sports 3 days ago

Big Ben not thinking about future as Jags loom

AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) -

Ben Roethlisberger is putting thoughts of his future to one side as he prepares to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers into an NFL playoff battle against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

The 35-year-old quarterback could conceivably be making his farewell appearance at Heinz Field in the AFC divisional round contest, with a likely trip to the New England Patriots awaiting the Steelers in the event of a victory.

Two-time Super Bowl winner Roethlisberger has yet to confirm whether or not he intends to return for the Steelers next season, but hinted this week he was not ready to call time on his career.

"I don't think it is my last, but I'm not thinking about that right now," Roethlisberger said when asked if he believed Sunday's game with the Jaguars would be his last before Pittsburgh's fans.

"I'm going go out and play this one and give everything I have," he added.

Roethlisberger flirted with retirement at the end of last season, only deciding to return after discussions with his family.

The veteran gunslinger also questioned whether he still had the ability to deliver at the highest level earlier this season following a disastrous display in a 30-9 loss to the Jaguars on October 8.

"Maybe I don't have it anymore," Roethlisberger said after the loss, which included five interceptions and two pick sixes.

Since that loss, however, Roethlisberger has rediscovered the sureness of touch that has made him one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks for more than a decade.

In the final six games of the season, Roethlisberger threw for 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

"You have to treat every game like it could be your last because you never know when it is," Roethlisberger said.

The Steelers, who went 13-3 in the regular season, will start as favorites to progress past the Jaguars, who finished 11-6 for the year before edging the Buffalo Bills 10-3 in last weekend's wild-card game.

- Experience edge for Saints? -

Elsewhere on Sunday, another veteran quarterback will be aiming to extend his career when Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints travel to Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC divisional round.

Brees is the only quarterback in the NFC playoffs to have a Super Bowl victory next to his name, and his big-game temperament was pivotal in the Saints 31-26 win over the Carolina Panthers last weekend.

The Saints hope Brees will be able to summon a repeat performance against the Vikings after making 23-of-33 passes for 376 yards last weekend, including two touchdowns.

The 38-year-old, who steered the Saints to victory in the Super Bowl eight years ago, is relishing the high-stakes environment of the playoffs.

"We made it to the Elite Eight, we're trying to get to the Final Four and we're trying to get to a chance to win it all," Brees said. 

"This is crunch time. This is where you want to be playing your best. This is what you play your regular season for.

"You get paid to play the regular season; this is for free. I'd pay it all back just to be in this position. This is where it's fun."

The Vikings, meanwhile, have progressed to the playoffs on the back of an unlikely hero -- quarterback Case Keenum. 

Keenum, 29, started the season as understudy to Sam Bradford but has shone since coming into the team in week two.

Sunday will be Keenum's first playoff start in five seasons. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged the contrast in experience between Brees and Keenum, but is confident Minnesota's team ethic -- and home advantage -- could prove decisive.

"Obviously, you like to have a Hall-of-Fame quarterback playing for you," Zimmer said. "What really matters is how we play on Sunday, and we play as a team, and we do the things that got us there. We're a smart football team. We take advantage of opportunities.

"And I do think playing at home is an advantage for a young -- well I don't know about young -- but inexperienced playoff quarterback."

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