The Steelers' win will continue an insane run of QB dominance in the AFC
Ben Roethlisberger didn't reach the end zone in the Steelers' AFC Divisional Round game Sunday.
But he and the Steelers did reach the AFC Championship Game.
There, they will square off against the New England Patriots, guaranteeing that either Roethlisberger or Tom Brady will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, continuing one of the most incredible, insane and mind-boggling runs of quarterback dominance in NFL history:
For 13 of the past 14 seasons and 14 of the past 16, either Brady, Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning has been the quarterback of the AFC Champion.
Yes, save for Rich Gannon's run with the Raiders in 2002 and Joe Flacco's Super Bowl win with the Ravens in 2012, only three quarterbacks have won the AFC since 2001.
So much for parity.
That there's a guarantee of the run continuing in 2016 is incredible in its own right, as Manning retired after winning the Super Bowl last season, Brady is 39 years old, and Roethlisberger was the 14th ranked quarterback in the NFL, per ProFootballFocus.
And yet, here we are, facing the near inevitable again.
Make no mistake, while Roethlisberger didn't get his team into the end zone Sunday night in a nail-biting 18-16 win over Kansas City, he did help set up the six — count 'em, six — field goals and converted a game-winning third down to Antonio Brown just after the two-minute warning.
A 21-of-30 game for 224 yards, no touchdowns and an interception (in the red zone, though it was tipped) isn't a great performance by any stretch of the term, but it was a winning performance. That's what the three great quarterbacks who have dominated the AFC for the past 16 seasons (feel old yet?) have been able to do — even when they're not at their best, they come out on the winning side of things, not because their teammates carried them, but because they were able to get the job done in the critical moments.
They're beyond reproach at this point, so there's only one question to ask: How long will the streak run?
It's hard to say — how long can Brady keep tapping the fountain of youth? (If he has to face the Texans defensive line often, not long.)
Was this just a blip on Big Ben's radar?
Is there anyone in the AFC that can upend either, even if both regress next season?
Does Alex Smith have what it takes to take a team to the Super Bowl? He's had quite a few chances and has yet to get over the hump.
Would Derek Carr have been able to do it if he weren't injured for this postseason? Hard to say with that Raiders defense.
Can the Texans go out and get a quarterback? We know Brock Osweiler can't do it, but can Tom Savage or an upstart rookie?
Maybe it's Marcus Mariota, or Tony Romo (either with the Broncos or Texans), or Flacco again. (Should the latter happen, do we add him to this list, making it four quarterbacks and leaving Gannon as the only outlier?)
Then again, we've asked questions like this for years now and save for a change-up or two, it's been the same guys year in, year out.
At this point, you can't do anything but tip your hat and respect the masters.
They have to retire and give the rest of the conference a chance eventually, right?