlisberger kept going until he stood up for himself in midfield for potentially the last coin toss at Heinz Field in his 18-year career.
“We knew that if we gave Ben notice in advance, he would have thought, ‘No, do not,'” Heyward said. “So we took it out of his hands. He was a little annoyed, but we would give him every opportunity to celebrate this.”
It was the kind of understated gesture adaptation of the veteran who previously said he preferred to win Monday night over pomp and splendor in what was likely to be a final goodbye to his home ground.
The Steelers then delivered Roethlisberger’s biggest wish with a 26-14 victory over the Browns.
“I’m just so grateful for these fans and this place. There’s no place like it,” Roethlisberger said with tears in his eyes during an interview with ESPN after the match.
Roethlisberger kept his usual pregame routine Monday night, arriving four hours before the competition, but he did not take the field for the final warm-up until there were 46 minutes left before kickoff.
“Ben did a really good job setting the pace,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “He was uniquely focused. It was business as usual, and so he was easy to follow, and I think everyone got their mood from him that way. It was clear, it was an extremely emotional evening and all that. there, but he did a good job of setting the record for that approach all week. “
Roethlisberger embraced Steelers minority owner Thomas Tull, who on Monday published a full front-page ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to thank the quarterback. Tull also wore a black Roethlisberger sweater.
Early in the pregame warm-ups, Steelers owner and president Art Rooney II thanked Roethlisberger for “good 18 years” on the video board, but outside of that, the Steelers easily went on tribute to the quarterback. During the fourth quarter play of “Renegade”, no extra Roethlisberger moments were added to the highlight.
As expected, Roethlisberger was the last player individually announced, and he sprinted out of the tunnel to a loud ovation from the 63,624 fans who broke out in a “Let’s go, Ben” chang after his introduction. The song rang through the stadium throughout the match as fans, who came armed with farewell signs, said goodbye to their franchise quarterback.
“Everything was pretty calm and collected throughout this week, through the foreplay,” said Steelers linebacker TJ Watt. “Quite normal. Until you went outside and felt the energy. Saw all the 7 jerseys, all the 7 characters.
“It was really an atmosphere I’ve never felt here before. It was really, really special. The fans made it so great for him. I’m so grateful they were able to do it for him. It was a special evening. “
The Steelers responded with an energetic, complementary play.
While the pass rush collected nine sacks, including a career-high four from Watt, Roethlisberger completed 24 of 46 attempts on 123 yards – including 34 attempts in the first half – along with one touchdown and one interception. With that performance, Roethlisberger set an NFL record for the fewest passing yards in a single game with at least 45 passing attempts, and he averaged 1.75 air yards per game. finish, his lowest in a game since ESPN began tracking air yards in 2006.
“It’s funny because it probably was not the way you wanted it other than the victory,” Roethlisberger said. “And that’s all that really matters. And that’s been the story of my career: Not always beautiful, but we find a way.”
To bolster the offense, Najee Harris had his best performance as a pro, winning 188 yards on 28 carries. His massive night helped him break Franco Harris’ 1972 franchise rookie record, giving him 1,172 rushing yards this season. He also scored a 37-yard touchdown in the final minute.
“He’s a damn football player,” Roethlisberger said. “Tonight it’s like he ran obsessed. Some of the things he did were just special and he gave us that victory.”
After taking a knee in the victory formation, thanks to Tre Norwood’s interception, Roethlisberger finished his post-match interview and lingered on the pitch for 12 minutes. He held his hand up with his thumb, forefinger and little finger stretched as he slowly turned in a circle to tell the audience at Heinz Field that he loved them. He walked along the perimeter of the southern end zone, loud-whistling and appreciative fans traveling, making posters and shouting “Thank you, Ben” and “Let’s go, Ben” throughout the game.
“This is home,” Roethlisberger said afterwards. “I was born in Ohio, but I live here and I will always be here. These fans and this place mean so much to me and my family and will always do so. I have always said they are the best fans in all of sports and I will stick to that until the day I die.
“Seeing all the signs and sweaters and towels and hearing them cheering that I’m coming out of the tunnel, all that, I do not know if I’ll ever put it into words. I wish I could bottle it and have it forever. But I want in here and in my mind. “
Tomlin watched as the quarterback came around Heinz Field and the coach allowed himself to reflect on their relationship.
“I appreciated the last 15 years with him,” Tomlin said. “Man, we’ve been through a lot. We’ve seen a lot. It’s been a damn ride. It’s been an honor to be a part of and enjoy.”
Surrounded by cameras, Roethlisberger cut back across the field and over to the sideline, embracing Rooney before sitting down on the bench where he sat with longtime center Maurkice Pouncey a year ago after a playoff loss to the Browns. This time I have been sitting alone.
“Just wanted to sit down and take it in,” 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 match more than anything else for them. It’s clear we still have one bigger – we have another There is a slim chance [to make the playoffs]”But we have to keep fighting.”
After a moment, he got up and walked towards the tunnel, where he was greeted by his family. He hugged them all and then walked into the tunnel with his wife and three children.