It will be a momentous opening night for the Giants, with Joe Judge coaching the first game of his career and Daniel Jones beginning his first full season as the starter after taking over last season for Eli Manning.
But it will be an equally important night for 17th-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who also begins anew, recovering from career-threatening elbow surgery last September. Roethlisberger will make his first start in the Monday night opener against the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 14, and he couldn’t be more excited.
“When we’ve done some two-minute drills against the defense, I’ve actually felt like the jelly kind of legs,” Roethlisberger, 38, told reporters this past week. “I’ve felt nervous out on the practice field, which I’ve never felt before, or maybe not for a long time. I know if I’m nervous out there on the practice field right now, the game’s going to be a different feeling. That is going to the last hurdle. And getting hit.”
Roethlisberger has even tried to convince some of the Steelers’ defensive players to knock him around a little to get him ready for the Giants game.
“I’ve tried to talk T.J. [Watt] and some of those guys into giving me little bumps every once in a while, but no one will do it,” he said, a nod to the timeworn practice of quarterbacks not getting hit in practice. “Getting hit and calming the nerves are going to be big ones for me.”
Roethlisberger has a great chance to inject himself into the Comeback Player of the Year race, although Alex Smith’s remarkable return from a near-death experience stemming from complications from a leg injury puts the Washington quarterback squarely in the lead. But Roethlisberger is thinking more in terms of team goals, and if he can get back to the level of play that made him a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, the Steelers will be very much in the playoff mix.
It won’t be easy, though. The Steelers play in the same division as the Ravens, who ran away with the AFC North last year at 14-2. And Kansas City has to be considered the prohibitive favorites, coming off a remarkable Super Bowl last year and bringing back all of their key starters, including Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes. But don’t sleep on the Steelers if Roethlisberger’s return goes well.
“I feel really good in making some of the deeper down-the-field throws,” said Roethlisberger, who had three tendons in his throwing elbow repaired after getting hurt against the Seahawks in Week 2 last year. “One of the practices last week, I wasn’t able to step into it, and I threw a ‘go’ ball down the left sideline. It felt like when it came off my hand it was going to be short, and it ended up making it there in stride. I was pleasantly surprised with how my arm strength has kind of come back to what I think may be even a little better than it was before.”
After Eli Manning retired last season and Philip Rivers was released by the Chargers and signed a one-year deal with Indianapolis, Roethlisberger is the last man standing with the team that drafted him in the quarterback class of 2004. He’s headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his career ends, but Roethlisberger has no immediate plans to step away from the NFL. Especially now that he’s feeling as good as he’s felt in years.
“I think we’re all excited to play for each other,” he said. “I know I missed out on last year. We have a lot of fun on the football field together, so I think we are all looking forward to getting back out there together and showcasing what we hope everyone knows what we can do.”
The journey begins soon.
Heat is on Snyder
With new allegations of sexual harassment within the Washington organization reported by The Washington Post last week, team owner Daniel Snyder is under increasing scrutiny over his alleged role in some of the complaints. And the NFL is under increasing pressure to step in and initiate a fully independent investigation into allegations that a behind-the-scenes video of the team’s 2008 cheerleader calendar was produced for Snyder.
The situation ratcheted up even further Thursday, when attorneys for former employees alleging sexual harassment said their clients fear retaliation for any claims they might make to investigators hired by Snyder himself to look at previous harassment claims made by former team employees, as well as two female sportswriters.
Snyder has denied any wrongdoing, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league will carefully monitor the investigation and take independent action if necessary.
Snyder is facing growing pressure from some fellow stakeholders in the team, particularly FedEx CEO Frederick Smith, whose threat to withdraw his company’s sponsorship of FedEx Field ultimately led to the removal of the team’s nickname, which is disparaging to Native Americans.
If it is determined that Snyder was directly involved in the harassment, he faces possible removal as the team’s principal owner. There’s precedent here; in 2018, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was forced to sell the team after being implicated in a workplace misconduct investigation.