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ROETHLISBERGER'S THE REAL DEAL, BUT NO FANTASY GUARANTEE

Ben Roethlisberger has made just four NFL starts but already he's done something that Joe Montana, John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino never accomplished.

The 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger is just the third quarterback since 1970 to lead his team to victory in the first four starts of his rookie season. Since the 23-year-old Miami (Ohio) product took over for the injured Tommy Maddox (right elbow), his Pittsburgh Steelers have defeated the Miami Dolphins (13-3), Cincinnati Bengals (28-17), Cleveland Browns (34-23) and Dallas Cowboys (24-20).

Roethlisberger, fresh off a bye week, goes for No. 5 Sunday against the New England Patriots, who have won 21 straight. So, something's got to give.

Team success achieved with a rookie quarterback, however, does not necessarily translate into victories by his fantasy owners. In his four starts, Roethlisberger has averaged 190 passing yards, with five touchdowns and four interceptions -- hardly Daunte Culpepper-like numbers.

Another Steeler holds the record for consecutive wins by a rookie QB to start a career -- former Central Florida head coach Mike Kruczek, with six.

Like Roethlisberger, an injury forced Kruczek under center for the Steelers, with the 1976 team off to a 1-4 start following back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

Kruczek took over for Terry Bradshaw, who suffered a neck injury on Oct. 10 in an 18-16 loss to the Browns. "Turkey" Joe Jones had turned Bradshaw upside down and jammed his head into the Cleveland Stadium turf in a frightening display of poor sportsmanship.

Kruczek gave the Steelers a spark, igniting a 10-game winning streak that carried Pittsburgh to the AFC Championship Game.

But incredibly, Kruczek never threw an NFL touchdown pass. With Bradshaw out, he basically piloted the Steelers like a jet plane on cruise control, handing off to Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Harris rushed for 1,128 yards that season and Bleier for 1,036.

Kruczek also got incredible support from the Steelers' defense, which held the first five opponents he started against to a total of nine points, registering three consecutive shutouts at one point.

Kruczek played 36 games during his career, going 93 of 154 for 1,185 yards and eight interceptions. After four years with the Steelers, he hung it up following one year (1980) with the Washington Redskins.

The only other QB to win the first four starts of his rookie year was Phil Simms, with the 1979 New York Giants. But that season, he finished with 13 TDs, 14 interceptions and just over 145 yards per game.

Simms got better, ranking 18th all-time in passing yardage (33,462) and 26th in touchdown passes (199). But according to the Web site profootballreference.com, he ranked among the top 10 at his position as a fantasy performer just three times in his 14-year career, never faring better than fifth in 1988, when he threw for 21 TDs, 11 interceptions and 3,359 yards.

According to research done by the Steelers, only three other starting rookies began their careers with as many as three straight victories -- Jim Everett of the Los Angeles Rams (1986), Mike Boryla of the Philadelphia Eagles (1974) and Ed Rubbert of the Washington Redskins (1987).

Everett had the best career, ranking 14th in passing yardage (34,837) and 24th in TD passes (203). He was a monster in 1988 as the second-ranked fantasy QB with 31 TDs, 18 INTs and 3,964 yards. But he's probably best remembered for smacking around talk show host Jim Rome, who kept referring to the QB as "Chris Evert."

Boryla basically had one moment of glory in his pro career, and it came on Jan. 26, 1976, in the Pro Bowl. Boryla, a late substitute who entered the game with 5:39 left, threw TD passes to Terry Metcalf and Mel Gray to rally the NFC to a 23-20 victory.

Boryla got his Pro Bowl berth despite throwing nine TDs and 14 interceptions during the regular season. He played in only 23 career games, finishing with 20 TDs, 29 interceptions and 2,838 yards passing.

Rubbert is simply a footnote to the 1987 players' strike that forced three weeks of replacement games. He threw for 532 yards with four TDs and one INT in wins over the Cardinals, Giants and Cowboys.

START HIM:

The New York Jets defense forced four turnovers, registered four quarterback sacks and held the Miami Dolphins without a touchdown in a 17-9 victory in Week Four.

Tennessee Titans QB Steve McNair has thrown 20 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in 12 career games against the Cincinnati Bengals, and has rushed 48 times for 280 yards and four more scores.

Indianapolis Colts WR Marvin Harrison has 30 catches for 409 yards and four touchdowns in four career games against the Kansas City Chiefs. He's never had fewer than 93 yards in receptions in a game against them.

SIT HIM:

Since rushing for 190 yards during the first two weeks of the season, San Francisco 49ers RB Kevan Barlow has averaged just 44.25 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry in his last four games.

Washington Redskins QB Mark Brunell is 38 of 83 (45.8 percent) for just 370 yards, with two touchdowns, two interceptions and four sacks in the last three games.

Oakland Raiders RB Tyrone Wheatley's last five games against the San Diego Chargers have produced 47 carries for 125 yards, an average of 2.6 yards per rush and 25 yards per game.
e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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