Pro football may be a young man's game, but don't tell that to some of the quarterbacks who will be taking part in the 2021 NFL playoffs. Of the 14 starting playoff quarterbacks, eight are 32 years old or older. Tom Brady, 43 years young, will become the fifth-oldest quarterback in playoff history when he takes the field Saturday night against Washington. The playoff field also includes Alex Smith (36), Aaron Rodgers (37), Ben Roethlisberger (38) Philip Rivers (39) and Drew Brees (41).
Roethlisberger, who will make his 22nd playoff start Sunday night against the Browns, is hoping to outlast his peers over the next four weeks. By doing so, he would join Brady, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Troy Aikman as the only starting quarterbacks with three Super Bowl rings.
"It's fun to be a part of it with them," Roethlisberger said, via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Obviously, if we were sitting at home and people were talking about the old guys and 'Why aren't you a part of it?' Then you'd be disappointed. But to be a part of it, to be in the tournament, it's an honor and a pleasure to be able to do it. I'm hoping we're not one-and-done. We're going to give it everything we have so I can be the last old man standing maybe."
Roethlisberger made his playoff debut against the Jets on January 15, 2005. After throwing a game-tying touchdown pass to Hines Ward late in the fourth quarter, a Roethlisberger interception moments laster nearly led to defeat. But after the Jets missed a field goal as regulation expired, Roethlisberger helped the Steelers mount a game-winning drive in overtime. The Steelers would lose the following week to Brady and the defending-champion Patriots.
"Every little mistake is magnified," Roethlisberger said when asked about what he learned from that experience, via Steelers.com's Missi Matthews. "Every big play is magnified. Really, it's a one game tournament. Truthfully. You've got to win to move on. That was a long time ago that I played in that game. But I remember relying so much on the veteran guys and telling myself not to screw up."
Before the start of this postseason, Roethlisberger held a players only meeting to drive home the significance of playoff football. He wants each of his teammates to approach this playoff game like it could be their last.
"You don't know how many you're going to have left," he said. "That was one of my messages to the guys: 'Don't take this for granted.' I'm not taking this for granted, and they shouldn't either. You never know in this league, in this business. You can't say, 'I'm gonna make it every year. Next year will be the year.' because you don't know. There have been some Hall of Fame players that have spent 30 years in this league and have only made it the Super Bowl once.
"It's really important that all of us understand that. And that's the approach I'm taking. Could this be my last postseason game? I don't know, but I'm going to approach it like it is."
During the Steelers two championship postseasons in 2005 and in '08, Roethlisberger and the offense complemented the team's dominant defense. He wasn't a game manager, but Roethlisberger picked his spots while leaning on his running game. He threw with more regularity during the 2010 playoffs, specifically during the Steelers' second half comeback win over Baltimore in the divisional round. In the 2016 playoffs, the Steelers' last trip to the AFC title game, the Steelers largely rode the coattails of Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 167 and 170 yards in wins over Miami and Kansas City.
Roethlisberger was asked what version of himself his team needs during the 2020 playoffs if he and the Steelers are going to be playing in Miami one month from now.
"I need to play my best football that I've ever played in my life, truthfully," he said. "This is a very good team, a very special football team. But I need to be on my P's and Q's. I need to be at my best. I need to not turn the ball over. I need to do everything I can to help us win football games."