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Joe Starkey: Do fans want Ben Roethlisberger back?
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Joe Starkey: Do fans want Ben Roethlisberger back?

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“Ben assured me he is committed to coming back to help us win, and I told Ben that we would like to have him back to help us win a championship.” — Art Rooney II.

Awesome.

SO WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Anyway, seven thoughts on No. 7, now that it’s apparent Ben Roethlisberger will be back for his 18th season as Steelers quarterback ...

1. This does not appear to be a popular move. I base that on anecdotal evidence — common conversation, social media, talk-show callers, etc. One small example: Nearly 1,200 people responded to a 45-minute Twitter poll I posted the other day — “Do you want Ben to retire?” — and 60 percent said yes.

Maybe it’s because the Cleveland debacle is fresh in fans’ minds. Maybe it’s because they’re in love with Mason Rudolph.

Wait, no. It couldn’t be that.

Maybe it’s because they want the Steelers to make a “fresh start” and don’t believe the team can win big with Roethlisberger. Maybe people think he’s shot.

Whatever the case, it’s a bit surreal to see what was essentially the announced return of a franchise icon greeted with the same enthusiasm you’d expect for news that Matt Feiler is coming back to play swing tackle. And I’m not saying the critics are wrong.

2. Actually, 60 percent of me believes they are wrong and believes Ben can still play at a high level. Most would have agreed 10 games into the season, when he had 27 touchdowns, five interceptions, a 10-0 record and mounting MVP support.

Some of us thought he was playing the best football of his career. Do we simply discard those 10 games in favor of what happened down the stretch?

Does the larger part of his season resume still count?

I’ll admit, the debacle in Cincinnati and a few other clunkers had me thinking Ben might be done, but the second half against Indianapolis (23-of-29 for 245 yards, three touchdowns) showed beyond a reasonable doubt that he can still sling it.

That happened. It was not an illusion.

He made some horrific throws in the playoff game, but those were more attributable to wacky decisions than worn body parts. He did throw for 500 yards that night and might have been a terrible coaching decision away from turning a 35-7 deficit into 35-30 early in the fourth quarter. This is not late-stage Peyton Manning here. This is not Drew Brees struggling to throw a 10-yard out. It’s certainly not Joe Namath in a Rams jersey.

3. I believe Roethlisberger could be better next season. I don’t think it’s unusual for an athlete coming off a major injury to improve the second year back. Now give the man a running game. Do you think Tom Brady would have won the Super Bowl without ground support?

4. On the other hand, 40 percent of me wonders if Ben will flop. The question isn’t whether he can still make all the throws, it’s whether he can make them consistently. This is risky for both sides. It could all fall apart. Ben could morph into some horrible version of end-stage Hines, and that would be hard to watch.

5. The Steelers have now made their feelings on Mason Rudolph quite clear. If they really believed he was the Next One — if they were truly excited about the third-round pick to whom they gave a first-round grade — this would have been the obvious time to hand him the reins. He’s been sitting for three years. The Steelers are in a cap Hades, and their starter is pushing 40.

This is the second time the Steelers had a chance to show us what they really think of Rudolph. The first was in 2019 with their season on the line in a home game against the Browns. They went with Duck.

6. There is no telling how Roethlisberger’s style and personality will mesh with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Will Ben be amenable to more play-action? Will he be willing to hang in there and take the necessary punishment to get the ball down the field?

7. This time last year, I kept hearing how Baltimore would own the AFC North and the Steelers might not make the playoffs. I picked them to go 12-4 and win the division. I just might pick them again. Their defense has a chance to be very good again. They need some fixes up front on offense. They need a running back. It’s not like Ben will be returning to an expansion team.

The Steelers are trying to win.

Isn’t that what you want?

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