PITTSBURGH (AP) -Ben Roethlisberger may have needed only game to push himself into the front row of contenders for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
Comeback? At age 25? Only 18 months removed from being the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl?
For sure, and Roethlisberger's NFL-leading 23 interceptions of a year ago are a reason why. So was the Steelers' 8-8 record. So was his stubbornness in repeatedly throwing into coverage, and in playing even when he knew an appendectomy, then a concussion, might limit his effectiveness.
Call it the education of a young quarterback, even one who was good enough to win 27 of his first 31 NFL starts. If Roethlisberger needed a letdown last season to remind himself it wasn't as easy as he made it look during his first two seasons, he got one.
``It was a bad year,'' he said.
This one is starting out much better. Roethlisberger was near flawless in leading the Steelers past the Browns 34-7 last Sunday, throwing a career-high four touchdown passes to four different receivers.
Already, a turnaround from a year ago. Then, he rushed back a week after missing the opener because of appendicitis to play in a Monday night game at Jacksonville and played poorly as the Steelers lost 9-0.
Roethlisberger went on to lose each of his first three starts, throwing seven interceptions and no touchdowns, and the Steelers never fully recovered.
Obviously, it appears that Roethlisberger has this season. He was 12-of-23 for 161 yards in this opener - not great numbers, though they weren't needed given how quickly the Steelers were scoring.
What Roethlisberger likes is how the Steelers, already up 17-0, drove 71 yards in eight plays to start the second half with his 5-yard TD pass to rookie tight end Matt Spaeth. It was exactly the kind of drive the Steelers rarely put together early last season.
``It was big for us,'' Roethlisberger said. ``Coach (Dick) LeBeau (the defensive coordinator) came up to me when the game was almost over and said, 'Good drive. It really helps the defense a lot.' And it was good for us. It gave us some good momentum in the second half.''
Gave some to the quarterback, too.
Wide receiver Hines Ward liked how Roethlisberger took what the defense gave him, rather than forcing plays.
``Now, he's trusting us to make plays for him,'' Ward said. ``He's not trying to do it all by himself.''
That was much different from last season, when Roethlisberger appeared too determined to prove he wasn't affected by his near-tragic motorcycle crash, the appendicitis and, later, a concussion that occurred the week before an upset loss at Oakland.
The Steelers play their home opener Sunday against Buffalo, and rookie linebacker Paul Posluszny said slowing Roethlisberger must be one the Bills' top priorities.
``Obviously, Roethlisberger's a great quarterback,'' Posluszny said. ``He's got great receivers to throw to. It's going to be challenging stopping them.''
New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians tried to give Roethlisberger some help by allowing him to be involved in every aspect of setting up the offense. Roethlisberger is even handling the line calls at the line of scrimmage.
Coach Mike Tomlin said too much has been made of that, but it's simplified everything Roethlisberger must do to change a play or to call one in a hurry when the clock is winding down.
``Bruce has given me a lot more freedom to do stuff,'' Roethlisberger said. ``I'm not going to take all the credit by any means - the credit starts with Bruce and our offensive line - but I'm able to do a lot more than I was last year.''
Roethlisberger also said the offensive players believe strongly in the game plans that Arians is giving them.
``We practice them so much we feel great on Sundays,'' he said.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Roethlisberger was sacked only once by Cleveland.
``We have to get better pressure on him than we did last week against Denver (in a 15-14 loss),'' the Bills' Chris Kelsay said. ``Any time you have a quarterback back there that has time, he'll try to pick you apart. So you have to get pressure on him and make him throw the ball in a hurry.''

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