Comeback player of year? Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger also making push for first MVP

PITTSBURGH -- Even before Ben Roethlisberger took his first snap of the 2020 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback was a favorite for one of the most prestigious leaguewide individual awards.

In winning it, he could join the ranks of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

That award, of course, is the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

But more than halfway through the season, as the quarterback of the lone undefeated team, Roethlisberger is also a contender for another award that would put him in an elite club with those same quarterbacks: Most Valuable Player.

"Most awards usually somewhat get attached to the stars that are winning," Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said. "For that alone, [Roethlisberger]'s got the one undefeated team in the National Football League. He's playing really solid, good football. I don't know. I think in the end people will probably have to keep looking back and say, 'Wow,' how he played and what he did. ...

"I would think Comeback Player of the Year. I would think MVP. I would think AFC Players of the Week, months maybe. We just have to keep stacking them. He just has to keep working them the way he is. I just see an excitement out of him that is really refreshing."

Entering Thursday's game against the Baltimore Ravens (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) and reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, Roethlisberger has the fifth-best odds at +1800 for this year's MVP award, according to Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. He trails favorite Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson (+300), Aaron Rodgers (+450) and Kyler Murray (+1500).

But even being in the top five is a significant gain for the 38-year-old quarterback who started out the season with the 19th-best odds (+5000) to win the award.

Through 10 games, Roethlisberger has 2,534 yards, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. His passing numbers are outside the top 10, but 24 touchdowns is fourth-best in the league. And, he has fewer interceptions than 22 starting quarterbacks this season.

Roethlisberger doesn't have the same stat lines as guys like Mahomes and Wilson and isn't making the same kind of flashy plays as Mahomes and Murray. But his intangibles make the case that he should be considered for the award.

"Situationally, he's been phenomenal in the red, a lot of great communication on and off the field with his guys that are out there," Fichtner said. "We talk on the sidelines. He's been really awesome. I could say this would be his best collection of a bunch of games, but he's had a lot of great games.

"We've seen those over the past. I think he's really zeroed in on the things that are going to help this football team have a chance to win every game or at least give us the chance in the fourth quarter to win the game."

Coming back from a year on the sideline, Roethlisberger returned to a young group of receivers, most of whom lacked a rapport with him. He quickly built a connection and figured out their strengths. In wins against the Ravens and the Dallas Cowboys, Roethlisberger used that knowledge to change plays at the line, instructing his receivers where to go just before the snap. That ability to put them in a position to be successful makes him an incredibly valuable asset -- and it's a big reason they're 10-0.

"His ability to make things up as he goes, on the fly and adjust on the fly, he's kind of creating his own plays based off of what he sees from the defense," rookie receiver Chase Claypool said. "I think that's very unique. He might be the only one who's been able to do it this year successfully because more than half our points come from when he's calling the shots."

Through 16 seasons and two Super Bowl wins, including in his second season, Roethlisberger has never won the regular-season MVP award. Not only that, he's never even received a vote. Quarterbacks like Derek Carr, Chad Pennington and Philip Rivers have received at least one vote since 2004, but not Roethlisberger.

"Ben came on to the scene and had immediate success," ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. "The bar and the standard was set immediately for Big Ben, and what those guys didn't have was immediate success. They kind of built towards it, so when they finally got it in their third or fourth year, it was, ‘Oh great!' Where Ben was kind of thrust in right away and had immediate success.

"So that was just always the expectation. So if he just had a really good season, it probably was never good enough in people's eyes because the standard was so high initially."

It's one of the only things missing from a résumé that also includes a passing title, franchise records, six Pro Bowls, Offensive Rookie of the Year and two Super Bowl titles.

The reason for the lack of MVP attention, tight end Eric Ebron speculated Monday, might be because the NFL takes a similar approach to the NBA. The award often goes to players with the best statistics, not necessarily the player most instrumental to a championship-level team's success.

"It doesn't always go to the person with the better record," Ebron said of the MVP award. "It usually goes to the person that has the most astronomical stats, but it doesn't make sense because that's not the most valuable player. The most valuable player is the person that is technically winning. I'm not surprised. I feel like, in general, we're just taking the NBA route."

With such a strong field, this may not be the year Roethlisberger wins it all, but his statistics and intangibles make him at least deserving of consideration -- and maybe even a vote or two, even if his teammates know he doesn't need them to solidify one of the best seasons of a likely Hall of Fame career.

"He doesn't need any votes or anybody else to validate his résumé or what he brings to this game, what type of player he is," running back James Conner said. "Votes, they're whatever. We're just trying to win."