League leaders clash as Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger faces Patriots' Tom Brady
They have been around seemingly forever, two future Hall of Famers who have faced each other in everything from AFC championship games to season openers and late-season showdowns over the past 14 years.
But never in their nine meetings have Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger been ranked so highly among NFL passing leaders.
When Brady (3,865) and Roethlisberger (3,744) lead the New England Patriots and Steelers, respectively, into Sunday's 4:25 p.m. game at Heinz Field, it will be the rare December game pitting the NFL's top two in passing yardage.
“He's the best in the world, maybe the best that's ever done it,” Roethlisberger said. “Of course, we're going to relish the opportunities (to play against each other).”
Brady and Roethlisberger have combined to represent the AFC in 10 of the past 16 Super Bowls, claiming seven rings in total. They also have combined for three NFL passing-yardage titles but never have finished in the top five in the same year, something that seems destined to change in 2017.
Brady's dominance over the Steelers is well documented: including the postseason, he has won 10 of 12 with a 29-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 70.0 completion percentage and 115.1 passer rating.
His numbers with Roethlisberger as his opponent are even better: 70.2 completion percentage, 116.7 rating.
That's helped contribute to a misconception that Roethlisberger has floundered against New England. But a more accurate account is that he has been better-than-average (97.3 passer rating, counting the playoffs) — it's just that he has been outshined by Brady.
So even with Brady coming off his worst game (measured by passer rating) in more than four years (59.5 in a shocking loss in Miami), the Steelers would be wise to expect a more vintage version of Brady on Sunday.
“Tom competes well every week. If you just watch Tom compete during the week, I don't think you would know what the result was from the game before,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “He's consistent.”
A month into this season, it appeared as if Brady was on his way to becoming the NFL's oldest MVP when he was throwing for almost 350 yards a game with 11 touchdowns, one interception and a 111.9 rating.
At that point, Roethlisberger was coming off one of the worst games of his career. After throwing five interceptions in a loss to Jacksonville, he joked about “not having it anymore,” his TD-to-INT ratio fell to 5-to-6 and his passer rating plummeted to 75.8.
Since Week 5, though, Roethlisberger has been — statistically — better than Brady. Roethlisberger has thrown for more yards (2,475 to 2,163) and touchdowns (18 to 16) with better a batter yards-per-attempt (8.1 to 7.5) and passer rating (100.8 to 100.6).
He also directed a team that went 8-0 in that span.
“He's got great toughness, can stand in the pocket, has great vision, can find receivers,” Belichick said. “… He makes great decisions and has great vision to get the ball to guys that you kind of start to fall off of as the play extends. Really, really good player. Tough, durable and can make all the throws and all of the plays to beat you.”
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden is one of the rare players in the locker room who has faced Roethlisberger and Brady.
“There's similarities,” Haden said. “They go to the matchups … Some quarterbacks, they make the game a little bit harder than it is. If (Brady or Roethlisberger) sees a matchup against a dude that they don't feel like can cover, Brady will go to him the whole time all the way down the field. Instead of feeling like you have to spread it around, go to what is working. (Brady) does that really well, and so does Ben.”