The season ended for New England Patriots quarterback and MVP-to-be Tom Brady in the confines of the pocket, searching in vain for receivers that never came free against a matrix-like New York Jets secondary that seemed to sprout extra defensive backs as needed.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger won't play it that way.

If Steelers receivers are covered in Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Jets, Roethlisberger will bounce off a tackler, break to one side or the other and make a throw that may or may not be thrown with the correct balance.

It won't have the fundamental precision of a Brady pass, but it might be a first down "... or a touchdown.

"I'm probably not ever going to win an MVP, probably never going to win a passing title," Roethlisberger said this week. "But that's not why I play the game. I just go out and try to win football games and win championships."

About the time Michael Vick was re-establishing himself as an NFL star after nearly wrecking his life in a criminal enterprise involving dogs, Roethlisberger was serving a four-game suspension for behaving like one.

Commissioner Roger Goodell disciplined Roethlisberger with a six-game suspension (reduced to four for good behavior) after a sexual assault allegation in Georgia. That incident, plus a couple of others, had enough teeth for the league to find him violation of its personal conduct policy.


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"In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people," Goodell said.

The Steelers went 3-1 in Roethlisberger's absence with Dennis Dixon (San Leandro High) and Charlie Batch at quarterback. Roethlisberger returned and regained the trust of his teammates and is gradually doing the same in the city of Pittsburgh.

The hometown fans gladly will accept the wins Roethlisberger delivers but have been slow to wear his jersey in public or sing his praises. Instead, they have identified with beyond-reproach icons such as wide receiver Hines Ward and safety Troy Polamalu.

That could change if Roethlisberger, 28, delivers two more wins and moves alongside Brady and Troy Aikman as three-time Super Bowl champions. He still would have plenty of time to join or pass Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only four-time winners.

Brady's past three postseason games all have been losses -- to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, to the Ravens in a January 2010 wild-card rout and last week to the Jets in a game more decisive than the 28-21 final score.

The playoff difficulties of Peyton Manning are well documented.

Roethlisberger, however, is 9-2 in the postseason and a game away from a solid week of Super Bowl scrutiny, which will ran the gamut from stories about him being a changed man to those that insist he got off easy.

Ward did little to conceal hid disgust at the time of Roethlisberger's suspension but likes what he has seen since then, both in terms of Roethlisberger become more of a team player and the bottom line. .

"He may do it unorthodox, but he just has this confidence he's going to win every game that he's in," Ward said. "As long as he's in our huddle, I'm smiling, because I know we have a chance to win this game."

Jumping to more Week 20 conclusions:

  • Tom Cable joined Bill Callahan, Norv Turner and Lane Kiffin as former Raiders' coaches who quickly got good jobs partly because they survived the Al Davis experience.

    As line coach and assistant head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Cable figures to go hard after Robert Gallery if and when free agency begins, pending a collective bargaining agreement.

  • Nice rebound by Mike Singletary, as well. He ended up as assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the Minnesota Vikings and former Bears teammate Leslie Frazier.

  • A lot of people have doubted Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, including yours truly, likely because of the way he carries himself. But Cutler has a chance to prove a lot of people wrong against the Packers, with almost universal sentiment being that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback on the field.

    Cutler, by the way, is perfect for Chicago in one way, even if he's not getting a lot of credit even in the local media. He might be the league's best bad-weather passer, not losing a lot in the way of velocity or touch even in the worst conditions.

  • One reason a collective bargaining agreement isn't likely to be in place by March 3 despite Goodell's plea for round-the-clock negotiations is that players are just fine with the thought of missing OTAs and offseason workout programs.

    How about this sense of urgency from Arizona running back Jason Wright, who visited Capitol Hill as the players avail themselves of the political process in dealing with a labor dispute:

    "We're not here to accomplish anything. We're here to meet people."

    QUOTABLE: "He will earn every cent they pay him. And that won't be much,"

    -- Ravens defensive coordinator and former Raiders defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano on former colleague Hue Jackson.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- The number of playoff wins for Tony Gonzalez, a Cal product and one of the most decorated tight ends in NFL history. Gonzalez's teams with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons are 0-4 in the postseason.

    Contact Jerry McDonald at jmcdonald@bayareanewsgroup.com.