When you’ve played for long enough, you’re going to put up a lot of numbers, and those numbers are going to incorporate a lot of contributors. In 14 seasons, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has certainly thrown a lot of passes to a lot of players—and touchdowns to 43 different players—but none of those relationships compare to the one that he has with Antonio Brown.
It helps that Brown is an incredible player in his own right, even if it would be fair to argue what sort of numbers he might put up playing with another quarterback in another system. Brown is routinely at or near the top of the league in total targets, and that has a lot to do with the rapport that he has with his quarterback.
Not that it’s a secret, although some aspects of it are. Over the course of eight seasons, since Brown was drafted in 2010, Roethlisberger and the All-Pro wide receiver have developed a certain chemistry that often manifests itself in subtle ways.
“I just think there’s so much chemistry between us, just body languages and looks”, Roethlisberger told Aditi Kinkhabwala over the course of the week leading up to the big game against the Patriots. “There’s so many things that happen in a game that are non-verbal between him and I that people would never have a clue about”.
There are some that even we have picked up on, of course. Little hand gestures, for example, that indicate a two-person audible for Roethlisberger and Brown. In those situations, it’s often best that the rest of the team is unaware of it, and runs the original play, to sell the misdirection of the silent change.
If there were any other receiver whose relationship with Roethlisberger could compare, it would be Hines Ward, though even in that, the dynamic was different. Ward was the veteran, Roethlisberger the youngster. The roles are reversed with the quarterback and Brown, but he sees many similarities between the two.
“We used to laugh, ‘man, that guy, he’ll run people over, he’ll drag people’”, he said of Ward’s nose for the end zone. “He just sensed the end zone and he wanted to score touchdowns. Ward caught 48 touchdown passes from Roethlisberger’s rookie season to the end of his career, 41 of them from Roethlisberger himself. 18 of them were from inside the 10-yard line, while 35 came within 20 yards.
The quarterback sees Brown in “kind of the same way, in the sense that, he loves his catches, he loves his touchdowns, he wants to make plays, so you know he’s going to fight”. Nothing epitomizes that better than his game-winning touchdown to take down the Ravens last Christmas.
Since 2010, Roethlisberger and Brown have connected on 59 touchdown passes during the regular season. They have completed 692 of 1036 passes attempted between one another for 9302 yards for a 104.1 quarterback rating. And that connection has been as hot as ever over the past month.