Jets aiming for Roethlisberger

ROB LONGLEY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

The 'Roethlisburger' and Big Ben sandwiches are still on the menu at eateries here in downtown Pittsburgh, where Steelers mania is running wild. But is rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger just a novelty item or will the New York Jets have him for lunch in today's AFC divisional playoff at Heinz Field?

History suggests the latter should rule as quarterbacks who started playoff games as rookies are just 1-4.

History has been on Roethlisberger's side, however as he set a slew of records for rookie quarterbacks and hasn't lost a game since early in his final season of college.

While Pittsburgh fans have been dining out on Roethlisberger's run, the truth of the matter is he's been only one ingredient in the recipe.

The truth of the matter is they don't need Big Ben to win today, they just need him not to lose.

Other than his 13-0 record as an NFL starter, Roethlisberger's numbers don't pop eyes. He is averaging just under 19 passes per game and his most significant role has been to protect the ball and hand it off to his powerful running backs.

Roethlisberger is the first to play down his role on the most balanced team in the league and its 15-1 record. He also knows he'll be playing a different game today as 13-0 is now 0-0.

"I think it's a different speed now," Roethlisberger said. "All the veteran players say that it's not like the regular season. It all gets faster and it gets more complex."

The Jets are a team that has already shown him some complexity and he didn't respond too well. In a 16-7 win on Dec. 11 here at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger had the worst statistical day of his fledgling career.

After the loss, Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis ached for a second chance: "If we come back here, we'll beat them," Ellis said then and hasn't backed down.

"It's my comment, I stand by it. I honestly, truly believed that in my heart. My mind isn't going to change."

The Jets as a whole had many reasons to feel they let one get away. The game was tied 3-3 going into the fourth quarter but three interceptions by Jets quarterback Chad Pennington were lethal.

So were the 12 flags the Jets drew in the first half alone plus a gimmick play -- a halfback toss by the Steelers' Jerome Bettis for a TD. Roethlisberger, for the record, was picked off twice and threw one less touchdown pass than the Bus.

Still, the Jets are 2-15 all-time against the Steelers, are 0-6 in the Steel City and haven't scored more than 10 points against the AFC foe since 1988. That hurts as much as Bettis running down the gut all day.

As solid as the Jets were in knocking off the Chargers on the road last week, the task gets much taller today. The Steelers have not only been unbeatable, they've been dominant in a smashmouth way that has made Roethlisberger the condiment, rather than the meal.

RUNNING WILD

With Bettis and Duce Staley as the workhorses, Pittsburgh has rushed the ball 618 times this season -- 84 more carries than any other team. That has allowed coach Bill Cowher's team to dictate tempo and control the clock.

The rookie quarterback has added just the right measure of spice with his ability to scramble and run the ball. For good measure, he gets receiver Plaxico Burress back in the lineup today.

The Jets believe they had Big Ben busted last time, though. And they plan to finish the job today. "I surely hope so," linebacker Eric Barton said. "You can't be perfect forever."


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