Jake Roth (Rivers)/Douglas DeFelice (Roethlisberger)-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Mirror Images Meet Sunday Night

Alike in many ways, quarterbacks' differences will decide game

Chris Mack
November 30, 2018 - 11:06 am

Related: NFL Week 13 Preview

"Taking a good look in the mirror" is a tried-and-true cliche for any athlete, or team, looking to respond to a difficult result. 

The mirror-on-the-wall is a literary trope that goes back years as well, the classic example being the Evil Queen in Snow White asking difficult questions of her reflective friend on the wall.

Naturally, as a child of the '90s and a classic hip-hop fan, my favorite adaptation of this is from noted Steelers fan Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Lodi Dodi." 

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the top dog of them all?"

There's a good chance we'll all see whether it is the Steelers or Chargers who belong with the top dogs in the AFC - the Chiefs and the Patriots - following Sunday night's game at Heinz Field.

T.J. Watt will look across the field and see his brother, Derek.

Maurkice Pouncey will look across the field and see his identical twin brother, Mike.

A rookie safety taken in the 1st round of the draft out of an ACC stalwart, who has made a huge impact on defense, Derwin James of the Chargers, will look across the field and see a rookie safety taken in the first round of the draft out of an ACC stalwart, Terrell Edmunds, who hasn't made the kind of impact on defense Steelers' fans may have expected.

A young, surprise running back pressed in to service due to the absence of a Pro Bowl starter will be provided an opportunity to surprise on a national stage. In Los  Angeles' case, it's 5-foot-9 Austin Ekeler, a second year back out of Western Colorado who is expected to step in to some big shoes following a sprain to Melvin Gordon’s right MCL. For the Steelers, it’s James Conner, looking to get back to what he did earlier this season in making Le’Veon Bell a mere memory before a bad case of butterfingers took over, causing two dropped passes in Jacksonville and a key fumble in Denver.

The most important men in the mirror though will be the quarterbacks.

Drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, both Top 10 all-time in most major NFL career passing categories, including yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage, the similarities between Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are many. The few disparities between them are key in differentiating one from the other, though.

Rivers has been to the playoffs just five times in 14 seasons, going 4-5 with 11 TDs and nine INTs in nine games.

Roethlisberger has been to the playoffs 10 times, going 13-8 with 30 TDs and 24 INTs in 21 games.

Rivers has been to the AFC Championship game just once, and is still looking for his first Super Bowl berth, let alone victory.

Roethlisberger has been to the conference title game five times, the Super Bowl thrice, and has two extremely large rings to show for his time in the biggest of games.

These are two future Hall of Fame candidates who, much like Dan Marino and Joe Montana a generation ago, will have their resumes judged as much by their teams’ postseason accomplishments as their individual statistics.

On Sunday though, as these two teams jockey for position in what may be the most wide open AFC race in years, it will come down to which team – and which quarterback – protects the ball better.

Roethlisberger has thrown five interceptions in his last two games.

Rivers has thrown six all season.

Turnovers gutted what could have been a Steelers’ victory in Denver, and nearly kept them from winning against a Jacksonville team in disarray.

Roethlisberger provided five of those seven combined turnovers.

Rivers, after leading the league with a career-high 21 INTs in 2016, tightened up his game and has had a sub-2% interception rate over the last season and a half.

Roethlisberger, asked earlier this week if he was at all worried about interceptions – especially in the red zone, where he leads the NFL – replied by dismissing the notion he needs to be more protective of the ball.

“Things happen, right?” said Roethlisberger on his radio show Tuesday morning.

“I’m a quarterback that’s gonna go out and ‘sling’ it. I’m not gonna worry about interceptions. I hate doing ‘em. They bother me. But I’m gonna go out and play my game and try and help us win football games.”

The problem is that turning the ball over doesn’t help win football games. Rivers seems to have learned that lesson.

That may be the only crack in the reflection when these two mirror images meet on Sunday. It could be enough, though, to put the Chargers over the top, past the Steelers, and into contention with the Chiefs and Patriots.

And it could leave the Steelers – and Roethlisberger – taking a good, hard look in the mirror.