The NFL offseason hasn’t even officially started yet, but the league has already lost two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
Tom Brady, whose seven Super Bowl championships, five Super Bowl MVPs and three league MVPs give him claim to the title of greatest ever, decided not to return to Tampa Bay for a third season with the Bucs.
Brady’s departure came a few weeks after Ben Roethlisberger, who led the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowl rings in his 18 years with Pittsburgh, also decided to retire.
With more than four decades of NFL experience between them, Roethlisberger and Brady clearly had plenty of history with the Carolina Panthers, although one of the two began his relationship with the state two years before entering the NFL.
As starting quarterback with Miami of Ohio, Roethlisberger led the RedHawks to a 27-21 upset of UNC in the opening game of the 2002 season.
Big Ben completed 16 of 33 passes for 204 yards against the Tar Heels, rushed for 23 yards and punted twice for a 51-yard average, including a career-long 59-yarder.
The next time Roethlisberger played in the state, he led the Steelers to Bank of America Stadium late in the 2006 season. Big Ben guided Pittsburgh to a 37-3 blowout of the Panthers, passing for a mere 125 yards. Roethlisberger threw for one touchdown and rushed for the game’s first score.
Roethlisberger would make one more return to the state, leading the Steelers to a 37-19 win over the Panthers in 2014. Roethlisberger had two touchdown passes in the game.
The two games that Roethlisberger faced the Panthers in Pittsburgh weren’t much better for Carolina. For his career, Big Ben was 4-0 against the Panthers, beating Carolina by an average 38-12 margin. His average game against the Panthers was 19 of 26 for 242 yards and 2.3 touchdowns. He added a pair of rushing touchdowns over his career against Carolina, and his career passer rating against the Panthers was 130.65.
Brady didn’t face any teams from North Carolina while in college at Michigan, but he had a much more extensive history against the Panthers than Roethlisberger.
Brady faced the Panthers 10 times in his career, six times in his 20 years with the Patriots and four times in the last two years when he played for the Panthers’ NFC South divisional rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
His tenure with Tampa Bay helped improve Brady’s overall record against Carolina. Tampa Bay Brady went 4-0 against the Panthers, winning every game by at least two scores. He beat the Panthers by an average score of 38-16 and his average game saw him complete 25 of 35 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
Things were much more evenly matched while Brady was in New England. The Panthers and Patriots split their six games over that span.
Brady made his first trip to Charlotte in the final week of his second season in the league — his first as a starter. The Patriots trounced the Panthers, 38-6, and headed off to their first of six Super Bowl titles.
Brady would never again win in North Carolina while with New England. He returned in Week 2 of the 2005 season and lost 27-17 despite throwing for 270 yards. Eight years later, he lost to the Panthers in Week 11, 24-20, while completing 29 of 40 passes for 296 yards. Brady threw four interceptions in his three games in the state, although he had four touchdowns with no picks in his two games at Bank of America Stadium with the Buccaneers.
Brady split his two games against the Panthers in New England. He won in Carolina’s first trip to Gillette Stadium, beating the Panthers, 20-10 in Week 14 of the 2009 season. The Panthers won their final game against Brady with the Patriots, going on the road to win 33-30 in what ended up being Brady’s best regular season game against Carolina. He completed 32 of 45 passes for 307 yards and two scores.
The most memorable matchup between Brady and the Panthers came in the 2004 Super Bowl. All three of Brady’s touchdown passes gave New England the lead, and he won game MVP honors after completing 32 of 48 throws for 354 yards. He set Super Bowl records for completions and pass attempts by the winning quarterback. His yardage total still ranks fifth in Super Bowl history.
All told, Brady went 7-3 against the Panthers with a 94.35 passer rating.
While they wait for Canton to call, Roethlisberger and Brady won’t have the Carolina Panthers to kick around anymore. However, like in most cities they visited, the two legendary quarterbacks won’t soon be forgotten.