FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One thing you can always count on in sports is that the New England Patriots will never say anything bad about an upcoming opponent.
Even when someone like Ben Roethlisberger isn't going to play.
“It's tough to see any injury for any player, and he's obviously dealing with a significant one, but I'm sure they'll still be ready to go,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday, looking ahead to New England's visit to Pittsburgh to meet the Roethlisberger-less Steelers on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).
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“They've got a lot of good players, especially on defense,” Brady said. “It's a very veteran group, and they play well at home. They lost two games on the road, but we're not playing them on the road. We're playing them at home where they've won them all, so it's going to be a big challenge for us.”
Roethlisberger, injured Sunday during a loss to the Miami Dolphins, underwent left knee surgery and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Landry Jones, who has been no more than so-so during his chances the past two years, is the quarterback as the 4-2 Steelers look to down the 5-1 Patriots.
“He's obviously a good quarterback,” running back Le'Veon Bell said on a conference call Wednesday. “I think he has a lot of good things that he can bring to the table. We've just got to, as a whole entire offense, help him out and get him comfortable and get him confident in himself, and that's when he really will start striking.”
Bell, of course, and wide receiver Antonio Brown still have to be dealt with, but not having Roethlisberger with those guys has to make a difference.
Asked about Bell, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, “Oh my God. Oh yeah, tremendous player. Great hands, catch the ball, very quick, makes people miss. Strong, breaks tackles, excellent balance, tough, doesn't run out of bounds, fights for extra yardage. Great player.”
Brady returned from his four-game Deflategate suspension two games ago and came out on fire. With Rob Gronkowski recovered from his hamstring injury, Brady is 57 of 75 for 782 yards with six touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Brady is 6-2 lifetime against the Steelers with 22 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. His two pick-free games this year extended the team's run of no interceptions through the first six games.
The scary thing about Brady's numbers is that he thinks he can even be better, that he has yet to work out all the kinks from the suspension.
“No … I'm not going to dispute his assessment of his game,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Obviously, from my perspective, he's Tom Brady. He's got six touchdowns, no interceptions and completing 76 percent of his balls, so from my perspective, we face a stiff challenge. But I'm not going to question his perspective regarding his game.”
Last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower dominated the game on that side of the ball, tackling Andy Dalton in the end zone for a safety to start the New England charge, then adding another half-sack later in the second half. He finished with 13 tackles and was named AFC defensive player of the week.
The Steelers, who are 3-0 at home, wasted no time in declaring Roethlisberger out of this game, with Tomlin perhaps even sending a mild shot at other coaches (Belichick) when it comes to injury reports.
“We're a transparent group. We don't hide. We are who we are,” he said. “He had a surgical procedure to address his knee issue, so to eliminate any potential questions or distractions regarding his availability and get firmly focused on the task at hand with the man playing quarterback that's playing quarterback this week, that's the approach.”
Jones, who has thrown only one pass this season, was 16 of 29 for 209 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions in a loss at Kansas City last season. He had three TD passes and four picks in 2015.
Sunday also will be the first game for Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount against the team that released him in 2014 — after he walked off the bench during a game. Blount has been outstanding so far this season, scoring six touchdowns in six games.
“We're still very tight,” Bell said of Blount. “Me and him still talk a lot to this day. Obviously, he's doing great things on the field. I watch his games, he watches my games, we still critique each other and talk about some of the things we did good, some of the things we did bad with one another.”