For just the third time in NFL history — and first since 1979 — two quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl wins will meet in the postseason.
Not only will Sunday’s AFC Championship Game pit two of the league’s perennial powers against one another — the New England Patriots versus the Pittsburgh Steelers — but it’ll also showcase two of the NFL’s most successful signal-callers.
Tom Brady, called by some “The Greatest of All Time” or GOAT, and Ben Roethlisberger will face off in the playoffs for the first time since Jan. 23, 2005, when the Patriots easily defeated the Steelers, 41-27, in the AFC title game. New England went on to defeat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX that year.
Roethlisberger was just a rookie back then. But much has changed. He’s now 34, a two-time Super Bowl champion, and one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league. Still, Roethlisberger has been overshadowed by his counterpart. And for good reason.
Brady, 39, has showed no signs of slowing down and the Patriots didn’t miss a beat while he served his four-game DeflateGate suspension. The Patriots opened the season 3-1 and Brady closed out the regular season throwing 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
The Steelers — who are six-point underdogs — have never beaten Brady at Gillette Stadium. (Their only road win against New England came in 2008 against backup Matt Cassel at quarterback because Brady tore his ACL and MCL.)
But Brady’s dominance doesn’t scare the Steelers. Nor do they feel at a disadvantage.
“I definitely think he’s up there with those guys,” Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier said when asked if Roethlisberger ranks among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. “I can argue that he’s one of the top guys, too, or he is the top guy, too, because Ben, when we need, he makes great plays, he comes in the clutch and I don’t know who doesn’t want him on the team when it comes to winning games. At the end of the day, this is going to be a great game. They’ve got Tom but we’ve got Ben. They’ve got a good defense, so do we. That’s what AFC Championship football is all about.”
“You’re going up to the lion’s den. The dragon’s lair. They’re the dragon, we’re trying to slay them.” — Ben Roethlisberger on facing the Patriots
The Patriots will look to contain Bell just as they did Oct. 23, when their defense held the versatile back to 81 yards on 21 carries in a 27-16 victory at Heinz Field. But anything goes in the playoffs, and the Steelers are hoping Bell’s hot streak continues. He’s rushed for 337 yards in Pittsburgh’s previous two postseason games — the first playoff games of Bell’s four-year career.
He needs just 6 more yards to set the franchise record for most rushing yards in a postseason. With 125 or more rushing yards against New England, he’ll catapult into the top five all-time for rushing yards in an NFL postseason.
WR Antonio Brown vs. CB Malcolm Butler
Their competitiveness was on full display in their playful Papa John’s commercial, which featured the Patriots cornerback shadowing the Steelers receiver all over town in order to keep him from getting his hands on a pizza. Now, Brown and Butler’s spirited rivalry will play out on the big stage.
Asked if Butler can cover him on the field, Brown smiled and said: “That’s to be determined this weekend. Obviously, it’s a big game. I have a lot of respect for him. He is a follow-type corner. He is going to be there. I am excited about having that opportunity.”
Combined playoff records of Tom Brady (23-9) and Ben Roethlisberger (13-6)