The Steelers are the Steelers again, because they have their quarterback back.
A year ago, the Steelers were completely lost offensively as Ben Roethlisberger missed the final 13-plus games with an elbow injury. Their 8-8 record was the franchise’s worst in six seasons.
Coach Mike Tomlin looked destined to run away with Coach of the Year honors when he had Pittsburgh 8-5 entering the final three weeks of the season using glue and duct tape to remain competitive for a playoff berth without its Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback.
But the Steelers’ offense eventually caved in the final three games as Pittsburgh managed to score just 10 points in each.
The Steelers enter Sunday’s home game against the resurgent Browns (4-1) with a 4-0 record and with their offense humming — having scored 26, 26, 28 and 38 points in their first four games.
A year ago, behind Roethlisberger replacements Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, the Pittsburgh offense ranked 27th in points scored — averaging 18.1 points per game, 30th in yards, 31st in passing yards, 28th in passing touchdowns and 28th in interceptions.
This season with Roethlisberger having returned from successful elbow surgery, the Steelers are 10th in the NFL in scoring — averaging 29.5 per game, 15th in total yards, fifth in TD passes and fourth in INTs.
Roethlisberger has completed 100 of 139 passes (69.9 percent) for 1,016 yards with 10 TDs and only one INT.
Roethlisberger has led the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles, and a third cannot be ruled out this season as he strives to cap his marvelous career in style.
Roethlisberger’s surgery was to reconnect flexor tendons in his throwing arm, which had already been compromised over the course of his career and finally ruptured when he was throwing against the Seahawks in Week 2 last season. He chronicled his journey through surgery and rehab in a four-part YouTube series called “Bigger Than Ben.”
“I just didn’t feel like I was done,” the 38-year-old said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last month. “It would have been a lot easier to hang it up. But I just really felt like I had something left. I really want to win another Super Bowl, and have my kids be out there to appreciate it with me.
“I told [teammates] before the first game, ‘I didn’t have to have the surgery. I chose to have it because of you guys.’ ”
Because he wants a third Super Bowl ring before he retires.
First things first, of course, for the Steelers as they try to win it all this season. But Roethlisberger has talked about retirement on more than one occasion the past couple of years, so the reality of life without him is nearing — possibly as soon as the end of this season.
That’s added motivation for the Steelers to take advantage of having Roethlisberger’s skills and experience while he’s still playing. Because the Steelers have seen what it looks like without Roethlisberger, and it wasn’t pretty.
This Post first appeared on “New York Post”