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Steelers

Ben there, done that: Playoff experience paramount for Steelers' Roethlisberger

Joe Rutter
| Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, 10:57 a.m.
Ben Roethlisberger reacts during the second half against the Patriots in the AFC championship game Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass.
Getty Images
Ben Roethlisberger reacts during the second half against the Patriots in the AFC championship game Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass.

If having playoff experience at quarterback matters in January, then half of the AFC teams and one-third of the NFC contenders are in trouble when the NFL postseason begins this weekend.

The Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars have quarterbacks who will make their first career postseason starts this weekend: Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles, respectively.

In the NFC, Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams will make his first career postseason start. Next weekend, the honor will go to Case Keenum of the Minnesota Vikings. Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles will make his second career postseason start.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is one who believes in the importance of postseason experience.

“A lot,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “The speed picks up a little bit, the intensity. The stakes are magnified, so being there before helps.”

The Steelers will have the decided edge in quarterback postseason experience no matter who they face in the divisional round. Roethlisberger's 20 career playoff starts are second only to Tom Brady's 34. The Kansas City Chiefs' Alex Smith is the only other AFC starter with any postseason experience, having made six starts (with a 2-4 record).

“We're lucky,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “This guy has been in so many playoff games, it's a breeze for him. I think it's just preparation for him. When you have a guy who's been there, done that, won multiple games and has all the accolades he does, you going into every week feeling comfortable, especially this time of the year.”

Roethlisberger was thrust into the postseason as a rookie in 2004 when the Steelers went 15-1, and he set a rookie record by going 13-0 in the regular season. He went 1-1 in the playoffs that year as the Steelers avoided an upset by the New York Jets before losing to Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game at Heinz Field.

“It was all a whirlwind at that time,” Roethlisberger said. “(From) the back third or quarter of the season. That rookie wall is real. You're hitting it and feeling it. You're riding the wave of the veterans, you're riding the way of emotion and trying to win one more game.”

Now 35, Roethlisberger is close to the end of his career. How close is a question only he can answer. He hinted at retirement after the Steelers lost the AFC championship game last year at New England.

Would he consider walking away if he leads the Steelers to another Super Bowl title?

“We have a long way to go to win a Super Bowl,” he said. “I'm just focusing on the first game.”

The situation in the AFC is similar to 2016 with Brady, Roethlisberger and Smith on one side of the experience scale and first-timers Brock Osweiler (Houston Texans), Matt Moore (Miami Dolphins) and Connor Cook (Oakland Raiders) on the other.

This could be the third consecutive season the Steelers open the playoffs against an untested postseason quarterback. In 2015, it was A.J. McCarron of the Cincinnati Bengals. Last year, it was Moore. Bortles of the No. 3-seeded Jaguars or Mariota of the No. 5-seeded Titans are potential divisional-round opponents.

“Nothing is guaranteed. We'll see what happens,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “If we did (face an inexperienced quarterback), we'll have to rattle him. To do that, you have to stop the run, put them in some situations he doesn't like and then you can really have fun with it.”

Roethlisberger also plans to take the fun approach to his 10th career postseason run, one that is three wins away from securing his third championship and seventh for the franchise.

“I know I still get excited,” he said. “I think you can afford to get excited. You should never take these moments for granted. I remember hearing that my first year here from some of the veteran guys who had been here for a while. They were saying, ‘Don't take this for granted, embrace it, all that stuff.'

“I don't think you fully appreciate it. Then you go back the next year. I've had opportunities, but the ultimate goal is the Super Bowl, and it's been a while since I've gotten to one of those. That's motivating.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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