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AFC NOTES

The Steelers Are Brady's No. 1 Priority

January 27, 2002|J.A. Adande

PITTSBURGH — OK, Tom Brady. You grabbed the starting quarterback job from Drew Bledsoe. You rallied the Patriots from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders to win your first playoff game. You're in the AFC championship game.

Now let's see how you do against the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

Pittsburgh gave up only 258.6 yards per game, and held the Baltimore Ravens to 150 yards last week. The Steelers are also the only team to operate out of a 3-4 defense, making preparation a little different.

"I've faced a lot of good defenses," Brady said. "Miami's defense is pretty good, the Jets' defense is pretty good, Oakland was pretty good. Throughout the course of the year, you see a lot of different looks."

The Steelers "do a good job of disguising where their pressures are coming from. At some point, they have got to rotate safeties, or they have got to show you certain looks. That's the key, to identify where their fifth rusher is coming in."

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Inside linebacker Earl Holmes, the Steelers' leading tackler, is listed as questionable; he has missed practices this week because of a sprained left knee. John Fiala will start and Mike Jones will play in third-down passing situations if Holmes can't play. Coach Bill Cowher said he will make a final decision at game time.

Holmes hurt the knee when a teammate jumped into his arms to celebrate a fumble recovery against Baltimore in the divisional playoff.

Running back Jerome Bettis missed the Baltimore game when a painkiller shot he took for his groin injury made his leg numb.

"He will take no shots [today]," Cowher said. "And he will start and we will go from there."

Patriot running back Antowain Smith missed practice Thursday to rest his injured right leg, but New England Coach Bill Belichick said "he'll be out there [today]."

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Patriot safety Lawyer Milloy finds disrespect everywhere. Even in the NFL playoff commercials, which don't feature any Patriots.

"I mean, they have guys in there talking about the playoff experience and the atmosphere, guys that have never even played in the playoffs before," Milloy said. "That's crazy to me."

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Not too surprisingly, Pittsburgh Penguin star/owner Mario Lemieux likes the Steelers in today's game.

"Obviously, they're playing great," Lemieux said. "Their defense has been incredible throughout the year. Hopefully Jerome can come back and give them a little boost. But they're looking good. Kordell [Stewart is] playing well. I'm looking forward to [today]'s game."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Today will mark the eighth time since 1970 that the Pittsburgh Steelers have hosted a conference championship game, which ties them with San Francisco for the most in the NFL in that span. Following is a list of the teams that have hosted the most AFC or NFC championship games:

Pittsburgh...8

San Francisco...8

Miami...6

Dallas...5

Washington...5

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J.A. Adande

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