Roethlisberger says Monday could be last home game

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Monday night’s game against the Cleveland Browns could be his last at Heinz Field.

“I don’t ever speak in definites or guarantees,” Roethlisberger said on Thursday. “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 that this could be it.”

The 39-year-old insisted that he won’t make any final decisions until after the season, and Roethlisberger noted that his team remains in the playoff hunt.

But for now, the veteran quarterback publicly acknowledged for the first time that he could play his final home game on Monday.

“I’ll address the definite answer at some point down the road,” Roethlisberger said. “My focus is on winning this game. If it is indeed my last regular-season game (at Heinz Field), it’s going to be one of the most important games of my career.”

Roethlisberger, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2004 draft, is the franchise leader in just about every major statistical passing category. He has led Pittsburgh to three Super Bowl appearances and two championships in a franchise-record 18 seasons with the organization.

If this is it for Roethlisberger, he will retire in the top 10 in NFL history in three major statistical categories, fifth in yards passing (63,721), fifth in regular-season wins (163), and he’s eighth with 416 touchdown passes. Roethlisberger is 91-31 during the regular season at Heinz Field, the third-most wins by a quarterback at a venue, trailing only Tom Brady and John Elway.

“I’ve been so blessed to play in front of the best fans in all sports at the best venue,” Roethlisberger said. “What better way to have a last regular-season game than ‘Monday Night Football’ against a division opponent.”

Roethlisberger could be making his last start at Heinz Field against a team he has handled for years. It’s been an uneven season for Roethlisberger, who has thrown for 3,373 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But one of the highlights came in a 15-10 victory at Cleveland on Halloween, his 25th victory in 28 games against the Browns.

Roethlisberger will need at least one more win against the Browns if the Steelers want to make the playoffs this season.

“This is the Browns. This is a division opponent, and they’re hungry to come in and get a win, too,” Roethlisberger said. “I can sit here all week and be nostalgic, and think about everything that my career has been, but I have to focus on this game because it’s the most important game of the season for us.”

Pittsburgh will need more than a win against Cleveland to reach the playoffs. The 7-7-1 Steelers will also need a win at Baltimore in Week 18 and outside help to make the playoffs for a second straight season.

Pittsburgh still has an outside chance at the division title, and another game at Heinz Field for Roethlisberger, but any scenario starts with losses by Baltimore and Cincinnati on Sunday.

“I’ve given almost half of my life to this city, this team and the fans,” Roethlisberger said. “But the fun thing is I know I still have it in the tank to go out there this week and next week and give it everything I have to get us into the postseason. The ultimate goal is to win a Lombardi, and that’s still my goal.”

Last offseason, Roethlisberger took a voluntary pay cut to ease some of the burden of a $41 million salary cap hit. That helped ensure Roethlisberger’s return for an 18th season to the only NFL team he’s ever known.

“Coming into this season, I’ve always been one that has wanted to fulfill my obligation to my team,” Roethlisberger said. “And I don’t have a contract next season, so I guess the writing was on the wall. I wouldn’t say that I had my mind made up by any means. But I had my mind made up coming into this season that I was going to give everything I had to try and win a Super Bowl.”

Roethlisberger hasn’t made a public announcement regarding his future to teammates, but he feels that “some guys know what’s going on.” Roethlisberger said he’s largely been able to control his emotions because of the game’s magnitude and playoff implications it holds for the Steelers.

Roethlisberger said he doesn’t want any pomp and circumstance for what could be his final game at Heinz Field. He just wants a win for his team.

“All I ever said I wanted to do is win,” Roethlisberger said. “To me, that will always mean more than yards and touchdowns. I just want to win a football game because it’s so important for our season right now.”