By: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
September 04, 2002

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FOXBORO, MA -- They say don't get mad, get even.

That's likely what is going to happen on Monday night when New England takes on the Steelers in a much anticipated match-up at Gillette Stadium in front of a nationally televised audience. A number of Pittsburgh players have certainly made it clear that they felt they were the better team after New England dropped them to a 24-17 loss back in January, and their feelings don't appear to have changed.

Which should only give the Patriots that much more incentive when they take the field next Monday. The so called "experts" apparently still feel that the Steelers are the better team, with Pittsburgh coming into Gillette Stadium as 2 1/2 point favorites.

"Ever since the schedule came out, you look through the schedule and there's a little added meaning from a lot of the talk that goes on between the locker rooms," Quarterback Tom Brady told the media on Wednesday. "None of it obviously means anything until you get out there and buckle up your chin straps, but this is as big as it gets."

"This is Monday Night Football and throw that into the defending Super Bowl champs versus the team we beat in the AFC Championship game. There was a lot of bad blood there last year, and I'm sure there's bad blood this year, but we'll give it everything we've got."

Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher reportedly took the team to the movies on Monday, sitting them all down and replaying their January 27th encounter against the Patriots which ended not only their season, but also canceled their much publicized already-planned trip to New Orleans. Cowher says that he still believes to this day that the news about the fact his team already had their travel plans in place prior to the championship game had little to do with the outcome of the game.

"I talked with the owner and there were a lot of things that I'm sure New England did, [but] I'm sure they were doing things behind their doors," said Cowher on Wednesday. "Again, if anything, it was that once that week started, we knew what we had to do."

"We focused on the game at hand and if people took that as disrespectful, they were searching. They were reaching for something to use as bulletin board material. Like I said, I don't think it had any affect on the game whatsoever."

"They made more plays than we did, and what we said leading up to the game had no affect on what was done on the field."

He can say what he likes on the matter, but the outcome apparently still hasn't convinced him to put a muzzle on his players. Wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward have done their fair share of talking both throughout the offseason as well as recently, and Brady admitted that New England has heard everything that has been said.

"We hear what they say," said Brady. "Believe me, none of it goes unread or unheard of, and if we shot back, we'd rather shoot back in our own locker room."

As for head coach Bill Belichick, he's also busy reminding his players that despite the significance of trying to open the season on a positive note, it's only one game of a 16 game schedule and the season won't be decided in the first week.

"It's a 16-game schedule," said Belichick Wednesday. "The season is not going to be decided after the first week, regardless of what happens to any team in the league, it will take a lot more than that."

His quarterback agrees.

"I think it's important to realize it's one game and it's a very important game, and it's a big game," said Brady. "I think it's important because it's the first game of the year and sets the tempo for the entire season but I think we also realize that you're not going to win the AFC East in one week."

"It's the first week, you'd much rather be 1-0 than 0-1, but no matter what the case, you still have to line up and play 15 weeks after that."

The Patriots biggest challenge will again be repeating their January performance when they shut down an effective running game, along with containing the Steelers talented group of receivers. They held Pittsburgh to a combined 58-yards rushing, 34 of which came on a single run by quarterback Kordell Stewart. They mixed up their coverages and did a good job confusing Stewart, holding the Steelers to just 4-of-14 (29%) on third down and forcing 3-interceptions.

The question now will be, can they do it again?

Statistically it appears to be a good match-up. Both team's finished the preseason nearly identical from an offensive standpoint. The Steelers and Patriots were ranked 8th and 9th respectively in total yards (within just 8 yards of each other during the exhibition season) with Pittsburgh averaging 2-yards more per game offensively. New England held the ball for 23 seconds longer than Pittsburgh during the preseason, with the Steelers averaging just one more point per game than the Patriots.

However as Chris Berman says, that's why they play the games.

"This happens to be a team that we beat in the AFC Championship, and a team that has a lot of bad blood towards us, and we have a lot of bad blood towards them," said Brady. "You throw that in on a Monday night, on the opener in a new stadium, it's almost like made for TV."

"It's perfect."


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