The Columbus Dispatch

Browns relish facing Roethlisbe­rger in potential farewell

- Marla Ridenour

Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward remembers watching the wizardry of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbac­k Ben Roethlisbe­rger as a kid growing up.

With Roethlisbe­rger saying that all signs are pointing to Monday night’s game against the Browns being his last at Heinz Field, Ward will cherish the experience even more.

“I remember a lot,” said Ward, 24, a former Ohio State star. “The play in the back of the end zone to Santonio Holmes. When guys were there like Troy Polamalu, all those guys …

“It’s definitely an honor to take the field against Ben Roethlisbe­rger, watching him since I was a kid and just compete against him. It’s definitely an honor.”

Roethlisbe­rger, 39, a six-time Pro Bowl pick and two-time Super Bowl champion, said Thursday “this could be it” in Heinz Field, the closest he’s come to announcing his retirement.

“I don’t ever speak in definites or guarantees,” Roethlisbe­rger said. “That’s just not what I’ve ever done or who I am. But looking at the bigger picture, I would say that all signs are pointing to this could be it..”

Those comments will ramp up the emotions of already rabid Steelers fans. The Steelers (7-7-1) and Browns (7-8) are battling in a tightly packed AFC North.

“I am sure the fans will be amped up” said Browns guard Joel Bitonio. “I am sure their team will be amped up. We have to handle our business and win, but he has had a great career, and I am sure the fans will be very excited for him.”

Roethlisbe­rger is 24-3-1 as a starter against the Browns, including 0-1 in the playoffs. The Browns’ postseason victory, a 48-37 decision, came in the AFC wild-card game in Pittsburgh on Jan. 10.

Browns quarterbac­k Baker Mayfield said there is much he admires and respects about Roethlisbe­rger, but what sticks out to Mayfield is how Roethlisbe­rger performs with the game on the line. His 52 game-winning drives are tied for third in league history and his 40 fourth-quarter comebacks stand third. Roethlisbe­rger has five this season, tied for the league-lead.

“He extends plays, but he trusts his guys thoroughly,” Mayfield said. “He trusts his receivers, tight ends, all those guys to make plays for him and he’s done it consistent­ly no matter who’s been out there with him.

“When it comes to fourth quarter or coming back and sparking drives for a comeback, when a play’s needed to be made he’s consistent­ly done that for a long, long time. That’s just something that you can’t teach. He’s just had that and that’s why he’s had success for so long.”

Browns rookie receiver Anthony Schwartz, 21, shared Ward’s favorite memory of Roethlisbe­rger, the 27-23 Super Bowl victory over the Arizona Cardinals after the 2008 season when Roethlisbe­rger earned his second ring. The Steelers won on Santonio Holmes’ 6yard touchdown pass from Roethlisbe­rger with 35 seconds remaining, capping a 78-yard drive.

“That’s definitely a moment that stuck out to me,” Schwartz said. “It’s always been crazy, especially the first time we played ‘em. I’m like, ‘Damn, that’s Big Ben out there. I grew up watching him.’ ”

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