Ben Roethlisberger has a Tom Brady jersey – game-worn, no less – hanging among others in his office (presumably, his home office). He asked for it earlier this season when the Patriots beat Big Ben's Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Steelers QB clearly has a great deal of respect for his New England counterpart, and the admiration is a two-way street.
"Ben is an incredible player," Brady said this week, "and he's been that way since 2004 when he came into the league. I've always loved the way he plays, very tough, hard-nosed. He's great for the city of Pittsburgh – a very tough, hard-nosed city. I have a lot of friends from there. He's just been a great player. I think the respect is very mutual. To play at his level for as long as he has and with his style of play has been remarkable."
Brady isn't the only Patriot lauding Roethlisberger as the Steelers prepare to visit Foxborough for the AFC Championship Game this Sunday night. Roethlisberger played collegiately at Miami of Ohio in the Mid-American Conference, the same conference that produced Kent State grad Julian Edelman.
"Big Ben, he's a MAC guy. I have a lot of respect for him and his [football] journey," Edelman remarked. "He's been doing it for a long time. He's just a gritty, big ole dude that just gets it done. He's fun to watch."
"He's one of the best," proclaimed CB Logan Ryan. "He's been doing it since I was in grade school watching this guy play. It's an honor to play against him. We know what he does for that offense. He's their leader, even though they have tremendous talent around him. He's the guy that makes it go."
Roethlisberger was injured in Week 7 when the Patriots visited Pittsburgh and did not play in that contest. Backup Landry Jones subbed for him that day, when New England triumphed 27-16. The Steelers offense should be more dangerous with Big Ben back at the helm.
Check out photos from Patriots practice and media access leading up to New England's AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"He's a gunslinger. He's not afraid to put the ball in tight areas," DT Alan Branch observed. "I think Landry was actually a pretty good quarterback as well. It might be different because there's a different quarterback, but they're a tough team to deal with [Jones] was back there and they'll be tough team to deal with with Ben."
Roethlisberger's favorite target is, of course, wide receiver Antonio Brown, but not the only threat to New England's secondary.
"Ben's produced a ton of receivers from that system that you see around the NFL," added Ryan. "These guys they have are doing it as well. Eli Rogers is a guy I've seen, a second-year player who's making a ton of plays in the slot. Cobi Hamilton, [Darrius] Heyward-Bey, those guys with the speed. Antonio Brown draws so much attention, you've got to be able to win your battle. But they've got a good quarterback throwing to them. He can make anybody look good.
"They're a great team. One of the best in the AFC."
By now, you've surely heard about and probably seen Brown's highly publicized Facebook Live video in the Steeler's post-game locker room following Pittsburgh's win over Kansas City last weekend.
Tight end Martellus Bennett, no stranger to social media himself, was asked for his thoughts on the revealing video.
"I don't give a [expletive] about his social media. I don't follow him," Bennett replied in his usual humorous way. "Send some followers my way, Antonio. I've got better content."
Bennett also offered a good-natured observation about 38-year-old Steelers OLB James Harrison, who's rounding out a resurgent 2016 season.
"Harrison is playing well. He's almost as old as my pops, and he's still playing like beast out there."
Edelman implored Patriots fans who'll be attending the game this Sunday to bring with them a healthy set of lungs.
"The louder they get, the more fired up you [as a player] get, and you live off the crowd," he explained. "All the people out there in Foxborough, get ready. We need you. We need you."
For the second day in a row, New England enjoyed perfect attendance at practice, at least on a limited basis, among their 53 active roster players. Practice squad rookie DT Woodrow Hamilton was absent for the second straight session, however, while rookie FB Glenn Gronkowski returned after sitting out Wednesday.