PITTSBURGH (AP) -The New England Patriots didn't totally silence Anthony Smith.
Despite a 34-13 loss Sunday to New England that revealed significant flaws in the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense and their game plan, Smith says he is certain they will see the Patriots again in the playoffs.
That raises this question: If that happens, will the Patriots hear the Steelers again?
Smith, the Steelers' free-talking free safety, guaranteed a win over New England but couldn't deliver on it. By doing so, Smith helped re-ignite a Patriots team that, after barely winning at Baltimore the week before, was starting to look weary and worn down by its pursuit of a perfect season.
With Smith's words clearly on their mind, quarterback Tom Brady and some other Patriots yelled at Smith throughout the game, and coach Bill Belichick tossed in some well-chosen words afterward.
Asked about how Smith was tricked into allowing a long touchdown catch by Jabar Gaffney on a gadget play, Belichick said, ``The safety play at that position was pretty inviting.''
Give Belichick 5 yards for piling on.
Even worse for the Steelers: The trick play, which began with Brady flipping the ball to Randy Moss behind the line of scrimmage before getting it back to throw downfield, was a mirror image of one Pittsburgh ran while beating the Cincinnati Bengals 31-17 in a playoff game two years ago.
Losing to the Patriots was bad enough for the Steelers. Losing on their own play made it even worse.
Still, Smith wasn't reluctant afterward to discuss his much-publicized remarks, which led some of the remaining fans in Gillette Stadium to chant ``guar-an-tee, guar-an-tee'' as the game wound down.
Smith's take: the Steelers didn't play well, but there's always next month.
``We will see them again,'' Smith said.
However, the Patriots' second-half domination during their sixth victory in seven games against Pittsburgh exposed the size of the gap between the teams. After leading only 14-13 late in the second quarter, the Patriots outscored the Steelers 20-0 the rest of the way.
``If that (game) is the measuring stick, we're not close,'' coach Mike Tomlin said.
Then again, it also didn't look close when the Steelers lost to the then-unbeaten Indianapolis Colts on the road 26-7 in a Monday night game two years ago.
But when the teams met again in the AFC divisional playoffs less than two months later, the Steelers won 21-18 in Indianapolis and went on to win the Super Bowl.
``If we come back (to New England), we are going to be ready, I know that for sure,'' Steelers right tackle Willie Colon said.
Before they concern themselves with that, the Steelers (9-4) probably should be worrying about coming back strong Sunday against Jacksonville (9-4) in the first of two games in five days. They play again at St. Louis (3-10) in a Thursday night game on Dec. 20.
The Steelers can clinch a playoff spot by winning Sunday and they would secure the AFC North title if they win and the Browns (8-5) lose at home to Buffalo.
``We'll be ready for next week,'' center Sean Mahan said.
What happened last week could prove to be a valuable learning experience for Tomlin, the rookie head coach. If Bill Cowher were still in charge and Smith talked so loosely, Smith might have to seek out a comedy club to find an open microphone the rest of the season.
Smith may have become emboldened after bragging recently that Cincinnati's receivers were intimidated by Pittsburgh's secondary. At the time, Smith's words didn't cause much of a stir because they concerned a team that was out of the division race.
When Smith made similar comments about the Patriots, and tacked on his guaranteed win, it seemed as if everyone in the NFL noticed.
Now, Tomlin's challenge is to keep his players motivated and confident without them carelessly tossing out words their opponents can use against them. He also must make sure his players don't start doubting themselves after Brady threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns against a defense that had been allowing the fewest yards in the league.
``We're not guaranteed into the playoffs right now, so we need to take care of business this week,'' linebacker Larry Foote said.
There the Steelers go, talking about guarantees again.
Notes: The Steelers are 7-0 at home and 2-4 on the road. They have won in only two states: Pennsylvania and Ohio. ... Jacksonville is 10-8 against Pittsburgh, winning the past two. ... If the Steelers are the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, as they would be today, and the Patriots are the top seed, the teams could meet again only in the AFC championship game.

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