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Old 01-17-2011, 07:12 AM   #1
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Default Harris: Story lines aplenty for Steelers-Jets

Harris: Story lines aplenty for Steelers-Jets
By John Harris
Monday, January 17, 2011

When the Steelers host the New York Jets on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field, they'll do so knowing they're partly responsible for having to listen to Jets coach Rex Ryan run his mouth all week.

Yes, indeed, it's the Steelers' fault the Jets made it this far.

If the Steelers didn't trade ... no, if the Steelers didn't give receiver Santonio Holmes away for the meager sum of a sixth-round draft pick in April, there's no way the Jets would have shocked the New England Patriots, 28-21, in the divisional playoffs for the right to face Mike Tomlin and Co. with the winner advancing to Super Bowl XLV.

Holmes' acrobatic 7-yard touchdown reception that gave the Jets a 21-11 lead in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty, as he extended his arms fully and cradled Mark Sanchez's toss in the corner of the end zone, getting both feet down before tumbling out of bounds.

Holmes has made those plays all season, including three game-winning touchdown catches at the end of games. His dazzling catch against New England was every bit as big because it essentially put the lead out of reach.

Of course, Steelers fans know all about Holmes' big-play ability. He made a remarkably similar play in the corner of the end zone, hauling in a Ben Roethlisberger bullet pass to defeat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. It earned Holmes the Super Bowl MVP honors and made his departure from the Steelers all the more painful.

The Steelers have moved on, and so has Holmes. But his return to face the team that traded him in the most lopsided transaction since Manhattan was purchased for $24 in the 1600s will surely dominate the headlines this week.

In Holmes' first meeting against the Steelers on Dec. 19, he was held to six receptions for 40 yards and no touchdowns, but New York won, 22-17. As he departed the field, Holmes serenaded angry fans -- his former fans -- with a sarcastic bow.

Steelers-Jets is full of story lines. Holmes is only one of them.

There's the bombastic Ryan, son of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, and the question of whether he will engage Tomlin in a war of words via his news conferences, like Ryan did with Patriots coach Bill Belichick last week.

If ever there were polar opposites, it's Ryan and Tomlin.

Tomlin hates doing news conferences, and he wears his feelings on his sleeve. Tomlin goes out of his way to be boring so he doesn't have to answer a lot of questions.

If you love hearing about how the Jets have the best long-snapper in the league, you're in for a treat.

But if you're waiting for Tomlin to verbally spar with Ryan, take a number. You're in for a long wait.

The only thing missing from Ryan's must-see news conferences is a laugh-track for his one-liners. Ryan is a reporter's dream because he doesn't know how to say "I don't know.''

Other story lines include the Steelers seeking their third Super Bowl championship since 2005 -- more than any team -- and why the national media find teams like the Dallas Cowboys, who haven't appeared in a Super Bowl since defeating the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, more interesting.

As for the quarterbacks, Roethlisberger is second among active signal-callers with two Super Bowl titles. He's matched against Sanchez, who will be playing in his second AFC Championship Game in just his second season and is trying to become the first quarterback since Joe Namath to lead the Jets to the Super Bowl.

It's been a season of redemption for Roethlisberger, who was suspended for the first four games for violating the league's personal conduct policy and has become a model citizen on the field and off.

And don't forget about Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson, a future Hall of Famer who is one game away from playing in his first Super Bowl.

The game will feature a battle of two of the league's top defenses and cornerbacks. Jets corner Darrelle Revis of Pitt and Aliquippa has appeared in three Pro Bowls and is a popular choice as the best cover corner. Steelers corner Ike Taylor has two Super Bowl rings to Revis' none and has allowed only one touchdown catch all season, but he's still waiting for his first Pro Bowl invite.

Steelers-Jets has something for everyone. It's a game for true football fans, and it has the potential to be one for the ages.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

Images and text copyright 2011 by Trib Total Media, Inc.
Reproduction or reuse prohibited without written consent.
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