Tue, Jan 25, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Steelers' streak comes to a halt

NFL CONFERENCE FINALS Pittsburgh's magnificent run came to an abrupt end in their own stadium as New England methodically smelted their opponents

AP , PITTSBURGH AND PHILADELPHIA

Dorsey Levens of the Eagles is tackled by Jason Webster of the Falcons during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were an unstoppable combination again for the New England Patriots, exposing all of the Pittsburgh Steelers' weaknesses to end their 15-game winning streak and win the AFC championship 41-27 Sunday.

Brady gave the inexperienced rookie Ben Roethlisberger a lesson in quarterbacking a championship game, throwing two touchdown passes -- one to Deion Branch that gave New England a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

Belichick upstaged can't-win-the-big-one Steelers coach Bill Cowher, improving to 9-1 as a playoffs coach and matching Vince Lombardi for the best postseason record in NFL playoff history.

Brady has a record of his own: 8-0 as a postseason quarterback, bettering Troy Aikman's 7-0 record at the start of his playoffs career.

"I'm just so proud of these players. Our team has played well in big games and this was a huge one," Belichick said.

Now, the defending champions will play the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, Florida. New England was installed as an early 6-to-6 1/2-point favorite.

The Eagles ended their three-game losing streak in the NFC championship game by beating Atlanta 27-10 earlier Sunday.

The Patriots can become the first team to win three Super Bowls in four seasons since Dallas did it between the 1992-95 seasons.

This game was a near-replay of Pittsburgh's breakthrough 34-20 win Oct. 31 that ended New England's record 21-game winning streak. Again, an under-pressure quarterback kept making mistakes as a team seized a 24-3 lead in the first half -- only this time it was the rookie, not the cool-as-can-be Brady doing so. Roethlisberger threw three costly interceptions in his first loss in 15 NFL starts.

"It wasn't a great game on my part, but I learned an awful lot this season," said Roethlisberger, who failed to become the first rookie QB to lead his team to the Super Bowl. "We had a great season, but there are a lot of people -- some in that locker room -- that now think" it's a disappointment.

Staying away from turnovers is "important when you play the really tough teams," Brady said.

"It's important to protect the ball and that's what we did," he said.

Brady was 14-of-21 for 207 yards and no interceptions to Roethlisberger's 14-of-24 for 226 yards and two scores.

For the Steelers, it was their fourth loss in five AFC championship games at home since 1995 under Cowher.

New England entered the game as a 3-point favorite despite the Steeler's franchise-record 15-game winning streak and NFL-best 16-1 record.

Privately, they were motivated by the perceived slight and linebacker Joey Porter promised they wouldn't flop in a title game again.

Then, they went out and flopped, generating boos from their normally adoring crowd even before the Patriots led 24-3 by halftime.

New England didn't have an injured Corey Dillon during the Oct. 31 game, but the running back had a below-average 73 yards on Sunday. Instead it was Branch, also injured and out of the first game, who made the big plays with a touchdown catch, 23-yard touchdown run and 45-yard reception that set up David Givens' 9-yard touchdown catch that made it 17-3.

Branch got behind cornerback Deshea Townsend for a 60-yard scoring pass on the play after Jerome Bettis fumbled on a fourth-and-1 at the Patriots' 39, and it was 10-0 New England halfway through the first quarter.

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