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Bum-Rushing the Passer

Don't count Roethlisberger out just yet

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If you want to dash your hopes for Mike Tomlin's inaugural season as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, spend a few minutes culling magazines and fantasy-football reports.

This just in: The Steelers quarterback is woefully inadequate. Don't be bamboozled by Ben Roethlisberger's strength of arm, or his swagger on the field. Don't let his record as a regular-season starter fool you. According to the experts, in terms of talent, he ranks right alongside Bubby Brister.

Roethlisberger, we hear, is not qualified to carry Chad Pennington's water bottle. Despite the fact that the Jets QB is frequently injured and has a weak arm, he completed passes at an average of 6.9 yards per pop in 2006. On the other hand, Roethlisberger completed passes for an average of 7.4 yards ... but that, obviously, is simply a trick of statistics. Oh, that the Steelers had drafted Pennington instead of Plaxico Burress those many years ago.

Dallas Cowboys leader Tony Romo is so gifted that, like the sun, it is painful to look directly at him. How, after all, could a quarterback so young lead his team to a wild-card playoff game? Imagine a quarterback in just his second year making it to the playoffs! Don't let that little mishandled long-snap fool you: Romo has ice water coursing through his veins.

Magnificent -- nay, splendiferous -- is the word that best describes the talents of Detroit's Jon Kitna. Kitna recorded his best quarterback rating of 87.4 in 2003. Yes, in Roethlisberger's first two years as a starter, he rated 98.1 and 98.6, respectively ... but Roethlisberger doesn't carry the offense, as Kitna does. Woe to the Steelers that they are without the extraordinary gifts of Jon Kitna.

When Green Bay's Brett Favre throws an interception, it's because he's such a competitor. I may be the first to point this out, but Favre has a gunslinger mentality. When Roethlisberger throws a pick, by contrast, he's just reckless. See the difference?

Just across the turnpike, Brady Quinn, Cleveland's $75 autograph man, is prepared to seize the mantle of the best quarterback in the AFC North. This is Brady Quinn, people! He played for the great genius Charlie Weis in a pro-style system at Notre Dame, no less! He is so talented he is like the love-child of Joe Montana and Tom Brady.

Elsewhere in the AFC North, Baltimore QB Steve McNair threw just 468 times last year. Now that's what you call leading his team by doing just enough. Roethlisberger threw 469 times last year, but that was because the coaches didn't trust him.

Jake Delhomme is a renowned tough guy, and the fiery leader of his Carolina Panthers. Delhomme is so tough that if he had bounced his face off a domestic luxury automobile, he would not have required surgery. He simply would have picked himself up off Second Avenue, rubbed some dirt on his head and gone back to leading his team. Appendectomy? 'Twould be but a scratch.

The Bills are led by the great and wondrous J.P. Losman, who in his rookie season launched an astonishing five passes, of which three were caught. By contrast, during his rookie season, Roethlisberger was busy rolling up a QB rating of 98.1 and going undefeated as a regular-season starter while taking his team to the AFC Championship game.

Two years ago, Roethlisberger was the darling of ESPN. But I guess he's just not "now" enough anymore. Why, if you believe what you read, there are 16 other quarterbacks out there more fit to play the position. One might find that odd, particularly for a quarterback with a Super Bowl ring adorning his throwing hand.

As Mark McGwire once said, I'm not here to talk about the past -- and I'm not fool enough to expect anybody to remember anything before the inception of American Idol. But is media adoration that fleeting? Just how good does a guy have to be to get some love from the so-called experts?

When the playoffs start, only 12 quarterbacks will be relevant; at the end of the day, none of these predictions will matter at all. I suspect that our own No. 7 has noticed the predictions ... and that he'll use being disregarded and underestimated as an incentive. And that his team will be one of the last 12 standing.

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