PITTSBURGH (AP) -Tom Brady is injured and out, yet there's no guarantee the Pittsburgh Steelers won't be severely tested by the New England Patriots' passing game.
Oops, there's that word again before the Patriots play the Steelers.
A year ago, Steelers safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark were injured and couldn't play, but that didn't stop backup Anthony Smith from guaranteeing that Pittsburgh would beat the then-unbeaten Patriots.
Bad idea, followed by some bad execution.
Smith's guarantee motivated the Patriots, and Brady threw for 399 yards during a 34-13 victory. Brady made certain to seek out Smith to do some yapping of his own after twice targeting the safety on touchdown throws.
All that's changed now that Matt Cassel, the quarterback with zero college or NFL starts before Brady tore up a knee in the opener, is running New England's offense. Cassel has thrown for 400 yards-plus in successive games, something even Brady has never done, and the Patriots (7-4) have won four of their last six.
To the Steelers, what Cassel hasn't proven is that he can throw against them - something Brady has done regularly while winning five of his six career starts against Pittsburgh.
``He's doing an amazing job and he has confidence coming into this game,'' safety Ryan Clark said Wednesday, ``(If) you do it against the Steelers, you did something. I think it will be a big challenge for us, but also for him.''
The Steelers (8-3) are No. 1 defensively against the pass and the run, and they're healthier than they were against New England last season. Both Polamalu and Clark will play, although the relatively inexperienced William Gay may start at cornerback.
Brady took advantage of that injury-thinned secondary last season to throw four touchdown passes, one on a flea flicker in which Randy Moss threw a crossfield lateral to Brady. The Patriots got into such a rhythm, they threw on 34 consecutive plays.
``I don't know of any player in the NFL when they see Randy Moss have the ball, you're not going to go full speed and try to tackle him,'' Clark said, excusing Smith for that misplay. ``That play would have fooled anyone playing deep safety. It was an awesome play. ... Kudos to them for dialing that up.
``I think they're going to try some things like that and, as a defense, if we can stop those, we got a good chance of winning,'' Clark added.
Notice that Clark didn't guarantee a Steelers victory if they did that.
Although Cassel hasn't started against them, the former Southern Cal backup has earned the Steelers' respect for performing so well after sitting for so long.
``I think he's a great guy, a really, really nice guy,'' said Polamalu, also a former Southern Cal player. ``He's fun, a funny guy, real outgoing.''
Clark called Cassel's tale ``a cool story.'' Coach Mike Tomlin said, ``He's shown that he's a player in this league at that position. Good for them.''
And this is a rivalry? The Steelers certainly aren't this complimentary of, say, the Ravens or Browns. Of course, those teams aren't as successful against Pittsburgh as New England is.
``I'm glad he could prove a lot of the doubters wrong who said they couldn't win without Tom Brady. It's fun to see him do it,'' fellow quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger quickly added, ``I just hope he doesn't do it this week.''
No doubt Tomlin didn't want Anthony Smith doing what he did last year.
Smith didn't guarantee anything on Wednesday, though he does expect the Steelers to win if their league-leading defense keeps playing the way it has. Of their last four opponents, only one - the Colts - scored more than one touchdown against them.
``If we go out and play the way we been playing and eliminate the big plays, we've got a pretty good chance to win,'' Smith said.
Even if he wouldn't guarantee it.

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