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Sunday, October 30, 2011
Roethlisberger beats Brady at his own game

By Jamison Hensley

Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger threw as many passes as New England ran plays in the Steelers' 25-17 victory.
PITTSBURGH -- After the Steelers' 25-17 victory Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger told Tom Brady that he thinks the Patriots' quarterback is the best.

Well, not today. Not for 60 minutes at Heinz Field. For the first time in his career, Roethlisberger outshined Brady in a head-to-head matchup. He did so by pulling a Brady on Brady.

Spreading out the New England defense, Roethlisberger lined up in the shotgun and zipped short passes all over the field. It was a masterful performance. It was a signature one.

The Steelers are the best team in the AFC not just because they've got the best record. It's because they have the hottest quarterback in the AFC.

With Brady getting an up-close look, Roethlisberger completed 36 of 50 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns. Roethlisberger wouldn't say whether this performance was more special because it came against an offense -- and quarterback -- that has set the standard for throwing the ball. His teammates know otherwise.

"Ben is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "Tom Brady is quote-unquote the best quarterback in the NFL. Any time you get a chance to go against the best, it’s a great opportunity for you. You relish those opportunities. He certainly did today and played great."

Everyone talked all week about Brady's dominance over the Steelers and his 6-1 record against the reigning AFC champions. So, what's the best way to stop Brady? With a better offense and quarterback.

Brady managed only 198 yards passing, and Roethlisberger deserved some credit in containing the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player. Roethlisberger wasn't just the best offensive player at Heinz Field. He might have been the best defense.

Roethlisberger's efficient effort allowed the Steelers to convert eight of their first 10 third downs. That kept Brady on the sideline as Pittsburgh dominated time of possession (39:22 to 20:38). In fact, Roethlisberger threw as many passes (50) as the Patriots had plays.

The Steelers kept the ball by converting third downs of 11, 15 and 12 yards. Roethlisberger's only mistake was an underthrown pass over the middle on third-and-17 that led to an easy Patriots touchdown. He responded by leading a 10-play, 76-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown.

In total, Pittsburgh's five scoring drives went for 11, 16, 10, 14 and 11 plays.

"It's been all Tom Brady versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and looking back on the past, how he's owned the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I think everybody forgot about our offense a little bit and the things they've been doing out there," Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "I think they took that a little personal."

The Steelers are facing an important stretch with back-to-back games against New England and Baltimore. In the big picture, the Steelers need a win over the Ravens more than a win over the Patriots because of division implications. But beating New England is of greater value to Roethlisberger.

When it comes to the quarterback debate this season, it's Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Some might even put Philip Rivers at No. 4. Roethlisberger will get pushed to the side even though he's got two rings because he often wins ugly.

If anything, Roethlisberger's performance against New England was the best way for him to state his case. The Steelers put the game in Roethlisberger's hands. Pittsburgh called for pass plays 73 percent of the time (57 of 78). When the Patriots put the game in Brady's hands, it led to Keisel stripping the ball and a safety with 8 seconds left in the game.

"Does he put up the numbers that everyone wants to see that’s attractive and sexy? No," Steelers left tackle Max Starks said. "But when you look at it in the wins and loss columns, that’s the ultimate barometer that a quarterback is judged by. For us, we appreciate the heck out of him. It doesn’t really matter if other people don’t think he’s great or gets them enough fantasy points."

The win was Roethlisberger's 75th in 106 starts. He is the fourth-fastest quarterback to reach 75 victories in the Super Bowl era, following Roger Staubach (99 games), Brady (99) and Ken Stabler (105).

Roethlisberger won because he was able to adjust. He didn't have long-time target Hines Ward, who was out with an ankle injury. So, Roethlisberger leaned on Brown (nine catches for 67 yards) and Emmanuel Sanders (five catches for 70 yards).

The Patriots also took away the deep pass from the Steelers, probably because Roethlisberger had hit Mike Wallace for a pass of more than 40 yards in six consecutive games. He changed up his game by going over the middle to tight end Heath Miller (seven catches for 85 yards) and underneath to Wallace (seven catches for 70 yards).

How the Steelers attacked shouldn't have come as a surprise. Roethlisberger basically showed his hand during the week when he said you always want to "emulate" the No. 1 offense in the league.

The Steelers consistently spread out the Patriots' defense by emptying the backfield. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Roethlisberger threw both of his touchdowns out of empty-set formations and recorded nine plays that went for first downs, surpassing his previous mark of six.

"We came in with the game plan of throwing the ball," Roethlisberger said. "I felt like we did a good job of that."

Roethlisberger added, "We can be as good as we want to be. When we don't kill ourselves and stop ourselves, we can be pretty dangerous."

Roethlisberger has been extremely dangerous recently. In his past four games, he has thrown 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has produced back-to-back 300-yard passing games (361 and 365 yards) for the second time in his career.

You don't want to face the Steelers these days, and you definitely don't want to see Roethlisberger.

"Ben’s a bad dude," Wallace said. "People overlook him because how great our defense is. This guy is a baller. Sometimes the throws might not be there because that’s not our game all the time. But if we have to, we can throw the ball with the best of them."