Ben Roethlisberger walked off the field, his nose twisted, broken and gushing blood.
The Steelers’ quarterback, already hampered by a sprained ankle, withstood a hellacious hit to the face from Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata, yet picked himself off the turf, returned without missing a play and threw a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to seal a Week 13 win over the Ravens.
That’s why he’s the Jets’ kind of guy.
The acrimony that once filled their locker room in the days leading up to their rematch against New England gave way to smiles and flattery once the topic of conversation shifted to Roethlisberger.
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The respect they have for him supersedes their well-chronicled desire to talk smack.
In Roethlisberger, the Jets see their toughest challenge to date – a guy, in his own way, as crafty as Peyton Manning and as dangerous as Tom Brady. And now, the team that said it was prepared to play the best en route to the ultimate prize – the Super Bowl — will have the chance to complete the trifecta.
One by one, Jets players took turns assessing Roethlisberger this week.
They raved about his size and physical strength, his elusiveness in the pocket and his ability to extend plays.
“A lot of people don’t realize how fast he is,” defensive end Shaun Ellis said. “He’s fast in the pocket. I know he looks slow moving around on the field, but he’s nifty at what he does.”
According to Ellis, he’s the toughest quarterback to bring down “other than Michael Vick.”
Fellow defensive end Trevor Pryce said he was most impressed with Roethlisberger’s mental toughness.
“The biggest compliment I can give him is, he’s tougher than everybody is,” Pryce said. “Look how many times he’s been slammed to the ground. Look how many times he’s been slammed in the media. Look at the things that he’s been through.
“Anybody that can bounce back from that type of thing, in that city and that kind of atmosphere, and get your nose broken and keep playing, you’re a tough guy. It’s one thing if you’re a tough offensive lineman, but if you’re a tough quarterback, I think you’re something special.”
At 6-foot-5, 241 pounds, Roethlisberger more looks the part of defensive end. “He’s as big as one,” said Pryce, who is 6-5, 290.