Brady and Roethlisberger: Something's Got to Give
By John MacKenna
Roethlisberger's streak dates back to Sept. 26, 2004, when the Steelers beat the Miami Dolphins, 13-3, in Roethlisberger's first career start. The Steelers have won every game since, including 14 straight with the rookie at quarterback.
Brady's streak began in his first career playoff game on Jan. 19, 2002, when the Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders, 16-13, in the AFC Divisional Playoff. With six straight wins since then, Brady's playoff record stands at 7-0.
At 27, Brady is already an NFL legend. In 2002, he became the youngest Super Bowl MVP at age 24. Two years later, he became the first player to win two Super Bowl MVP awards before age 27.
Roethlisberger is already known as the quarterback who helped end the Patriots' 21-game win streak, back on Halloween. On Sunday, he has a chance to become the quarterback who finally beat Brady in the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh rookie has the respect of Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, who said on Monday, "Roethlisberger has done a great job for them, another big strong guy, hard to get on the ground, has very good down-the-field vision. He's shown a lot of maturity in what he's done this year. The guy hasn't lost a game. I wouldn't expect anything but another good performance from him."
The quarterbacks' streaks make a nice pregame story line, but all that matters on the field is who gets the job done. Lately, performance has been a problem for Roethlisberger. His mistakes in last Saturday's Divisional Playoff against the Jets nearly ended the Steelers' season. Had Jets kicker Doug Brien made either of his last two field goal attempts, the Steelers would have been eliminated, and the Jets would be playing the Patriots at Foxborough on Sunday.
The Jets picked off Roethlisberger twice in the second half, with both interceptions coming on badly errant throws by the Associated Press Rookie of the Year. In the third quarter, Jets safety Reggie Tongue picked off Roethlisberger and ran 86 yards for a touchdown to give the Jets a 17-10 lead. Then with less than two minutes to play, Jets CB David Barrett intercepted a Roethlisberger pass and the Jets drove to the Pittsburgh 24, where Brien missed a 43-yard field goal try.
"Obviously, it wasn't me out there today," Roethlisberger said after the game.
The rookie has had several tough outings since midseason. In Week 14 against the Jets, he completed only nine of 19 passes for 144 yards with two interceptions. In Week 12 against the Redskins, he went nine-for-20 for only 131 yards. In Week 11 against the Bengals, he completed 15 of 21 passes but he was sacked seven times and averaged a season-low 6.57 yards per pass.
After throwing only three interceptions in a nine-game stretch ending in Week 13, Roethlisberger has been picked off seven times in his last four games while throwing only four touchdown passes.
On the season, the Steelers' quarterback completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,621 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His quarterback rating was 98.1.
Steelers Pro Bowl Guard Alan Faneca has said that the Steelers need more from their star rookie this Sunday. "He's going to have to pick his game up," Faneca told ESPN.com on Monday. "He was off a little bit, but we were all off a little bit as an offense."
Steelers linebacker James Farrior also weighed in on Roethlisberger's performance. "He had a rough game," Farrior told ESPN.com. "People were really down on him and said he played bad, but he's a young quarterback, and he has a lot in his face right now."
Cornerback Deshea Townsend added, "We have all the confidence in the world in Ben. We were 15-1 during the season because of him. He's a very confident guy, very poised for a rookie, and I'm sure he'll do fine."
On many occasions the season, Roethlisberger has shown tremendous poise. Against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 17, the rookie completed 9 of 11 passes during two late scoring drives as the Steelers rebounded from a 20-10 deficit to win 24-20. "He's got great poise," said Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells.
On Dec. 18, the Steelers let the New York Giants hang around far too long, but Roethlisberger completed four straight passes during a fourth-quarter drive that carried the Steelers to a 33-30 win. "I was amazed, but he is an awesome quarterback," said Steelers receiver Anwtaan Randle El after the game. "You can have all the ability in the world, but if you don't have the poise to do it, it won't happen."
Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher also was effusive about Roethlisberger after the Giants game. "He has been making good decisions with games on the line. In the fourth quarter, he has a feel for the game and an understanding of the game, and he manages it well."
In this regard, Roethlisberger is much like Brady, who engineered game-winning drives in both of New England's Super Bowl wins.
But Brady is coming into the Steelers game on a high note after New England's surprising 20-3 trouncing of the Colts last Sunday. The Patriots' quarterback threw no interceptions in that game and completed 18 of 27 passes for 144 yards. His performance inspired this praise from ESPN.com's Chris Mortensen. "Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Otto Graham, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, John Elway and Troy Aikman? They've got nothing on Tom Brady as a money quarterback."
In the Patriots' last three games, Brady completed 61 of 89 passes (68.5 percent) with five touchdown passes and no interceptions. In the team's last four playoff games, Brady is 93 for 153 with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Neither quarterback is expected to shoulder a full offensive burden on Sunday, as the Steelers and Patriots both have excellent running attacks. It is likely, however, that both defenses will concentrate on shutting down the run and forcing their opponent to the air. The Steelers are a tougher team to pass on, having allowed opponent only 177.2 yards passing for the season, compared to 212.5 allowed by the Patriots.
The Patriots are more accustomed to running a balanced offense and will likely mix the pass and run much as they have all season. New England ran the ball on 52 percent of its plays this year, compared to 63 percent for Pittsburgh.
If the Patriots' pass defense is vulnerable, there was no sign of that last Sunday, when New England held NFL MVP Peyton Manning to 5.67 yards per attempt with no touchdowns. Manning averaged 9.2 yards per attempt for the season.
The Patriots will surely try to put the brakes on Pittsburgh's run game and force Roethlisberger to pass often. ESPN.com's John Clayton has offered this analysis. "The Patriots are masters of confusing veteran quarterbacks, and they will do everything in the world to confuse Roethlisberger even more. The Patriots will try to fool Roethlisberger with blitzes and fake blitzes. Roethlisberger is a classic play-action passer, and the Patriots usually do well against these types of quarterbacks."
When the Steelers beat the Patriots Oct. 31, Roethlisberger completed 18 of 24 passes for 196 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. Brady, meanwhile, was 25 for 43 for 271 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and four sacks. The Patriots played from behind for the most of the game, and the Steelers played them to pass.
The Patriots sacked opposing quarterbacks 45 times this year. The Steelers recorded 41 sacks. Roethlisberger was sacked 30 times in 14 games. Brady was sacked 26 times in sixteen games.
One area where Roethlisberger has a clear edge over Brady is as a rusher. He
ripped off a 20-yarder against the Jets last Sunday and had 144 yards on 56
carries for the season. Brady gained only 28 yards on 43 carries in the regular
John is a regular contributor to the Patriots Insider. You can reach him in the forums under the name: oldnslow. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John MacKenna" or send him an email here
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