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Ben Roethlisberger can spike QB discussion with win over Patriots

PITTSBURGH -- Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan have dominated the quarterback discussion in the NFL the past two months thanks to their big numbers.

Then there's Ben Roethlisberger, who has the second-most championships among the quarterback quartet playing in this weekend's conference championship games. And he's got a golden chance to remind everyone that he's very much still in the discussion of the league's best quarterbacks.

Roethlisberger doesn't need another Super Bowl appearance to cement his place in the game. But knocking off the New England Patriots in Foxborough would send shockwaves through the league and cement the Pittsburgh Steelers as the league's hottest team with 10 straight wins.

Roethlisberger is savoring the moment in his first AFC title game in six seasons.

"You definitely appreciate the difficulty in playing this game," Roethlisberger said. "We’re going to have to be as good as we’ve ever been to beat this team."

Yardage won't decide this game. Instead, a successful outcome hinges on scoring efficiency and Roethlisberger keeping the Patriots off balance with run-pass checks.

Roethlisberger has checked just about every box as a quarterback, from winning two Lombardi trophies to throwing for big yardage late in his career. He's also 3-1 in AFC Championship Games. This season has been quieter for Roethlisberger on an individual front, with a knee injury stalling his early momentum. He's still stretching defenses but wants to improve on his six interceptions in the past four games.

Roethlisberger is capable of getting as hot as any quarterback, and he's probably due for a big outing.

That doesn't always happen on the road, where Roethlisberger has 16 touchdowns in his past 17 games away from Heinz Field. But the Steelers have punted the ball three times in two postseason games, a good sign for the health of the offense. That's certainly not all because of Le'Veon Bell. Convert a few of those near-touchdown passes in Kansas City and Roethlisberger would have had a big stat day in a raucous Arrowhead environment.

Asked whether the Steelers need Roethlisberger to be great to win, coach Mike Tomlin said, "We have to be great, and that's just the reality of it. And so by whatever means that entails, we have to score one more point than they do."

That formula means less passing by Roethlisberger in the playoffs. In two postseason wins, Roethlisberger is averaging 24.5 attempts per game compared to 36.4 during the regular season.

This might be the most important comparison stat for this week's matchup: While the Patriots' run defense hasn't allowed a 90-yard rusher in 24 games, Bell has eclipsed that number in each of his past six games.

If the Patriots happen to contain Bell, a few vintage Big Ben moments would serve the Steelers well. Roethlisberger is a much different quarterback from the rookie who threw three interceptions in the 2004 AFC title game. He's on the attack more than ever.

"They are the dragon, we’re trying to slay them," Roethlisberger said.