After bouncing Peyton Manning and Tom Brady from the playoffs, Trevor Pryce and the Jets will literally face their biggest QB test this weekend in Ben Roethlisberger.
"He's tough, he's loose, he's a great football player, but I think he embodies the temperament of a winner," said veteran DL. "Rex has the utmost respect for him. He's told us that many times in Baltimore and he's going to tell you guys that here."
The 6'5", 241-pound Roethlisberger will pose a far different challenge than either Manning or Brady. Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine won a chessmatch with Manning on Wild Card Weekend, playing coverage instead of sending numbers and forcing the crafty vet to select 27 runs against 26 passes. Then the Green & White simply dominated the trenches against Brady's line, amassing five sacks while devising coverage schemes that clearly frustrated a bruised TB.
But Roethlisberger brings a defensive mindset to the Steelers' offense.
"Tom Brady is not looking to move and is looking to be hit. Ben Roethlisberger wants to be hit," said Pryce. "There is a much different mentality and he brings a tough-guy mentality to the game."
Pryce, a 35-year-old who was signed as a free agent on Sept. 29 to help the interior pass rush, is in familiar territory. When he lines up Sunday with a Super Bowl berth on the line, he will appear in his fifth AFC Championship Game and fourth against the Steelers.
"You have to be really careful with the running game. They have a great back [Rashard Mendenhall] and they have Hines Ward, who's been doing it for so long and at such a high level. You welcome those kinds of challenges because you don't get them very often," he said.
"And to play against a storied franchise at this stage of the game, at this point in my life and for the Jets to be here two times in a row in the AFC Championship with a first-time head coach and a rookie and second-year quarterback, it's pretty special."
The Steelers have homefield advantage, but they're just 1-2 in conference championship games at Heinz Field. Meanwhile the Jets hope to gain a fifth road playoff win in two years Sunday at a site of perhaps their most impressive regular-season triumph. The Green & White prevented a three-game slide by turning aside Roethlisberger and the Steelers by a 22-17 count on Dec. 19, holding Big Ben (23-44-264-1 TD) out of the end zone after he drove his club down to the Jets' 10 with 10 seconds remaining.
"The home teams in championship games falter under pressure because they don't have just the pressure they put on themselves but the pressure of 90,000 people watching them in the stadium, all their fans, and that can be a lot to overcome," Pryce said. "If you get behind and the whole stadium is thinking, 'Oh, my God, we're going to lose,' then you're going to lose. Whereas the visiting team, all you have is your 56 guys. So the pressure is on them — not on us."
The Jets sacked Roethlisberger three times during their Week 15 win, but the Steelers outgained the visitors, 378 yards to 276, and ran 72 offensive plays to 57. Roethlisberger's strength and mobility allowed him to lengthen plays and the Steelers converted on 11 of their 17 third downs (65 percent).
"The only way you prepare for Big Ben is if we can bring him in here and let him run our scout team," said Pryce. "He can run and he's as big as a left tackle. I mean I'm big and I've bounced off him many a day."
They'll meet once again this weekend as Trevor Pryce will appear in his 16th career postseason contest. After winning championships in each of his first two pro seasons with the Denver Broncos, he's hungry for his third. The Steelers denied him a Super Bowl appearance a pair of times, including a 23-14 defeat most recently in 2008 when he played under Ryan in Baltimore, but he got a chance to celebrate as a rookie in Pittsburgh after Denver captured a 24-21 "W" in the AFC Championship Game.
"You want to keep on going and see where the road ends," he said. "Hopefully it ends in Dallas."