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|11-11-2010, 09:36 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
Join Date: Oct 2008
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No promoting needed when Patriots, Steelers play
No promoting needed when Patriots, Steelers play
PITTSBURGH (AP) -During a time when preening, self-promoting and spewing profanity on reality TV shows is an ever-growing method for NFL teams and players to establish an identity, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers do it a much different way.
They promote winning, not themselves.
Of the nine Super Bowls played since the 2001 season, the Patriots have won three and the Steelers two. Since 1994, when Robert Kraft of the Patriots joined Dan Rooney and family in the fraternity of NFL owners, New England leads the league with 189 victories; Pittsburgh is second with 181.
Whenever they play, as they will in a Sunday night matchup that could have significant AFC playoff race implications, it's an acknowledged big game. Consider this: The franchises have met during six seasons since 2001, and five times either the Patriots or the Steelers went on to the Super Bowl.
Yeah, this is a big game, and not just because the winner will be 7-2 and tied for the NFL's best record.
"We recognize the potential playoff ramifications of it,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "But more than anything, it's an opportunity to pit ourselves against a good football team and get a measure of where we are at this juncture.''
Where both teams are right now is at a pivotal point in their seasons.
The Patriots had won five in a row before a 34-14 loss at Cleveland, keyed by Peyton Hillis' 184 yards rushing and two touchdowns, exposed weaknesses in the NFL's 29th-ranked defense. The Steelers are coming off two victories during a three-game road trip, yet they came within one Carson Palmer completion of blowing a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter Monday in Cincinnati. And an official's blown call on a goal-line play saved them from a possible loss in Miami.
Sometimes, even the Steelers and Patriots need a bit of luck to stay good, although their comparable styles, personalities and no player-is-bigger-than-the-team concept are proving to be as comfortable over the long term as Belichick's hoodie with the cut-off sleeves.
"They've been very consistent and been able to really maintain pretty much their same system offensively and defensively,'' Belichick said of the Steelers. "That's very impressive in this day and age when you see teams change on a much more frequent basis. I don't think anybody's really got that kind of consistency like the Steelers have.''
Except, of course, the Patriots, who have won six of eight against Pittsburgh, including AFC title games at Heinz Field during the 2001 and 2004 seasons.
"We've had a lot of big games against them,'' Belichick said. "It's a team that's not in our division, but you kind of feel like they are.''
Much of that success is rightfully credited to Tom Brady, who is 5-1 against the Steelers, throwing for 1,658 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. The only loss was a 34-20 defeat in 2004 that ended New England's 18-game regular-season winning streak, but the Patriots returned to Heinz Field three months later for an easy 41-27 victory in the AFC championship game.
"He can do a little bit of everything,'' Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of Brady, who was bothered by a sore foot as he practiced for Pittsburgh.
Brady is especially good after a loss, throwing 42 touchdown passes during the 21 games he's played that have followed a loss.
Roethlisberger has had one good game, two average games and one poor one since returning from his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. He's seeking more consistency as the Steelers try to take advantage of being at home for five of their next seven, including games against the Patriots, Raiders (5-4) and Jets (6-2).
Keeping Roethlisberger on his feet would be a plus for the Steelers, who lost left tackle Max Starks to a season-ending neck injury in Cincinnati and may be without left guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee sprain). The injuries are testing the depth of an offense that ranks only 28th overall in yardage.
"I think we'll see a lot of blitzing - coach Belichick is known for his film study, bringing different looks and exotic things, and it will be a challenge for us,'' Roethlisberger said.
Just as slowing Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall will be for New England, which ranks fourth from the bottom in stopping the run. Hillis took advantage of some exceptional blocking to repeatedly peel off big runs against the Patriots; Mendenhall, with his 94.3 yards per game average at home, also can turn a game with his running.
The prime-time game also will refocus attention on two of the league's best coaches, who are similar in method if not in longevity. Belichick is 132-54 with New England, while Tomlin has won 37 games and a Super Bowl in three-plus seasons with Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger's off-field issues might have overwhelmed some franchises, but Tomlin - even when he needed to play No. 4 quarterback Charlie Batch - said excuses weren't acceptable.
"The standard is the standard,'' is Tomlin's oft-repeated message, and the Steelers survived a difficult stretch (Falcons, Titans, Bucs, Ravens) to go 3-1 and set themselves up for success once Roethlisberger returned.
Similarly, when wide receiver Randy Moss became a distraction in New England, Belichick and the Patriots didn't hesitate to discard what might be the league's best downfield receiver for a draft pick. It's a move that may have weakened the Patriots, and statistics suggest it has, yet arguably strengthened the resolve of a team that shed a potential long-term problem.
In each case, the message was the same: It's the team that matters. Winning over the long term means concentrating on the short term, and worrying about this game and this week rather than one's Hall of Fame credentials or statistical portfolio.
"Regardless of who's playing, when we take the field, we take the field to win,'' said Tomlin, who vigorously came to James Harrison's defense when the league fined the linebacker $100,000 over three games for dangerous hits. "We prepare like it. We try to play like it, and none of that changes based on circumstance.''
Tomlin's words almost could have been Belichick's.
"There's nothing more important than this week, this game and this year,'' Belichick said. "There is a season next year, you can't be oblivious to that. You just try to be the best we can there.''
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