Draft classmates Manning & Roethlisberger meet again
FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2016, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) and running back Le'Veon Bell (26) talk following an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, in Indianapolis. Four years in, Roethlisberger is still waiting for running back Le'Veon Bell to get tired. Bell's versatility and seemingly eternally fresh legs have made him indespensible to Pittsburgh's offense, one of the reasons Roethlisberger calls Bell the best back in the NFL. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
PITTSBURGH (AP) Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are inextricably linked. Taken 11 picks apart in the 2004 NFL draft, the two quarterbacks have spent the last dozen years watching each other from afar, using the other's success as a measuring stick of their own accomplishments.
The resumes are nearly identical. Two Super Bowl victories. Four Pro Bowls apiece. A steady ascension into the upper stratosphere of the NFL record books. Both are already in the top 10 in career touchdown passes, with Roethlisberger on the cusp of joining Manning in the top 10 in all-time yards passing.
Just don't call it a rivalry.
When they take the same field for just the fourth time as professionals on Sunday when Manning and the streaking New York Giants (8-3) visit Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5), the focus will be on keeping pace in a frenetic playoff race, not trying to match each other's stats.
''I don't know if there is any extra motivation,'' Roethlisberger said. ''Just trying to win a football game against one of the best teams in football should be motivation enough.''
In an alternate universe, Roethlisberger might have been the guy behind center wearing Big Blue.
For a few minutes during draft day in 2004, he thought he was heading to New York with the fourth overall pick. Instead, the Giants took Philip Rivers, then shipped Rivers to San Diego as part of a megadeal that sent Manning – the top overall pick – to New York. Roethlisberger, wearing a black pinstriped suit with a gold tie, heard his name called a little over an hour later when Pittsburgh used a first-round pick on a quarterback for just the fifth time in franchise history.
He doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about what might have been. Neither does Manning. That's for others.
''You always want your quarterback draft class to be well thought of and respected down the road,'' Manning said. ''You hear about the '83 draft class and other certain years. You want to be thrown in that mix someday.''
Just not yet. Both in their mid-30s and signed through the rest of the decade. Maybe they'll reunite at the Hall of Fame one day, though Roethlisberger stressed ''hopefully that's a long way off.''
Some things to look for as the Giants seek their seventh straight win while Pittsburgh tries to begin another December run like the ones that propelled the Steelers to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
JPP IS BACK: Jason Pierre-Paul has had 5+ sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble return for a touchdown in his last two games, along with 12 tackles. The end is the current NFC defensive player of the week for his career-high three sacks, forced fumble and 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Cleveland. The seven-year veteran is the first NFL player with at least three sacks and a fumble-return touchdown of at least 40 yards in the same game since 1982, the first year individual sacks became an official statistic. He is the first Giants player with at least three sacks and a touchdown in the same game since George Martin on Nov. 24, 1985.
HOMECOMING: New York coach Ben McAdoo grew up in Homer City, Pennsylvania, about an hour east of Pittsburgh. This isn't the first time he's found himself going up against his childhood team. His family put together half-Steelers/half-Green Bay Packers jerseys for the 2011 Super Bowl when McAdoo was the tight ends coach for Green Bay. A win on Sunday would make him the first rookie head coach to win seven consecutive games since Jim Harbaugh did it with San Francisco in 2011.
KICKING IT: Giants punter Brad Wing had his best game of the season against the Browns with a net average of 44.7 yards on nine punts, landing a career-high five inside the 20-yard line. Placekicker Robbie Gould isn't so hot. The veteran signed after the release of Josh Brown last month has missed three extra points in the past two games. He needs to start hitting them if he wants to keep his job. He has hit both of his field goal attempts in five games.
AB vs. OBJ: The game will feature two of the NFL's most talented (and most flamboyant) wide receivers in Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. Brown's 10 touchdown receptions are tied for the NFL lead; Beckham is tied for fourth with eight. Both are also featured in the punt return game. Asked when Beckham is at his most dangerous, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin responded ''whenever they snap the ball.''
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL