Ben Roethlisberger knows all too well what lies ahead. The Steelers quarterback is under no illusions about how difficult his next challenge will be: venturing into Foxborough with the AFC title on the line.
The Patriots won 14 of the past 16 AFC East championships, including an NFL-record eighth consecutive title this season. They’re 16-3 at home in the postseason since 2001 and 33-4 overall there since 2013. And they’re led by one of the greatest coach-quarterback tandems in history: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
“You’re going up to the lion’s den. The dragon’s lair. They’re the dragon, we’re trying to slay them,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “It’s the gold standard.”
Asked if he believes he’s in Brady’s class, he replied, “Not yet. Look at all the Super Bowls he has.”
Big Ben is extremely confident in his team’s chances to win Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion and has plenty at his disposal, including running back Le’Veon Bell and playmaking receiver Antonio Brown. But when compared with Roethlisberger, 34, Brady commands the statistical edge.
Brady, 39, has won four Super Bowls, the first one 15 years ago, and is making his 11th championship game appearance, more than Hall of Famer Joe Montana (seven) and Roethlisberger (four).
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him, obviously,” Roethlisberger said of Brady, who threw 29 touchdowns (one fewer than Roethlisberger) and only two interceptions during the regular season despite serving a four-game suspension for his role in DeflateGate.
The Patriots got the better of Pittsburgh, 27-16, at Heinz Field Oct. 23, when Roethlisberger did not play because of a knee injury. On Wednesday, he said the Steelers have moved past that game and are focused on outsmarting Belichick and outplaying Brady on their home turf.
While the football world will be mesmerized by the duel between Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Roethlisberger downplayed its significance.
“I think it’s two old guys playing for a long time. I think that’s where all the talk is,” he said of the quarterback narrative. “He deserves all the credit that he gets. It’s obviously bigger than the two of us. I know he’s used to [the] Peyton and Tom thing, but these are two football teams that have won championships that are going against each other.”