The Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots rivalry is one of the lesser talked about rivalries in the NFL. Over practically the past two decades, Hall of Fame quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady would engage in many battles to claim complete AFC supremacy. With Roethlisberger retiring and Brady leaving New England, Sunday will be the dawning of a new era, with the next chapter in the historic matchup waiting to be written.
Beginning Of Brady vs. Ben
Even though both teams clashed many times before they each had legendary signal callers, this rivalry really ignited back on Halloween night of 2004. New England had just won the Super Bowl and had amassed a winning streak of over 20 games, dating back to their success from last season. Pittsburgh was beginning to heat up after an impressive 4-0 start in the career of a rookie Roethlisberger as the number one quarterback.
Most believed that the defense Bill Belichick had would be enough to overwhelm the young upstart under center, but that wasn’t the case. Roethlisberger would go on to throw two touchdowns in the matchup, with the Pittsburgh defense hounding Brady all game, forcing many turnovers. The Steelers would shock everyone and defeat the Patriots 34-20.
Brady and Belichick would, unfortunately, get revenge later that season as they faced off in the AFC Championship game. Roethlisberger’s magical rookie run had come to an end as he threw three picks, including one returned for a touchdown. The Steelers would be defeated by a final score of 41-27.
Sadly, this rivalry didn’t go the way Pittsburgh wanted. Roethlisberger has a record of 3-9 when facing Brady, including 0-2 in the AFC Championship. While it will continue to sting knowing the path to the Super Bowl ran through New England for so long with Brady at the helm, the same can’t be said for the modern-day Patriots.
Pesky Patriots Of Today
For the first time in seemingly forever, the Steelers will not be facing a Brady-Belichick tandem as they host New England on Sunday. Instead, the man under center for the Patriots will be 2021 first-rounder Mac Jones. Jones had an above-average rookie season, totaling over 3,500 passing yards and 22 passing touchdowns on a 67.6 completion percentage.
Jones finished last year with a 10-7 record to help secure a spot in the AFC Wild Card round. He was unsuccessful against the Buffalo Bills, losing 47-17, but he still threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Jones will look to have more success this year with the weapons he has on offense, such as wide receivers DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor. Tight end Hunter Henry and running back Damien Harris will look to add more elements to New England’s offense.
Belichick always likes to rely heavily on his defense, and he has a star player that Pittsburgh knows all too well in former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon. Judon was a two-time Pro Bowler with Baltimore in his final two seasons with the team, and he earned his third straight trip to the Pro Bowl last year with the Patriots. Judon will be an important factor for the Steelers’ offense to try and neutralize to be victorious against New England.
Pittsburgh’s Present-Day Playmakers
Sadly, the Steelers will be without reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, but there’s still plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball that we can expect to wreak havoc on Sunday. After his stellar performance last week against the Cincinnati Bengals that earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week, it wouldn’t come as a shock if star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick makes his presence felt early and often throughout the game.
Another name to look for is Alex Highsmith. Highsmith was a beast last game bringing the pressure off the edge that accredited him for three sacks, six tackles and a forced fumble. He’ll be lined up with old stalwart Cam Heyward. Heyward has a habit of making plays in crunch time, and we can expect Sunday to be no different for him.
Offensively, there’s plenty of star power on that side of the ball as well. Najee Harris will continue to pound the rock in the run game, and guys like Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth will make plays through the air off the arm of Mitch Trubisky.
Suffice to say, there are plenty of playmakers on both teams and on both sides of the ball. Sunday may no longer have the classic Roethlisberger-Brady duel, but it’ll be a chance to turn the page and create not only a new chapter but a new narrative on this rivalry.
Are you excited for the first Steelers-Patriots game in the post-Ben-Brady era? Let us know in the comments below!