PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger is on the verge of becoming the only NFL rookie quarterback to win his first seven starts during the Super Bowl era, a feat not even John Elway, Dan Marino or Joe Montana accomplished.
"What record's that?" the Steelers quarterback said. "I didn't even know. No, that doesn't matter to me, doesn't bother me. I'm just focused on winning a football game."
Roethlisberger's answer may reflect why he has been so successful since taking over a team that wasn't considered a lock to make the playoffs but, at 7-1 and with consecutive wins over the Patriots and Eagles, can legitimately argue it is the NFL's best at midseason.
His everything's-under-control mind-set quickly won over his veteran teammates and helped elevate their level of play. To them, it's difficult to picture Roethlisberger with tears in his eyes after being pulled from a game, as once happened to former Steelers
QB Kordell Stewart.
"He's just been playing with such a confidence that it kind of rubs off on everybody," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "He's so calm about what he does -- you don't know if he's that calm or if he's out there scared -- and I would say that's part of his nature.
Nobody expected him to be so poised."
Roethlisberger knows there's a fine line between being confident and being condescending but doesn't think he's crossed it -- even if Ward called him "cocky" in a respectful way last week.
"The important thing is keeping a level head and being smart about this whole situation. I think the veteran leaders on this team will do that for us," Roethlisberger said. "From what I've been told, they were here a couple years ago in the same type of situation, the 13-3 year (in 2001). They know how to keep us younger guys levelheaded and keep us smart. For the most part, this is a very selfless team."
The Steelers benefited from playing four of Roethlisberger's first six starts at home but go on the road for three of four, starting with games at Cleveland (3-5) on Sunday and Cincinnati (3-5) on Nov. 21.
The next two weeks should test Roethlisberger's ability to handle distractions as he returns to his native Ohio. His hometown of Findlay has plenty of fans of both the Browns and Bengals, but Roethlisberger's strong play is causing some to reconsider their loyalties.
It's also making some Browns fans wonder if the team should have taken Roethlisberger with the No. 6 pick in the April draft instead of signing free agent Jeff Garcia.
"There are probably Monday morning quarterbacks all around the country with the other 31 teams saying don't we wish we had him," Browns coach Butch Davis said.
The Steelers are glad Roethlisberger fell to them at No. 11, especially when they signaled before the draft they preferred North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers, the No. 4 pick who wound up with San Diego. Neither Rivers nor No. 1 pick Eli Manning of the
Giants is playing.
Roethlisberger has thrown for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions -- but only three interceptions in the last six games -- and has a 69 percent completion rate. He doesn't seem all that surprised at becoming the first rookie quarterback to win his first six starts since Pittsburgh's Mike Kruczek in 1976.
"The biggest surprise is how we're coming together as a team ... the way the guys are rallying around me as a rookie quarterback," Roethlisberger said. "They're the ones that deserve the credit. They're the ones blocking, running hard, catching the ball. They make my job a lot easier."