|GAME OF THE WEEK: Patriots put unbeaten mark on line against strong defense|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 06 December 2007 15:10|
If the Pittsburgh Steelers can't spoil New England's perfect regular season, chances are no one can.
``It's bigger than just another game,'' Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. ``They're the best in the NFL, they're undefeated, so naturally we're a little more pumped up.''
The Patriots are 12-0 and lead the league in scoring. But they struggled in winning their last two games by three points each in the final minutes against losing teams.
The Steelers are 9-3 and have allowed the fewest points and yards in the NFL. And they'll be facing a team that had a short week of practice after a 27-24 win in Baltimore last Monday night.
The game begins a three-game homestand for the Patriots. The other two visitors are among the NFL's worst teams.
The Jets (3-9) come in the following Sunday. They lost the season opener to the Patriots 38-14 and coach Eric Mangini may have provided the Patriots with extra motivation for the rematch. His complaint that New England was using a sideline camera in violation of NFL rules led to a severe penalty for the Patriots.
Then the Dolphins (0-12) arrive in a potential matchup of an unbeaten and a winless team.
The finale at the New York Giants should be the toughest of the last three games. But they already may have clinched an NFC wild card and decided to rest starters, while the Patriots may still be shooting for the first perfect season since 1972, when Miami went 17-0, including playoffs.
As usual, the Patriots are focusing only on the Steelers.
``They're a very, very tough defense and every week's different,'' fullback Heath Evans said. ``I'm not going to put `best' on anybody because I don't know how to categorize that stuff.''
The Patriots are nowhere near as dominant as they were in winning their first 10 games by an average of 25.4 points per game.
``People are talking about (how) they appear to be beatable,'' Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. ``The reality is they display their greatness. They find ways to finish games out and win, regardless of how they begin or how they develop.''
The Steelers lead the league in time of possession and can keep the ball away from Tom Brady, Randy Moss and the rest of New England's offense by handing it to Willie Parker, the AFC rushing leader.
``They're committed to running, I would say more than most teams in the NFL,'' Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ``The line really blocks well for Willie and then you look at Najeh Davenport, a bigger guy, a change of pace.''
The Steelers hope to improve on last Sunday's offensive performance, when they gained only 285 yards and committed four turnovers but still beat Cincinnati 24-10. Parker lost two fumbles in the game.
``I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself this week. This is a big weekend. They've got a great defense,'' he said. ``Usually it's the defending Super Bowl champions that are the team to beat. But they kind of took over that role.
``The Colts are kind of overshadowed. They're the Super Bowl champs, but the team to beat is the New England Patriots.''
The Steelers hold a two-game lead in the AFC North over Cleveland, but played better in the first half of the season. They even lost to the Jets 19-16 in overtime on Nov. 18.
But there are a lot of similarities between their defenses and those of the Eagles and Ravens, who pressured Brady the past two weeks.
``They blitz us quite a bit,'' Brady said. ``It's going to be a great challenge for us.''
Teams also have taken away the deep pass that made Brady and Moss so dominant throughout the first half of the season. That has allowed Wes Welker to play a bigger role as an underneath receiver. But the Patriots stopped themselves with dropped passes against Baltimore.
Then the Ravens self-destructed at the end with an ill-conceived timeout and costly penalties that allowed the Patriots to win on Brady's 8-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left.
``I made a comment the other day that our team was tired, and I think at midnight or 1 a.m., whatever time it was Monday night, Tuesday morning, we were tired,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ``The game is Sunday afternoon and we'll be ready to go.''
Still, Steelers safety Anthony Smith thinks his team has a solid chance to beat the Patriots. In fact, he guaranteed a victory on Wednesday. The Patriots said Thursday they're concerned with Sunday's game, not midweek talk.
``We have a good opportunity,'' Smith said, ``but they still have some good teams left. They got the Giants, some teams that can maybe have a great day and maybe everything will go their way.
``They say they played their toughest game last week against Baltimore, but I think we play harder than Baltimore.''
Patriots linebacker Chad Brown, who played for Pittsburgh last season, seemed to agree.
``They're going to try to run the ball, control the clock offensively,'' he said. ``The players' approach in Pittsburgh is to go out there and play as tough, as physically, and overwhelm people with their emotion and their passion for the game.''
They're also loaded with talent and teamwork on defense.
The Jets, Dolphins and Giants - the Patriots other three opponents - don't measure up.
``Those don't mean anything right now,'' New England defensive end Ty Warren said. ``Right now the focus is Pittsburgh and they're going to bring their A-plus game. We know that.''