Tuesday, December 04, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The truth now emerges. The Steelers were thinking about the New England Patriots long before this week.
"Oh, yeah," linebacker Larry Foote acknowledged. "The political thing is to say that you're not. But, you know, they're undefeated, they're one of the best, and we think about them."
The Patriots, who played at Baltimore last night, have been rampaging toward a fourth Super Bowl with little resistance. Their biggest setback of the season were the fines and first-round draft pick lost because of spygate.
Speculation has been rampant for weeks about whether New England can become the first team to go unbeaten since the 1972 Dolphins and the first to go 19-0.
"Obviously, you think about it because everybody talked about them because they are undefeated," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "That's all over; everything that has to do with news and sports is the New England Patriots. And deservedly so. They're a great football team offensively, defensively. It's going to be a challenge for us and we're going to have to come out and play great football."
The Steelers have not done that on offense recently, although they did snap out of it for a while Sunday night in a 24-10 victory against Cincinnati by scoring three touchdowns.
Since a 31-28 comeback victory Nov. 11 against Cleveland, the Steelers have bogged down on offense. They managed just 16 points and 263 yards in an overtime loss to the lowly New York Jets, then gained 216 yards in the Heinz Field muck in a 3-0 win against the winless Dolphins.
They produced another sub-300 yard output against the Bengals, but a rousing performance from their defense helped win the game.
The Steelers have the No. 1 defense in the NFL in yards allowed (230.8) and points allowed (12.9), and they will need all of it because the Patriots' offense has been unstoppable most of the year.
While going 11-0, New England scored on average 40.2 points per game, nearly eight more than anyone else, and averaged 434.4 yards, the only team in the NFL getting more than 400 a game.
"They can beat everybody by 50," Foote said, "but I'd still like our chances when we go in there because there's only one Pittsburgh Steelers defense and only one Pittsburgh Steelers team, so we don't really compare with other teams."
The Steelers say they respect the Patriots but are not in awe of them.
"Some teams might be starstruck by them," said tackle Max Starks. "They have all the big-name guys. They went into free agency and got a lot of high-dollar receivers to complement their quarterback and everything and their offensive line.
"Some defenses might be, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going against Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte' Stallworth! Tom Brady's the quarterback!' Some people might get enamored with that. But I definitely don't see that in our defense. Our defense doesn't really care who's across from them."
The Steelers stopped a New England winning streak before. In 2004 they beat the Patriots, 34-20, at Heinz Field to end their winning ways at 21 consecutive games, an NFL record. It was the only bright spot this century against New England, a series that's all too painfully familiar to the Steelers and their fans. They lost four other games this century to the Patriots, two of them at home in AFC championship games in the 2001 and '04 seasons.
"They have a lot of numbers," Foote said. "Those types of offenses, like the Bengals, are going to move the ball and they're going to make plays. Hold them to field goals and you'll be in there at the end of the game. Hopefully, we get some turnovers to go our way. I like this defense. I like this team, so we're ready to take on everybody."
New England, though, isn't just anybody. This season, to borrow from the late John Facenda when speaking of the Steelers dynasty in the 1970s, there are 31 teams in the NFL, and then there are the New England Patriots.
"We just have to bring our 'A' game," safety Tyrone Carter said, "and not get caught up in the hype: 'They're undefeated. They're a dynasty team.' We just have to go in and be physical and things should happen for us."