After playing in just two games last season due to injury, Ben Roethlisberger returns to the Pittsburgh Steelers for his age-38 season. It would be easy to dismiss Big Ben at this stage of his career, especially given how dominant Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens were last season, but NFL analyst Merril Hoge believes the Steelers have a good chance of winning the AFC North in 2020.
And it’s all because of Big Ben.
“He and I went on a bear-wolf hunt in April, and we were up in the mountains of Idaho and we were going from 7,000 feet to 12,000 feet, up and down, for five days,” Hoge said on The Zach Gelb Show. “We had a great time. Best part of the whole thing was actually just hiking around the mountain, having fun and being away from everything. Cell phones didn’t work, nothing worked, there was no electricity – there was nothing for five days. It was the greatest five days we had during the whole COVID thing.”
Hoge believes the trip did Roethlisberger a lot of good, especially after last season. He was injured in Week 2, had season-ending elbow surgery, and watched the Steelers finish 8-8 with Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges under center.
Now, however, Roethlisberger is ready to win his eighth AFC North title.
“I’ve been around him, I’ve known him for a long time, we’ve been good friends for a long time – [he has] a single purpose,” Hoge said. “Being hurt, I’ve always said this: if you could get somewhere in your eighth or ninth or tenth year a year off – just to kind of recover, just because of a toll football can take on you – nobody ever wants to take that year off. This was a circumstance obviously because of injury, but the surgery went well, his energy has changed, his focus – it rejuvenates you. You have a moment to sit there and go, ‘How much do I really love this game? I’ve been playing so long.’
“Because when you do something for a long period of time, no matter how much you love it, sometimes it can feel like a grind,” Hoge continued. “And sometimes when you know it’s at the end but you’re not quite there, you can get another sense of purpose and energy. I know he has done that. I expect to see amazing things out of him this year – at the level he was at his very best is what I expect.”
The Steelers open the season on the road against the Giants on Monday Night Football on Sept. 14. Kickoff is at 7:10 p.m. ET.