No Big Ben, but Pats have Brady at quarterback
PITTSBURGH — Tom Brady wanted the showdown with Ben Roethlisberger, if he’s being honest.
And the New England star is far from the only one that wanted to see Roethlisberger’s familiar No. 7 run out of the tunnel for the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field today for what looked as if — at least until a week ago — one of the top games of the season in the AFC.
One awkward step by Roethlisberger against the Miami Dolphins in a confounding 30-15 loss ended that prospect, a step that left cartilage in Roethlisberger’s left knee torn and Brady kind of bummed.
“You always want to go against the best players,” Brady said. “He’s one of the reasons why they’ve been such a great team.”
Now it’s time for the Steelers (4-2) to prove their resilience — again — without the franchise’s all-time leading passer on the sideline.
Pittsburgh is 11-9 when Roethlisberger hasn’t been in the starting lineup since he took over the job as a rookie in 2004. Not great, but hardly disastrous.
Your turn Landry Jones, who jokingly told his teammates “don’t panic” after Roethlisberger underwent outpatient surgery to repair the knee on Monday.
Jones was moderately successful in spells while subbing for Roethlisberger last season.
Now he finds himself facing one of the all-time greats still at the top of his game at 39. Jones, however, isn’t going to waste time getting caught up with the notion of trying to be Roethlisberger-lite. That’s not his game.
“Ben kind of hangs his hat on, and what he’s done well for most of his career, is extending plays and throwing people off, stepping up in the pocket,” Jones said. “For me, I’m more of a quick-decision maker.”
Here are some things to watch when the Patriots visit the Steelers:
CURTAINS FOR THE STEEL CURTAIN? Roethlisberger or no Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh’s shaky defense — and not Jones — that will likely have the most at stake if the Steelers want to orchestrate an upset.
Brady’s had his way against some of Pittsburgh’s best defenses, going 8-2 with 24 touchdowns against just three interceptions in his career against the Steelers. Now he faces a group missing injured defensive end Cam Heyward and with rookies all over the place.
Brady is taking nothing for granted.
“They lost two games on the road, but we’re not playing them on the road,” he said. “We’re playing them at home where they’ve won them all, so it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
FAMILIAR FACES: The Steelers and Patriots have won seven of the past 12 AFC championships yet they’ve only met once in the playoffs during that span, with each club seeming to peak when the other is just a little bit off.
New England has had the upper hand for most of this decade while the Steelers rebuilt themselves on the fly after reaching the Super Bowl three times between 2005-10. The clubs entered the season as the first and second choices in the AFC to reach Houston in February.
The Patriots (5-1) look as good as advertised with Brady back. Roethlisberger’s injury clouds his team’s situation dramatically, though the Steelers aren’t exactly rattled.
“Responding to adversity, that’s what we do,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “Yeah, we know Ben isn’t playing, but we have confidence in Landry. You know he’s going to go out there and let it fly.”
STILL RUSTY?: Even after his second straight three-touchdown performance in New England’s win over Cincinnati last week, Brady said he was still a tad rusty since returning from his four-game “Deflategate” suspension. He said he’s still working to get to exactly where he wants to be, adding that there was no real way to replicate the intensity and duration of practices.
“It’s been good to be able to do those things for the last couple of weeks, but there’s a long way to go and this will be another important week for that,” Brady said.
But if Brady’s game is off, that’s news to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
“He’s Tom Brady, man,” Tomlin said. “He’s got six touchdowns, no interceptions and is completing 76 percent of his balls. So from my perspective we face a stiff challenge.”
BIG-TIME RESPECT: Expect the Steelers to rely heavily on versatile running back Le’Veon Bell to take some of the pressure off Jones. Bell is one of the most dynamic threats in the league, as comfortable lining up at wide receiver as he is in the backfield, earning New England coach Bill Belichick’s admiration in the process.
“Oh my god,” Belichick said. “Oh yeah. He’s a tremendous player, great hands, catches the ball, very quick, makes people miss, strong, breaks tackles, excellent balance, tough, doesn’t run out of bounds, fights for extra yardage, a great player.”