PITTSBURGH — Fourth quarter, team’s down by four, 75 yards to go, 2:30 to play. Exactly the situation in which games are won and lost, careers are made or ruined, coaches get hired or fired.
Hines Ward, you have two choices to lead your team down the field: Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger. Which quarterback do you choose?
Ward flashes a look that suggests he’s not about to give the politically incorrect answer in a Pittsburgh Steelers locker-room where Roethlisberger is standing 50 feet away.
“Uh, Ben, of course,” the Steelers’ leading career receiver said. “Brady’s a great quarterback, but to compare the two? They’re both winners. You can’t really compare Ben’s stats to some other guys . . . What he’s done in a short career, the playoffs, AFC championship games, Super Bowl, I love to associate myself and play with a winner all day . . . Some people’s going to like Ben, some people’s going to like Brady. You’re entitled to your opinion. But we love Ben.”
In reality, Ward couldn’t give a wrong answer. When it comes to pulling out victories in games in which their team trails or is tied late, Brady and Roethlisberger are quickly moving up the list of all-time leaders. And each needed only one game this season to do what he does best.
By leading the Steelers back from a 10-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Tennessee 13-10 on Sept. 10, Roethlisberger led his 20th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime since his rookie season in 2004 — seven since the start of last season. Brady, back from a year off with a major knee injury, threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:06 to rally the Patriots past the Bills 25-24 on Monday for his 29th such victory.
Peyton Manning of the Colts is credited with 37 such victories, the most among active quarterbacks, but the definition of what constitutes such a drive varies from team to team.
Throwing out games that were tied or in which the defence or special teams scored the decisive touchdown, Manning has led 28 comebacks, Brady 21 and Roethlisberger 16, according to a study by pro-football-research.com. Manning has played three more seasons than Brady, including Brady’s one game season of a year ago, and six more than Roethlisberger.
If Roethlisberger keeps this up, and the Steelers certainly expect him to, he could finish his career being called the king of the comebacks, as John Elway now is. The Broncos credit Elway with 47 victories in 15 seasons when his team was behind or tied in the fourth quarter.
“What do you think about when you think about Elway?” Roethlisberger said. “The Drive (against Cleveland in the 1986 season playoffs) and all the stuff that he’s done.”
To Roethlisberger, it’s about having the same attitude as Michael Jordan in the closing minute of a tight game. It’s all about knowing how to win, and being supremely convinced you are the player who can get it done.
“You have to be confident and you have to want the ball,” Roethlisberger said. “You know you can do it. When you can’t, it’s not like you get down on yourself, you just get stopped somehow.”