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Shorter suspension doesn't mean Roethlisberger is in clear

Ben Roethlisberger isn't invisible, so on that basis alone, he is constantly tested.

The football field only puts the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback in the path of 300-pound human wrecking balls looking to take him down on every snap. It is the game of life that has provided the greatest amount of treachery. Around every corner, there's a mistake waiting to happen.

And when you're so closely watched and the majority of what you say and do is for public consumption, those mistakes are easy to come by. Any place. Any time.

Suspension reduced

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is getting time off for good behavior. His suspension was reduced from six games to four by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. **More ...**

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For the past several months, Roethlisberger has managed to exceed the minimum standards of acceptable behavior that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell set forth when he suspended him for six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

That's why Goodell did the expected on Friday and reduced Roethlisberger's suspension to four games.

But this story isn't over. Far from it.

For every day that Roethlisberger is in the NFL and Goodell's heavy hand of discipline remains in place, Big Ben's off-field conduct will be subjected to significant scrutiny.

More than that of any other starting quarterback. Much more than that of any other player.

Eliminating two games from the suspension is, in the commissioner's view, a significant recognition of Roethlisberger's going above and beyond while staying on the straight and narrow.

With Byron Leftwich suffering a knee injury and Dennis Dixon looking shaky, the Steelers no doubt would have preferred Roethlisberger to miss three games rather than four. After all, the fourth game on their schedule is against the Baltimore Ravens, the presumptive favorite in the AFC North.

But competitive disadvantage played no role in Goodell's thinking. This was all about trying to teach a player a lesson and sending a message to everyone else in the league.

Although Roethlisberger wasn't charged with a crime, there were enough incriminating details from the case of a 20-year-old college student who accused him of sexually assaulting her in a Georgia nightclub last March to justify Goodell's giving the quarterback a figurative whack upside the head. It also wasn't the first time Roethlisberger had been accused of sexual assault, which was another factor in the punishment.

But if Roethlisberger thinks that today marked the completion of what he needed to do to win the approval of the commissioner or anyone else, he is fooling himself. Being the person he has been the past several months -- the one who is acutely aware of his conduct and who treats teammates, fans, reporters and everyone he meets with respect -- must become a full-time thing.

Like it or not, everyone is watching. Everyone is judging ... like never before.

"Earlier in his career, he left the building and a lot of people didn't know what he did," wide receiver Hines Ward told reporters in Pittsburgh. "He was just secluded by himself, but now he's opening himself up to guys. He's joking around with everybody, rookies included. He's a different guy."

To stay out of trouble, the behavior that prompts Ward and others to describe Roethlisberger as "different" must become what makes them call him "normal."

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