PITTSBURGH -- Even the Steel Curtain greats sense the urgency to win during the back nine of Ben Roethlisberger's career.
The Steelers, with their elite quarterback and offense, are heading into a Patriots matchup that likely will decide home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Hall of Famer Joe Greene knows that these chances with Big Ben should be savored and nurtured.
"We've got a fantastic quarterback that, in my view, can do things nobody else in the league can do," Greene told ESPN. "You name it, he can make the passes just like everybody else or better. But none of them can stand in the pocket and take the heat that he takes and make the plays. And he has the heart to play. But he has to believe in his team, that they feel the way he feels."
Roethlisberger's late-season surge has no mercy for feelings, or even retirement talk. After a slow start to 2017, Roethlisberger looks well-prepared to write a third Super Bowl into the mid-30s arc of his career script, starting Sunday against New England in Heinz Field.
He just knocked off the Baltimore Ravens with 506 yards. Now, knocking off Tom Brady once, maybe twice, to fuel a Super Bowl run would vault Roethlisberger's already-cemented legacy into a new stratosphere.
The club of quarterbacks with three or more Super Bowls is intimate: Brady, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman.
Roethlisberger isn't feeding the big-picture storylines. He's concerned about the next game on his schedule and what it means for his team's positioning in January.
"There's obviously a lot at stake," Roethlisberger said. "It's still a big game, but it's a regular-season game, but it's one that's got some implications moving forward."
To get that third Super Bowl, Roethlisberger must get past the player who has dominated his own team's defense. Brady has sliced through Pittsburgh's defense for 22 touchdowns and six wins in his past seven starts against the Steelers.
But over the past month, it's Roethlisberger who is tearing up the league, throwing for 1,446 yards, 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in the past four games, far eclipsing Brady's 1,058 yards, 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
The no-huddle offense has turned Roethlisberger loose, with throws he missed earlier in the year now looking like lasers.
Steelers playmakers see Roethlisberger's hot hand and feed off that energy.
"Ben's on fire," wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. "Everyone eats."
Mike Tomlin has come to expect this from his quarterback, pointing out that the Steelers never panicked when the numbers weren't eye-popping. Over a 16-game season, "what you are is revealed," Tomlin said.
That sentiment helps explain why Roethlisberger is eighth all time in passing yardage and ninth in touchdowns and has never recorded a losing season, while joining Brady and Peyton Manning as the only starters with 10 or more years of experience from 2004 to now.
Manning was 39 when he retired, and Brady might wait until he's 45. Roethlisberger is a different case. He sounded ready to walk away last offseason after a startling 36-17 loss to the Patriots, teasing retirement on his weekly radio show and eventually committing to a 14th year months later. Internally, the Steelers never expected him to retire. But he's viewed as a year-to-year rental because he hasn't committed to future years, at least publicly, choosing to maximize each year before assessing future ones.
Roethlisberger has entertained trying to top Bradshaw's four Super Bowl rings to become the all-time Steelers leader. But winning now, with Brady still seemingly in his prime, might prompt a tidy ending for a Hall of Fame player.
"Enjoy it while it lasts," said former San Francisco 49ers coach and current NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci. "I said to myself then, 'He’s probably going to finish the year because he's a fighter and this will be it.' He’s done everything. He’s won Super Bowls, he’s been to the mountaintop. Is that satisfying for him to say enough’s enough? It’s a matter of how much he enjoys it. Does he enjoy the grind?"
Roethlisberger should have a lot to love about his own game right now, though he deflected when asked about playing at a high level by referencing "we," as in the offense.
But it's Roethlisberger who has orchestrated three straight come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter, marking 43 for his career. All three games were won with a Chris Boswell field goal, which Big Ben says isn't ideal.
Field goals might not be enough against Brady, whom Roethlisberger calls "maybe the best that's ever done it."
Roethlisberger has shrugged off a start to the year that saw his passer rating dangling in the low-80s, his worst in a decade. Coaches and players stood by him, knowing production would come.
Now, he's back to giving the Steelers a chance to win in any situation.
"I relish the moment. You want to have the ball and have the chance to win the game," Roethlisberger said. "You go down and win a football game, you feel pretty good about yourself."
Especially against New England.