PITTSBURGH - There always seems to be a "yeah, but" when discussing Ben Roethlisberger.
Yeah, he went 13-0 in his regular season starts as a 22-year-old rookie, but he was surrounded by great players. All he had to do was stay out of the way.
Yeah, he won a Super Bowl during his second year in the league, but he was horrific in that game (9 for 21 for 132 yards with a pick).
Yeah, he's 51-20 as a regular-season starter and 7-2 in the postseason, but he doesn't play pretty and disciplined. Half his big-play throws have a strong whiff of good fortune to them.
Know what? It's time to take the "yeah, buts" out of the conversation and call it the way it is.
Thanks to the Steelers' 23-14 win over the Ravens in the AFC Championship, 26-year-old Ben Roethlisberger is headed to his second Super Bowl. He is one of the league's three best quarterbacks right now and the arc of his career is putting him on pace to be a legend.
Roethlisberger and that Steelers defense are the reasons Pittsburgh is headed to Tampa Bay to play the Arizona Cardinals. The numbers don't testify, (16 for 33 for 255 yards and a touchdown), but people do.
"His record speaks for itself," said Steelers tight end Heath Miller. "I don't care how he gets the job done. I don't care if he scrambles around and it's not pretty. I just care that he wins."
Said Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, "I have one piece of advice for the Arizona Cardinals. Don't pass rush. Don't let him play recess football because if you let him play recess football, he's the best in the business."
The recess reference from Pryce was a tribute to the game's biggest play. A scrambling, freelancing, desperation lob to Santonio Holmes that went for a 65-yard touchdown. The play was busted. Just like Big Ben likes it.
"You rush him and that what he wants you to do," Pryce said. "Beating their offensive linemen is not hard. It seems like they want you to beat them, they want you to get inside and let him go outside and get on the run. And when he does that, he's a playground football player and that's what makes him what he is. And he's a damn good one."
While Peyton Manning and Tom Brady - the consensus best quarterbacks in the league - are surgeons, Roethlisberger's a mad scientist. And his offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, loves it.
"He's not even close to getting the credit he deserves," Arians said. "He carries this offense on his back. It all falls to him. He loses his main man in Hines Ward (the wide receiver injured his right knee in the first quarter). He gets knocked down over and over and gets back up. The guy's tougher than nails. This is his second Super Bowl in five years. How many guys have done that? He doesn't get near the credit he's due."
With an often porous offensive line and a stuttering running game, this season, the Steelers' offense has been all about Big Ben.
And were it not for another "rabbit out of his hat" touchdown throw to Holmes in Baltimore during the regular season, this might have been a road game for Pittsburgh.
"He's got an unbelievable knack for that," Arians said. "People stay on him to throw the ball away. We say, ‘Go create a play.' He creates plays and we score. His creativity is the best in the league. He's an unbelievable player."
So he's an acquired taste. So his numbers aren't going to make fantasy football fans high-five awkwardly. The bottom line is, only one player in NFL history has more playoff wins in his first five seasons in the league. Brady had nine. Roethlisberger now has seven.
And in less than two weeks, he's going to get No. 8. And all the credit he deserves.
- Tom E. Curran, NBCSports.com contributor