On Sept. 19, 2004, Ben Roethlisberger made his NFL debut. George W. Bush was still in his first term as president, Usher’s “Yeah!” was the No. 1 song in America, and the first iPhone wouldn’t be out for another three years.
Much has changed since Roethlisberger replaced injured teammate Tommy Maddox in Pittsburgh’s second game of the 2004 season. One thing that had remained the same, however, was No. 7 being the starting quarterback for the Steelers. Roethlisberger played his 18th season in Pittsburgh in 2021 before retiring from the NFL on Thursday.
Now that Roethlisberger has hung up his cleats, we decided to rank his 18 seasons as the Steelers’ quarterback. The criteria when doing the ranking includes:
- Individual accomplishments
- Team success
- Playoff success (or lack thereof)
Without further ado, here are the rankings of Big Ben’s best seasons, starting with one of the most bazaar campaigns of his career.
- Season highlights: Led NFL in average passing yards per game (328.2); 719 passing yards in two games vs. the eventual champion Broncos
- Favorite receiver: Antonio Brown (136 receptions, 1,834 yards, 10 touchdowns)
Roethlisberger was the NFL’s best quarterback in 2015. A year after he tied Drew Brees for the NFL’s passing title, Big Ben led the NFL in average passing yards per game despite missing four entire games and parts of four others with injuries. This was also the year in which Roethlisberger won his only start as a “backup,” as he started the Steelers‘ Week 10 game behind Landry Jones before returning to throw for 379 yards and three touchdowns. A week later, he threw for 456 yards against Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense. He had 380 yards and three touchdowns against the Broncos‘ formidable defense in Week 15. And a week after leading the Steelers to a come-from-behind win over the Bengals in the wild card round, Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards in nearly leading the Steelers to an upset win over the eventual champion Broncos despite not having Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams.
Season highlight: Game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in Super Bowl XLIII
Favorite receiver: Hines Ward (81 catches, 1043 yards, seven touchdowns)
Not his best statistical season, but Roethlisberger had arguably the greatest moment of his career at the end of the 2008 season. Trailing the Cardinals, 23-20, late in Super Bowl XLIII, Roethlisberger capped off Pittsburgh’s 78-yard drive with his perfectly thrown touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in what is considered one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. In victory, Roethlisberger became the 10th starting quarterback to win multiple Super Bowls. In Baltimore seven weeks earlier, his game-winning touchdown pass to Holmes clinched the AFC North division title.
- Season highlight: Youngest starting QB in history to win Super Bowl (23)
- Favorite receiver: Hines Ward (69 catches, 975 yards, 11 touchdowns)
Following a historic rookie season, Roethlisberger led the NFL in several statistical categories in 2005. After a 7-5 start, Roethlisberger helped the Steelers win their final eight games that included a 21-10 win over Seattle in Super Bowl XL. He put up a 148.7 passer rating in Pittsburgh’s wild card win over Cincinnati, a week before his “Immaculate Tackle” saved the Steelers’ 21-18 win over the top-seeded Colts. In Denver for the AFC Championship Game, Roethlisberger threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns on 21 of 29 passing while also running for the game-clinching score. While his performance in Super Bowl XL has been justifiably scrutinized, Roethlisberger scored the Steelers’ first touchdown, which he set up with his 37-yard completion to Ward on a 3rd-and-28 play.
- Season highlight: OROY, 13-0 record as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback
- Favorite receiver: Hines Ward (80 catches, 1,004 yards, four touchdowns)
Roethlisberger watched the 2004 season-opener on the sideline before being thrust into action when Tommy Maddox went down with an injury in Week 2. A week later, despite playing in a monsoon in Miami, Roethlisberger threw the game-clinching touchdown pass. He would go on to win his next 12 games under center that season to finish the 2004 season with an NFL rookie record of 13-0. The NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, Roethlisberger hit the proverbial rookie wall in the playoffs, enduring a shaky performance in Pittsburgh’s divisional round win over the Jets before tossing three interceptions in the Steelers’ 41-27 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game. Ironically, the Patriots would hand Roethlisberger his first regular season loss in Week 3 of the 2005 season.
- Season highlights: Named to third consecutive Pro Bowl; helped lead Steelers on nine-game winning streak; advanced to AFC Championship Game for fourth time
- Favorite receiver: Antonio Brown (106 catches, 1,284 yards, 12 touchdowns)
Despite undergoing knee surgery in October and not having Martavis Bryant for the entire season, Roethlisberger was selected to his third consecutive Pro Bowl in 2016. After throwing for 408 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 10 loss to the Cowboys, Roethlisberger won his final six starts of the regular season that included his game-winning touchdown pass to Brown on Christmas Day that clinched the AFC North division title. In the playoffs, Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes to Brown in Pittsburgh’s wild card win over the Dolphins. He made several key throws in Pittsburgh’s divisional round win in Kansas City the following week. Roethlisberger and the Steelers were unable to overcome Le’Veon Bell’s early exit in New England, however, as Pittsburgh was unable to keep pace with the eventual Super Bowl champions.
- Season highlight: Became 11th QB in history to start in at least three Super Bowls
- Favorite receiver: Mike Wallace (60 catches, 1,257 yards, 10 touchdowns)
Roethlisberger threw just five interceptions in 12 regular season games. Facing a 14-point halftime deficit in the divisional round of the playoffs, Roethlisberger’s two second-half touchdown passes, along with his 58-yard completion to Brown, led the Steelers to a come-from-behind win over the Ravens. Against the Jets in the AFC Championship Game, Roethlisberger ran for a score while throwing the game-clinching completion. Roethlisberger played well in Super Bowl XLV, but his two interceptions (along with a crucial fumble by Rashard Mendenhall) contributed to the Steelers’ 31-25 loss to the Packers. The 2010 season was Roethlisberger’s first with center Maurkice Pouncey, who would become his best friend on the team over the course of the next decade.
- Season highlights: Named to third Pro Bowl; tied Drew Brees for NFL passing title; had consecutive six TD games
- Favorite receiver: Antonio Brown (129 catches, 1,698 yards, 13 touchdowns)
After consecutive 8-8 seasons, Pittsburgh’s brass gave Roethlisberger his coveted tall receiver in 6-foot-4 rookie Martavis Bryant. Bell came back to Pittsburgh in significantly better shape following a solid rookie season, while Brown continued his ascension as the league’s best receiver. The result was a breakout season for Roethlisberger, who won his first passing title while leading the Steelers to their first division title since 2010. He set an NFL record by throwing six touchdown passes in consecutive games. In his first six-touchdown performance, Roethlisberger threw for a whopping 522 yards in a midseason win over the Colts. An early playoff exit (Roethlisberger threw two picks in Pittsburgh’s wild card loss to Baltimore) is why this season isn’t ranked higher.
- Season highlights: Selected to fourth consecutive Pro Bowl; first player in NFL history with three career 500-yard passing games; set NFL record for most completions in non-overtime game (44 vs. Ravens in Week 14)
- Favorite receiver: Antonio Brown (101 catches, 1,533 yards, nine touchdowns)
In what was the final season with Todd Haley as his offensive coordinator, Roethlisberger was named to the Pro Bowl for a fourth consecutive year. In 15 games, Roethlisberger threw for 4,251 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He bounced back after throwing five picks in a Week 5 loss to the Jaguars by throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Brown the next week in Kansas City against the previously undefeated Chiefs. His 506 yards helped lead the Steelers to a one-point win over the Ravens that clinched the AFC North division title. Roethlisberger, in a losing effort, threw for 469 yards and a playoff career high five touchdown passes against Jacksonville in the divisional round. As well as Roethlisberger played, his two turnovers led to 14 Jaguars points, helping Jacksonville build a 28-7 lead before holding on for a 45-42 win.
- Season highlights: Named to first Pro Bowl; set then franchise single-season TD pass record (32)
- Favorite receivers: Santonio Holmes (52 catches, 942 yards, eight touchdowns), Hines Ward (71 catches, 732 yards, seven touchdowns)
In his first season with Mike Tomlin and new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Roethlisberger shed his label as a game manager who needed a dominant defense and a strong running game to win. He threw for a then-franchise record 32 touchdowns while helping the Steelers return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. Roethlisberger also threw fewer than half as many interceptions (11) as he did during the previous season (23). He struggled to take care of the ball in the playoffs, however, as Roethlisberger threw three interceptions in Pittsburgh’s wild card loss to the Jaguars.
- Season highlights: Won first outright NFL passing title; broke own franchise single-season TD pass record (34)
- Favorite receiver: JuJu Smith-Schuster (111 receptions, 1,426 yards, seven touchdowns)
This season was a roller coaster ride for Roethlisberger. He won his second passing title after throwing for 5,129 yards, the seventh-highest total in league history. But he also tied the league-high with 16 interceptions that included a badly timed pick in a late-season loss in Denver. The loss was the first of four late-season defeats for the Steelers, who missed the playoffs after a 7-2-1 start. Roethlisberger had several eye-popping statistical performances that included a 1-on-1 duel with Patrick Mahomes in Week 2. Mahomes threw for 326 yards and six touchdowns while Roethlisberger countered with 452 yards and four scores as the two teams racked up a combined 79 points.
- Season highlights: Named to second Pro Bowl; broke Terry Bradshaw’s franchise record for most career completions
- Favorite receiver: Mike Wallace (72 receptions, 1,193 yards, eight touchdowns)
Roethlisberger was named to his second Pro Bowl while helping lead the Steelers to a 12-4 regular season record. The highlight was Roethlisberger’s 365-yard, two-touchdown performance in Pittsburgh’s Week 8 win over Brady and the Patriots. The lowlight was the Steelers’ overtime loss to Tim Tebow and the Broncos in the wild card round. During the regular season, Big Ben took advantage of a young but talented receiving corps that featured Pro Bowlers in Brown and Wallace as well as future Pro Bowler Emmanuel Sanders.
- Season highlights: Led NFL with seven game-winning drives; moved into fifth all time in career passing yards, eighth in career touchdown passes and third in career postseason passing yards.
- Favorite receiver: Diontae Johnson (107 receptions, 1,161 yards, nine touchdowns)
After a 1-3 start, Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers to an 8-4-1 finish while helping Pittsburgh clinch a wild card berth. He led Pittsburgh to season sweeps of Cleveland and Baltimore that included a win in his final game at Heinz Field as well as a game-winning drive in overtime in Week 18. Along with Johnson, Roethlisberger enjoyed a successful partnership with rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, who caught 60 passes and seven touchdowns.
- Season highlights: Led Steelers to 11-0 start, best in franchise history; broke Mike Webster’s franchise record for most games played
- Favorite receivers: Diontae Johnson (88 catches, 923 yards, seven touchdowns), JuJu Smith Schuster (97 catches, 831 yards, nine touchdowns), Chase Claypool (62 catches, 873 yards, nine touchdowns)
A year removed from elbow surgery, Roethlisberger showed he was still capable of playing at a high level after helping lead the Steelers to an 11-0 start. Injuries, dropped passes, and a predictable offense ultimately contributed to the Steelers’ 1-5 finish. Roethlisberger appeared to lose some of his accuracy on his deep passes, although he did connect with Johnson on a 39-yard touchdown pass that keyed the Steelers’ Week 16 division-clinching comeback win over the Colts. In the wild card round, Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards and four touchdowns, but his four interceptions and his inability to scoop up a fumble on the game’s first drive contributed to Pittsburgh’s 48-37 loss to Cleveland.
- Season highlight: Game-winning touchdown pass to Mike Wallace capped thrilling late-season win over Aaron Rodgers and Packers.
- Favorite receivers: Santonio Holmes (79 catches, 1,248 yards, five touchdowns), Hines Ward (95 catches, 1,167 yards, six touchdowns)
This was Roethlisberger’s best statistical season up until that point. He set then career highs with 4,238 yards while completing 66.6% of his passes. He struggled, however, in Pittsburgh’s midseason losses to Cincinnati and Oakland that were part of a five-game losing streak. The Steelers rebounded with three straight wins but missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
- Season highlight: Rallied Steelers from 0-4 start to 8-8 finish for 10th consecutive non-losing season
- Favorite receiver: Antonio Brown (110 catches, 1,499 yards, eight touchdowns)
At different points in the season, the 2013 Steelers were 0-4, 2-6 and 5-8 before rallying to finish with an 8-8 record and just outside the AFC playoff picture. Roethlisberger threw just four interceptions during the season’s final seven games after throwing 10 picks in the first nine. Roethlisberger developed a quick rapport with Bell, who caught 45 passes despite missing the season’s first three games with an injury. This was also the first monster season by Brown, who was selected to his second Pro Bowl.
- Season highlight: Helped rally visiting Steelers to come-from-behind win over draft classmate Eli Manning and the defending champion Giants in Week 9
- Favorite receivers: Mike Wallace (64 catches, 836 yards, eight touchdowns), Heath Miller (71 catches, 816 yards, eight touchdowns)
Roethlisberger threw 26 touchdowns (against just eight interceptions) despite missing three games to injury. After winning one game during his absence, the Steelers went 1-3 following Roethlisberger’s return. The crushing defeat came at home against the Bengals in Week 16, as Roethlisberger’s interception with 24 seconds left set up Cincinnati’s game-winning field goal that eliminated Pittsburgh from playoff contention. Throughout the season, Roethlisberger didn’t receive much help from a running game that finished 26th in the league. He did receive a career year from Miller, who won team MVP honors.
- Season highlight: Game-winning, 67-yard touchdown pass in overtime to Santonio Holmes in Pittsburgh’s season-finale and final game for coach Bill Cowher
- Favorite receiver: Hines Ward (74 catches, 975 yards, six touchdowns)
Complications following a serious motorcycle accident kept Roethlisberger sidelined for Pittsburgh’s season-opening win over Miami. Roethlisberger was never quite himself during the ’06 season. He threw a league-high 23 interceptions while completing less than 60% of his passes. The focus of the Steelers offense this season shifted to Willie Parker, who ran for 1,494 yards and 13 scores that included a pair of 200-yard rushing performances.
This season was essentially a wash as Roethlisberger missed the final 14 games after undergoing elbow surgery. He threw for 351 yards with one interception on 35 of 62 passing in six quarters of work. Without Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh started the season 0-3 before the winning eight of its next 10 games largely on the strength of its defense (which was buoyed by the early-season acquisition of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick). Roethlisberger’s absence was felt in December, however, as the Steelers dropped their final three games while missing the playoffs for a second straight year.
Can Big Ben return to glory? Will Najee Harris rush for 1,000 yards in his rookie season? Get the latest Steelers scoop from Bryan DeArdo, our local expert who’s on the ground in Pittsburgh, by downloading the CBS Sports app. If you already have the app, favorite the Steelers to get up-to-the-second news.