Sat, Jan 22, 2005 - Page 19 News List

No one admits feeling pressure

AP , PITTSBURGH

Pittsburgh Steelers fans show their support as the New York Jets were defeated in overtime in an AFC divisional game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Jan. 15. The Steelers won 20-17 and will face the New England Patriots tomorrow.

PHOTO: AFP

As the mastermind of two Super Bowl victories, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn't faze the Pittsburgh Steelers going into their AFC championship game on Sunday.

Neither do the Philadelphia Eagles feel any pressure to win the NFC championship on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons after losing the last three title matches.

"We lost. It's time to move on," Eagles defensive tackle Corey Simon said on Thursday. "Thinking about last year and the year before that will get you beat this week. We have to focus on this game."

The prize is a trip to the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida on Feb. 6.

Belichick, trying to win a third Super Bowl in four seasons, is considered a great NFL coach but to the Steelers he became a much better coach when he got much better players in New England than he had while going 3-8 against Pittsburgh as the Cleveland Browns' coach from 1991-1995. His overall record against the Steelers is still only 5-9.

Belichick "isn't playing," Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. "All he does is call the plays, and he puts his players in good position to make plays. That's why they've been so successful and been able to win so consistently."

Steelers coach Bill Cowher praised Belichick's style and system, even acknowledging that he's borrowed from it. But Cowher dismissed talk that Belichick can design a game plan to outwit rookie Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, just like the imaginative schemes which bewildered NFL MVP Peyton Manning in New England's 20-3 divisional-round victory over the Indianapolis Colts last weekend.

Roethlisberger said he'd learned from the mistakes which almost cost his team last weekend, before beating the New York Jets 20-17 in overtime.

No matter how exotic the Patriots become in their blitzing or pass coverage schemes to confuse the unbeaten Roethlisberger, the Steelers still plan to pound twin power backs Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley repeatedly, just as they did in beating New England 34-20 in October. Staley ran for 125 yards and Bettis 65, while the Patriots managed only 5 yards rushing without injured star Corey Dillon.

The Steelers are in much better shape than they were for their 24-17 upset loss to New England in the January 2002 AFC championship game, when Bettis' serious groin injury effectively left them without a running game.

Still, they aren't making a big deal about being underdogs at home, despite having a better record than New England (15-1 during the season to 14-2), a higher-ranked defense (No. 1 to No. 9) and a 9-0 home record.

"We don't know what they're going to do, but they don't know what we're going to do, either," linebacker Joey Porter said. "They've still got to play us in our backyard. We're undefeated at home, and we like our chances."

Playing in the past three NFC championship games gives Philadelphia a significant edge in big-game experience over Atlanta. However, losing all three of those games puts all the pressure on the Eagles to get to the Super Bowl for the first time in 24 years.

The Falcons have far less to lose. A year ago, they were 5-11. Now they're a win away from the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

"We're just going to go up there and play loose and let it roll," Falcons rookie coach Jim Mora said. "We don't feel any pressure. It's house money we're gambling with. So we're just going to go up there and fling it around and see if we can't stay on the field with them for a little while."

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