If someone would have told me that the winning QB in the NFC championship game would have a 55.4 QB rating and that the winning QB in the AFC championship game would have a 35.5 rating and asked me to pick predict the Super Bowl XLV matchup, I would have, without hesitation (and with supreme confidence), declared Bears vs Jets. So much for that. However, we all know that Rodgers’ 55.4 rating vs the Bears on January 23rd hardly defines him anymore than Roethlisberger’s 35.5 rating vs the Jets defines Big Ben. A few notes regarding the QBs who will be on display February 6th.
Aaron Rodgers missed Week 15 with a concussion but then returned to lead the Packers to wins over the Giants and Bears to qualify for the postseason. He then led them to wins at Philly and Atlanta prior to the NFC title game in Chicago. In those four "elimination" games, he completed 72.7 percent of his passes for an average of 294.8 YPG with 11 TDs and just one INT (three of four game QB ratings were 122.5 or higher!). Not that anyone’s counting (yeah right!) but let’s note that his 366 passing yards vs the Falcons were MORE than Brett Favre has ever thrown for in any one of his 24 postseason games. Prior to the NFC championship game, Rodgers had thrown 10 TD passes over his first three playoff starts, surpassing Dan Marino, Jeff George and Daryle Lamonica for the most scoring throws in the first three postseason starts of any QB in NFL history.
Rodgers, after just three playoff games (all on the road), could lay claim to having directed two of the three highest-scoring performances by a road team in NFL postseason history. The 48 points in Atlanta on January 15th ranking second and the 45 points in the team's 2009 wild card loss in Arizona (GB lost 51-45 in OT) ranking third. Could Rodgers’ ‘stock’ be any ‘higher’ than it is right now? Let me quote Jon Gruden, right after Green Bay’s win over the Falcons. “Rodgers is one terrible defense away from being 3-0 in the playoffs. This guy's 78 yards short of starting his career with three-straight 4,000 yard seasons (remember, he sat out Week 15’s loss in New England with a concussion or he would easily topped 4,00 this year). This guy's got 86 touchdowns and 31 interceptions as a starter. And this guy is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL.” Let’s agree, “Chucky” knows what he’s talking about.
As for Big Ben, let's not forget what he's been through this season, admittedly self-imposed. He sat out the first four games of the regular season (league suspension) but returned to lead the Steelers to a 9-3 record in 12 games, completing 61.7 percent for 3,200 yards with 17 TDs and just five INTs (97.0 QB rating). He was superb in the comeback vs Baltimore in the divisional round, completing 19-of-32 for 226 yards with two TDs and no INTs (QB rating of 101.8). The Steelers trailed 21-7 in the third quarter before Roethlisberger completed TD passes to Heath Miller and Hines Ward to tie the game at 21. With just over two minutes left, the game was tied 24-24 and the Steelers faced a 3rd and 19. Roethlisberger completed a deep pass to rookie wide receiver Antonio Brown for 58 yards and Rashard Mendenhall's rushing TD put the Steelers ahead for good, 31-24, with 1:33 left. It was Roethlisberger's third game-winning drive in a playoff game.
Roethlisberger rushed for a TD in the first half as the Steelers built a 24-0 lead vs the Jets in the AFC championship game. He did not play a good game overall, to say the least (10-of-19 for a season-low 133 yards and two interceptions) . However, when the Jets scored 19 unanswered points, Big Ben was up to the challenge. With Pittsburgh 'nursing' a 24-19 lead, he converted two, 14-yard first down throws. The first came on second down and the second on a third-and-six with two minutes remaining in the game, when he scrambled right and completed a pass to Antonio Brown (again!) to seal the victory for Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger cannot claim the lofty statistical marks of Rodgers but by leading the Steelers into the Super Bowl for the third time in the last six years, Big Ben is approaching legendary status among postseason QBs. He’s doing something all QBs aspire to do and that is, to win in the postseason. He's now 10-2 (.833) all-time in postseason games, the second-best winning percentage behind only Bart Starr's 9-1 (.900) record as a starting QB. Starr lost his first playoff start (1960 NFL championship game) and then won his final nine playoff games, winning five NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls). Everyone is well aware that Bradshaw and Montana stand alone with four Super Bowl wins to their credit with Aikman and Brady claiming three apiece.
Big Ben can join Aikman and Brady with a win vs the Packers. Tying Brady, a contemporary who is viewed by most as being highly superior to Roethlisberger, would be huge. A victory in Super Bowl XLV would give Big Ben three Super Bowl titles in his first seven season with an 11-2 postseason record. How does that compare to Brady? Brady was drafted in the 6th round with the 199th overall pick. He was 1-of-3 passing, for six yards during in rookie season of 2000. The Patriots opened the 2001 season with Bledsoe as the starting QB. However, he was injured in the team’s second game with Brady taking over from there. He would lead the Pats to a Super Bowl win that year and after missing the postseason in 2002, led the Pats to back-to-back Super Bowl wins following the 2003 and ‘04 seasons. However, let me note that while Brady began his postseason career with 10 straight wins, he’s gone 4-5 since (14-5, .737 overall), including a loss in Super Bowl XLII to the Giants, which prevented the Pats from completing the NFL’s first-ever 19-0 season.
While Big Ben will be chasing NFL postseason history in Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers is trying to emerge from the large shadow of Brett Favre. He’s off to a pretty good start (review the second and third paragraphs of this article). He’s taken the Packers to the Super Bowl in just his third season as a starter while Favre didn’t do so until his fifth season. Note that Rodgers is 3-1 in his postseason starts, all on the road. Favre’s all-time postseason record is 13-11 (.542), going 12-10 with the Packers and 1-1 with the Vikings. Postseason road wins do not come easily and it’s noteworthy that while Favre was just 3-6 on the playoff road, Rodgers has already won three times on the playoff road in four tries. Despite Big Ben’s ‘pedigree,’ Rodgers is the QB everyone is talking about in Super Bowl XLV. A win validates all the hype.
Join me Wednesday (February 2) for the second part of my Super Bowl XLV preview, as I talk Super Bowl history and pointspreads.