Someone asked Ben Roethlisberger this week if going up against a quarterback such as Tom Brady "gets your competitive juices flowing more."
Roethlisberger admitted that it does, but only "a little bit," he said.
The 2-5 Steelers travel to New England to play the 6-2 Patriots today, and Roethlisberger will be out to prove that he still deserves to be mentioned along with the game's elite quarterbacks, such as Brady.
Most will insist that Brady's the best in the game, and that in fact he's the reason the Patriots are sitting with their typically lofty won-loss record some 14 years after he entered the league.
Not that Brady's playing all that well. One reporter, Lance Zierlein out of Houston, tweeted this week that "when you watch the coaches tape of some of Tom Brady's throws, you won't believe you are watching one of the elite QBs in the league."
With a sore right shoulder that's landed him on the injury report all season long, Brady has the worst passer rating (74.9), worst completion percentage (55.7) and lowest yards-per-attempt (5.9) of any year since 2000, when he played sporadically as a rookie.
Of course, Brady's not surrounded by the old gang, either. The Patriots have clearly dropped off in talent, which is understandable after winning more Super Bowls, conference titles, division titles, playoff games and just games since the turn of the century.
No team can stay on top forever, yet, here are the Patriots -- in spite of their 18th-ranked offense and 19th-ranked defense -- with the second-best record in the AFC.
"Tom Brady," said Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. "He (is) the best in the world. He (has) got three Super Bowl rings. I know Tom Brady. Tom Brady (is) Tom Brady."
Brady has rallied the Patriots to three wins with fourth-quarter comebacks this season, and his name is still mentioned at the top of his profession along with Peyton Manning.
"Their win-loss record will tell you what kind of quarterbacks they are," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
And that brings us to Roethlisberger's "competive juices."
All week long he's heard how the Patriots are 6-2 on the strength of their quarterback. Conversely, the Steelers are 2-5. The team with the NFL's third-best winning percentage since 2003 is fading fast and their quarterback can't stop the bleeding. And he's had his chances:
* Trailing Tennessee 10-2 in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger threw incomplete on third-and-5 from midfield and Tennessee scored the next six points to clinch the game.
* Trailing Cincinnati 17-10 in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger threw his third consecutive incompletion and Cincinnati clinched the game with a field goal.
* Trailing Chicago 34-23 with 4:09 left, but in Bears territory, Roethlisberger was sacked and his fumble was returned for a touchdown.
* Trailing Minnesota 34-27 with a first down at the Minnesota 6, Roethlisberger spiked on first down, threw incomplete on second down, and was sacked and fumbled on third down.
* Trailing Oakland 21-10, Roethlisberger completed a pass that went to the Oakland 12 with 1:43 left, but he began arguing with an official about a posssible penalty on the play and had to waste a valuable timeout. It forced the Steelers to kick onsides and Oakland recovered.
Roethlisberger did lead the Steelers on a late field-goal drive to beat the Baltimore Ravens by three, but more often than not he's been the same quarterback who threw game (and season) killing interceptions late last season against Dallas and Cincinnati.
He's clearly not been the same quarterback who grew into national prominence for just winning, baby.
And, really, that's all that matters.
"We’re 6-2," was how Bill Belichick explained Brady's poor statistics this season. "The quarterback’s job is to figure out a way to make the plays to get his team to win, and that’s really the bottom line for Tom, me and everybody else. That’s what we’re here for is to win games. He’s doing things to help us win them and that’s really our most important statistic. The rest of them are pretty meaningless, really. Just the score at the end of the game."
And that's why this game is so important to Ben Roethlisberger, because it's so important to the Steelers.