Ben Roethlisberger said he admitted to being more than just a little nervous for Monday’s game against the Giants.
“The way I feel now is more than I've felt in a very long time," the Steelers quarterback said on Wednesday. "I'm sure it's only going to intensify as the week goes on. And then Monday night, I'm sure I'm going to be shaking like a leaf."
That ‘s because the 17-year veteran hasn’t played a game in a year. In fact, come Monday, it will be exactly 365 days since he tore tendons in his throwing elbow during a Week 2 game in 2019. And with no preseason games this summer to build toward the opener at MetLife Stadium, there’s really no telling how Roethlisberger will be able to perform in his comeback. Will he be the same Big Ben who made the Steelers a perennial Super Bowl contender for most of his tenure there, or will he have to make allowances to his game given his age (38) and his injuries?
“I think we’re going to discover that,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
It’s something the Giants are obviously curious about as well. Joe Judge referred to Roethlisberger Wednesday as “one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.” The Giants will prepare for that version of Roethlisberger. Whether or not that is the player they actually face on Monday remains to be seen.
“Obviously, there are going to be some things that carry from his past, whether it’s directly early in last year, whether you go back to 2018, you have years and years of tape to watch on Ben and what he’s done well,” Judge said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see new wrinkles. We’re going to prepare for whatever comes our way and adjust within the game.”
Judge and the Giants have seen this late act in a quarterback’s career play out in vastly different ways in recent years. Judge was with the Patriots, where Tom Brady was fighting for championships into his early 40s. The Giants? They just experienced the precipitous end to the long career of Eli Manning, who was drafted the same year as Roethlisberger. Manning retired in January, but Roethlisberger signaled no intentions to make that decision anytime soon. He has this season and next remaining on his contract with the Steelers.
“Guys always throw out how old they want to play 'til," he said. "I don't know. I honor my contract, and I know it's got one more year on it. But I'm going to give this season everything I have, especially since I didn't get to play last year. This season means a lot to me. I'm going to give everything I have and see what happens. But I don't like to put a time frame on how long I want to play. There's too many variables involved."
One of the big ones is injuries. Neither Manning nor Tom Brady ever had to return from a year-long injury in the waning seasons of their careers, though. In fact, very few quarterbacks in the NFL have missed so much time at such an age and then come back to regain their old form. Roethlisberger is undoubtedly aware of that obstacle.
“It's going to be one of those things where you get out there and hopefully it all comes back to me really quick,” he said. “There's going to be rust, there's no doubt about it. But hopefully we can get it knocked off sooner than later. I think that's what makes it fun."
Notes & quotes: The Giants had all of their players on the field participating in drills on Wednesday, including WR Golden Tate, who missed the last week or so with a hamstring injury. “Everyone is feeling pretty fresh right now,” Judge said. “We’ll see where everyone goes in these next few days.” The team’s first injury report will be provided on Thursday … QB Daniel Jones said being named one of the offensive captains is “a tremendous honor, something I don’t take lightly at all… It’s a serious job, something I don’t think you can take lightly.”