KANSAS CITY -- Matt Ryan has been incredible. For eight critical and consecutive games, Aaron Rodgers has played some of the best football we've ever seen. Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, is on a revenge mission for the ages as he chases a fifth ring.
Maybe we should take a long, hard look at Ben Roethlisberger and what he's on the verge of accomplishing.
Because by leading his team to the verge of a fourth Super Bowl appearance with him under center, he's on the cusp of something neither Rodgers nor Ryan have yet approached accomplishing.
He's creeping up on Tom Brady territory. And to get there he'll have to go through Brady himself.
This is a golden age for all-time great quarterbacks battling one another not just for shots at rings but runs at lasting, historical legacies. Big Ben, though, is two wins away from the rarest of rarefied air. If he can marshal his guys to keep it going -- starting, of course, with getting past Brady and the Patriots next week in Foxborough -- he'll be just the fifth quarterback in the game's history to win at least three Super Bowls.
That's some heady company.
The legacy stakes going forward are astronomical. Brady, to me, is already the GOAT -- but another ring coming off the four-game Deflategate suspension would cement that beyond debate. If Rodgers wins, he, like LeBron James in the NBA or Mike Trout in baseball, could put himself in striking distance of trying to chase down that all-time-great status.
Brady is 39 years old in a sport that is vicious enough on young men, and yet he's again on the cusp of the ultimate goal. Only this time it comes after missing the first four games of the season to suspension. It's hard to overstate the greatness it takes to do what he's doing right now, and the level to which his place in the game will heighten if he can lead his Patriots to two more wins.
What Brady is doing is up there with Jordan chasing a sixth ring, Tiger back when he was going after Jack's mark, Pete Rose when he became MLB's all-time hit leader. To stand atop the NFL with five rings would make Brady one of the greats of all time, both in the NFL and beyond.
But Big Ben has big things to prove, too, and outside of Kansas City and the heartbreak of its fans, too few of us are paying attention. He's 13-6 in the playoffs, and it's not like Sunday's win was easy.
In fact, the Chiefs entered the game as the league's best at taking the ball away, having forced 33 turnovers in the regular season. And though some of Kansas City's defensive numbers were lackluster (24th in the league with 368.5 yards allowed per game), they always found a way to be stout when it mattered most.
That's one reason they were seventh in fewest points per game allowed (19.4) in the NFL this year, and that was on display throughout Sunday's divisional playoff game. Time and again, Roethlisberger and the Steelers drove with ease into the red zone and then had to settle for field goals. The Chiefs defense forced the Steelers quarterback into a pick and prevented him from throwing a single touchdown all night, making a cold and dreary Kansas City night that much more difficult.
But that's the thing about Roethlisberger. It's never as flashy as it is with Brady or Rodgers, as dynamic and explosive as you might see with Ryan, but he finds a way to win football games. No matter the opponent, the challenge, the injury to his ankle. He gets it done even, if like Sunday night, it's not particularly pretty.
"We're just finding ways," he said after the game.
In this case, it wasn't particularly pretty. Roethlisberger was 20-for-31 for 224 yards, and he threw an interception while failing to toss for a touchdown. No matter. He did just enough to beat a very good Chiefs team on the road.
"I'm going to enjoy it for the ride home a little bit," he said. "Maybe the bus ride to the airport. You have to enjoy it for little bit. They don't come around very often."
He now heads to Foxborough, where he'll have to best Brady, Belichick and a Patriots team that's made a dynasty out of winning those big games. If he can do that -- a big if -- and then somehow outduel Rodgers or that high-powered Falcons offense? It'll be time to start talking about Big Ben in a new way.
With the respect afforded to the very best to have ever played that position.