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Steelers

Brady, Big Ben meet again in AFC title game

Chris Adamski
| Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers embrace after the Patriots defeated the Steelers 28-21 at Gillette Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Getty Images
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 10: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers embrace after the Patriots defeated the Steelers 28-21 at Gillette Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws against the Cowboys in the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws against the Cowboys in the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, at Heinz Field.
The Patriots' Tom Brady passes against the Dolphins on Jan. 1, 2017.
Getty Images
The Patriots' Tom Brady passes against the Dolphins on Jan. 1, 2017.

A berth in the Super Bowl isn't the only thing on the line for Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC championship game.

Not that the Steelers' Roethlisberger is concerned with any such derivative stakes.

The winning quarterback Sunday will become the leader among active players at his position in postseason winning percentage.

Roethlisberger is aiming to improve to 14-6 in the playoffs; Brady wants to get his 24th victory in what will be his 33rd postseason start for the New England Patriots.

“Just two old guys that have been playing in this game for a long time,” Roethlisberger said. “I think that's what a lot of the talk is. He deserves all the credit that he gets. It's obviously bigger than the two of us.”

By definition, that's true. Certainly, the 52 other players on each team and their coaches and staff — to say nothing of the two fanbases — also have plenty to gain from a victory. But as far as which two individuals on the field will have the most impact on what team does so? It almost certainly will be Roethlisberger and Brady.

One of the results of that is the Ben-vs.-Brady narrative will get plenty of play from the heightened media presence that's on hand for a conference title game lead-up.

“At the quarterback position, you get used to that,” Roethlisberger said. “You play games — whether it's the AFC Championship Game or not — and you hear a lot of talk about quarterback vs. quarterback, because that's the sexy way to talk about a game, I guess.”

Especially when the two quarterbacks are as accomplished as Roethlisberger and Brady. By the time Sunday's game is over, they will have combined for 10 AFC championships in addition to 344 NFL wins (37 in the playoffs), six Super Bowl rings, 17 Pro Bowl berths, more than 108,000 passing yards and 756 touchdown passes.

That two-thirds each of the Super Bowls and conference titles — and an even greater share of the touchdown passes and Pro Bowl berths — belong to Brady puts the Steelers in an unusual position for them:

They're going into a game with what is only the second-most accomplished quarterback. Against only New England is that assuredly the case.

“I'm not going to get into that right now,” Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt said of Roethlisberger's status as behind Brady in the NFL's active-quarterback hierarchy. “But we do have a good quarterback on our side who I believe is a really great quarterback.”

Along with Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and perhaps Eli Manning, with Peyton Manning's retirement last year there arguably aren't any active quarterbacks who have better Hall of Fame résumés than the two who will face each other at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

Still, Roethlisberger has never been named first- or second-team All-Pro. In some league observers' eyes, he has perpetually been in a second tier behind Brady, the Mannings, Brees and Rodgers.

“I would love to see him get the recognition,” said Roethlisberger's longest-tenured offensive teammate, guard Ramon Foster. “Everybody likes to paint him as… the guy that is not up to par with the rest of the guys.

“(But) you look at his record, he's got more hardware or just as much as the dudes do. So I can't find a correlation with that. It's a shame that it's like that. Maybe it's because we play a different type of ball — smashmouth — or that our defense is a certain way. But he's top 10 (all-time) in a lot of categories in this league.”

So is Brady. He ranks fourth in career touchdown passes; Roethlisberger ninth.

Brady is also fourth in passing yards; Roethlisberger 10th.

Brady is third (according to pro-football-reference.com) in career game-winning drives; Roethlisberger tied for seventh.

“Ben's a competitor, he's one of the greatest to ever do it, the greatest quarterback to ever put on a uniform here,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “Broke every (team) record, but he don't really give a (dang). All he's cared about is going out there and getting this win.”

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