PITTSBURGH -- Let this statistic register: 503 passing yards.
Peyton Manning or Drew Brees? Not a surprise. But a 503-yard game -- and in a win, no less -- by the Pittsburgh Steelers, traditionally the NFL's strongest proponents of knock-'em-down, run-'em-over football?
Believe it. Finally, after years of traveling by foot or by Bus (as in Jerome Bettis), the Steelers are part of the NFL's jet age.
Ben Roethlisberger is making it official, declaring that the Steelers are a throwing team first and a running team second, a significant change in character and philosophy that one of the NFL's most venerable franchises has rarely dared to make.
The evidence: Roethlisberger's team-record 503 yards Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the 10th-best passing day in NFL history.
"I think it's probably hard for people to really wrap their head and fingers around, but this offense is changing, this team is changing on offense," Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "It's not a run-first team anymore. That's not a bad thing, it really isn't. We got two 1,000-yard receivers, we'll have a 1,000-yard rusher, it's a pretty fun thing."
What traditionalists are having difficulty grasping is it's now the Steelers' thing.
The stats sheet doesn't lie: Since becoming Pittsburgh's starting quarterback in 2004, Roethlisberger has produced five of the top seven passing-yardage games in team history and four of the top eight passing seasons.
Roethlisberger already has surpassed the Steelers' single-season passing record with two games remaining -- he has thrown for 3,849 yards -- and is closing in on the team's first 4,000-yard season. He has accounted for three of the six most productive passing-yardage games in team history this season, also throwing for 417 yards against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 18 and 398 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 22.
Until Roethlisberger came along, the Steelers had just two 400-yard games since being founded in 1933, much less a 500-yard game.
Roethlisberger's five game-winning touchdown passes in the final two minutes of a game since 2004 are a league high.
"I've said it 1,000 times, the league evolves offensively and defensively and, offensively, it has evolved," Roethlisberger said. "You have to keep up with those teams, the Indianapolises, the Saints, teams like that because if you don't, you're going to get left behind."
The Super Bowl champions kept hearing during their recent five-game losing streak that they needed to get back to a better mix of the run and pass. Regardless, Roethlisberger came out throwing against Green Bay with a 60-yard TD pass to Mike Wallace on the first play from scrimmage.
The Steelers (7-7) finished with just 19 rushing attempts, the second time this season that they've had fewer than 20.
"We came out and threw the ball a bunch early, the first couple of plays were passes and I think it threw everybody for a loop," Roethlisberger said. "Everybody assumed we would come out and just run the ball and pound it."
To understand what a change this is, consider the Steelers' 85,450 rushing yards since the 1970 NFL merger are 4,856 yards more than any other team. By comparison, they're 23rd in passing yards, throwing for nearly 19,000 yards fewer than the San Francisco 49ers.
For the first time in their history, the Steelers likely will have two 1,000-yard receivers (Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward), a 1,000-yard running back in Rashard Mendenhall and a 4,000-yard passer. In a sign of Pittsburgh's times, Mendenhall had more yards receiving (73) than rushing (38) against Green Bay.
"I don't know if that is a new trend," third-year Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, referring to the supposed decline in running-based teams. "People have their personality, and they gear their personality toward how they want to play football. As long as it fits your people and there's a level of belief in it."
It's pretty evident what the Steelers believe in -- at least Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
"It's awesome to witness," defensive end Brett Keisel said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press