A Rematch 12 Years In The Making: Brady vs Ben in the AFC Championship Game

Nearly 12 years ago to the day Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger was a 22 year old rookie quarterback that led his team to a then record 13 wins in his first season in the NFL.

His reward? Playing two-time Super Bowl champion and MVP Tom Brady along with his legend in the making head coach Bill Belichick in the AFC title game.

The Steelers were the home team back in 2005, as Pittsburgh’s 15-1 record edged out the 14-2 Pats for the #1 seed in the AFC that season.

The result? A 41-27 road victory for the Patriots and Tom Brady in one of his most impressive playoff games of his career (14/21, 207 yards, 2 TD, 130.5 passer rating). The Patriots went on to defeat the Eagles in the Super Bowl and the rest is history.

Now that game has zero bearing on this years matchup, but we’ve waited 12 years for a Brady vs Roethlisberger title game rematch, which has felt inevitable since Big Ben took over the Steelers in 2004. Since the 2004 AFC Championship Game, Brady has been to a league-leading seven title games while Roethlisberger has managed to appear in three (T-3rd most by a QB in that span).

A lot has changed since that January evening in 2005, but Sunday’s game will have similar stakes, a trip to an NFL record ninth Super Bowl. Let’s take a look at some of the key stats that will decide who will go on to Super Bowl LI:

– The magic number for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is 90. Pittsburgh is 9-0 this season in games where Bell rushes for over 90 yards, which the All-Pro running back has done in 8-straight games. Here’s the catch. The Patriots haven’t allowed an individual rusher to go over 90 yards in 24 straight games dating back to Week 12, 2015 when C.J. Anderson beat the Pats in Denver.

– New England uncharacteristically turned the ball over three times last week against Houston, which is usually a recipe for disaster in the NFL. Winning the turnover battle will be key for the Patriots on Sunday as they are 15-0 in playoff games in the Belichick/Brady era when they have a positive turnover margin.

– One stat that should make Pats fans feel better is Tom Brady’s success vs Mike Tomlin’s Steelers. Since Tomlin took over in Pittsburgh in 2007, Brady is 5-1 with 19 pass TD, 0 INT, and a 127.5 passer rating against the black and yellow.

– Featured in this game is one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL vs a defense that doesn’t surrender many big plays down field. The longest touchdown the Patriots have allowed this season on defense was a 26-yard rushing score by Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor in Week 8. The Steelers have 9 touchdowns of 27+ yards this season, and five of those have been touchdown passes to top wideout Antonio Brown.

– Score first, and build a lead early. The Patriots are 13-1 this season when they score first, while Pittsburgh is 4-4 in games in which they score second. The Pats have been one of the best first quarter teams in the NFL this season, tallying 21 scoring drives in the first quarter, trailing only the Atlanta Falcons (25) in that category.

Doubters of the Pats will mention that they haven’t played a difficult schedule this season, but a matchup with the Steelers for the AFC championship trophy is about as tough as it gets in the AFC. Make no mistake about it, it will take the Patriots best effort of the season to advance to Super Bowl LI.