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Rookie QB has Steelers off to best start since the 1970s

PITTSBURGH (AP) He wasn't yet born the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl. That isn't preventing rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from bringing back the memories of the greatest times and the greatest teams _ in franchise history.

The Steelers are 6-1 after ending New England's 21-game winning streak with a dominating 34-20 victory Sunday in which Roethlisberger improved to 5-0 as a starter. In a fitting throwback to the days when the Steelers won four Super Bowls in six seasons, Roethlisberger is off to the best start by an NFL rookie quarterback since Pittsburgh's Mike Kruczek was 6-0 in 1976.

``We have a rookie quarterback who is playing tremendous,'' linebacker Joey Porter said.

The Steelers need him to keep playing that well Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles (7-0) as they try to accomplish something no NFL team has done so late in a season: beat undefeated teams in successive weeks.

Just playing unbeaten teams in consecutive games past the early weeks of a season is a rare-enough occurrence; it hasn't happened since the Detroit Lions lost twice to the undefeated Chicago Bears to close out the 1934 season. It also occurred in 1921, when Dayton played Akron (7-0-1) and Buffalo (7-0-2), and in 1920, when Canton met Buffalo (7-0) and Akron (6-0-1).

``Everybody's antennas across the country are starting to go up a little bit,'' wide receiver Plaxico Burress said, referring to the Steelers' new-found notoriety.

That's largely because of a 22-year-old quarterback who plays like he's much, much older. Because of Roethlisberger, the Steelers, an out-of-the-running 6-10 only a season ago, are hearing about all this ancient history:

_They are off to their best seven-game start in Bill Cowher's 13 seasons as coach; they've been 5-2 five times. It's also their best start since a franchise-best 7-0 in 1978, the season they won the third of their four Super Bowls.

_The Steelers have made the playoffs every other season they were 6-1 or better (1978, 1975, 1974, 1973) and won the Super Bowl three of those four seasons.

_Concidentally or not, the Steelers will recognize the 25th anniversary of their last Super Bowl championship team by saluting the 1979 Steelers on Sunday. Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw was the quarterback of that team, yet his 1970 rookie numbers (six touchdowns, 24 interceptions) can't compare to Roethlisberger's (70.1 completion percentage, a 104.7 passer rating, 9 touchdowns, four interceptions, one interception in his last 116 passes).

We keep saying it over and over again: Let's not get too excited,'' Roethlisberger said.We're just trying to keep our focus, keep our mind on the straight and narrow, and focus on Philadelphia.''

With former Eagles running back Duce Staley coming off his fourth 100-yard game, it all adds up to arguably the biggest Eagles-Steelers game since 1947. Back then, the Eagles won 21-0 in Pittsburgh in a special Eastern Conference playoff game staged after the teams tied for the regular season title.

The only comparable regular season game since the teams moved into separate conferences in 1970 came in 1979, when the Eagles surprised the Steelers 17-14. The Steelers, who would go on to win the Super Bowl, were 4-0 at the time and the Eagles, who would lose in the Super Bowl a year later, were 3-1.

Wide receiver Hines Ward doesn't think the Steelers will have any problem matching the intensity they showed against the Patriots when they meet the Eagles.

We've got a great running game, two dominant wide receivers and a young, confident, cocky quarterback back there playing his heart out,'' Ward said.We're a hard team to beat.''

Cowher also doesn't think the Steelers will become distracted as they try to return to the playoffs after missing them last season and four of their previous six seasons.

We'll be fine,'' he said.We aren't going to squander what we have created for ourselves. We'll be ready to go, trust me.''

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