By: Ian Logue/
January 17, 2005

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FOXBORO, MA -- Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher told his players after their 34-20 victory at Heinz Field back on Halloween, which ended the New England Patriots NFL record winning streak at 21 games, that they may see them again at some point in the future.

He obviously knew what he was talking about.

For the Patriots, they know that had they won that game they'd be getting ready to face Pittsburgh at Gillette Stadium, but unfortunately for New England they're heading back to Heinz Field for the rematch that many predicted when that game took place back in October. This time it will decide who's the Champion of the AFC.

There was plenty that went wrong for the Patriots the last time these two teams faced off, with injuries being the biggest problem. They lost Ty Law on just the third defensive series for New England when he suffered a broken foot that he never returned from. They lost Matt Light early in the contest which led to Brandon Gorin filling in at left tackle. They were without running back Corey Dillon who sat out the game with a thigh injury which led to Cedric Cobbs and Kevin Faulk trying to shoulder the load. Many believe that Dillon's absence would have been the difference in the game.

Maybe. But it's unlikely considering the way they played that day.

Looking back it's pretty obvious that it would have taken a lot more than Dillon to solve what went wrong for the New England Patriots in that game. After all, the Steelers did what New England had shown a knack for during their 21-game winning streak. They created turnovers in key situations and converted them into points. Twenty four of them to be exact.

Many will say that without Dillon in the line-up they were unable to keep the Steelers off balance, but Dillon wouldn't have been able to help the Patriots defense. They forced three-and-outs on Pittsburgh's first two drives of the game, but then struggled from there on out. On the Steelers next possession they allowed a 6-play 80-yard drive which led to the Pittsburgh's first touchdown.

Not even quarterback Tom Brady could avoid mistakes. Brady fumbled the ball away on the ensuing possession after he was sacked by Joey Porter, giving the Steelers the ball at the Patriots' 27-yard line. Five plays later Pittsburgh was back in the endzone.

Then just when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse, Brady came out and threw an interception on the ensuing play from scrimmage, and it lead to more points for Pittsburgh after Deshea Townsend returned it 39-yards for a touchdown to put them up 21-3.

It's hard to imagine that Dillon could have reversed that terrible sequence of events which ultimately cost them the game. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told the media on Monday that New England getting down early wasn't the reason they lost that game. He felt that at that point, with three quarters of football left to be played, they were very much in the game. Unfortunately the problem was when they did have the ball they just didn't execute.

"I don't think you can blame it on getting behind because when we did have a chance to run, when we weren't behind, we couldn't do anything,” Bill Belichick told the media on Monday. "[The Steelers] lead the league in defense. They lead in a lot of different categories including rushing. I think that is a significant element you have to deal with against the Steelers every week. That day, they played a lot better run defense than we did run the ball. So, that is why the results were what they were.”

Things will be a little different this time around. Joining the injured that week was also the team's best receiver, Deion Branch, who missed the game with a knee injury. He's back in the line-up. They were also without their lead blocker Patrick Pass, who also missed the game with a thigh injury. He's back in the line-up blocking for Dillon. On offense the weapons are back in place for Brady. All they need to do now is execute.

Their only problem this time around may be on defense where they'll likely be without Richard Seymour who suffered a knee injury against the Jets and missed both the San Francisco game and Sunday's game against Indianapolis. He was upgraded during the week from "doubtful” to "questionable” on the team's injury report but still missed the game. Should they be without him again, they may miss him against the run after the Steelers racked up 221 yards rushing against them in their last meeting. While Jarvis Green did well filling in against the Colts, he's very good rushing the passer but not as good as Seymour against the run. Unfortunately Pittsburgh's ability to run the ball the last time allowed them to hold the ball for over 10 minutes in each of the four quarters of play, which never allowed the offense to recover from the turnovers.

Needless to say New England is aware that they'll need to play mistake-free football this time around.

"We know from experience how difficult it is to go into Pittsburgh,” said Belichick. "We were pretty much down by 21 points almost the whole game, or at least the last three quarters of the game. It wasn't ever really competitive. We know we have a lot of work to do.”

"We're looking forward to the opportunity, but we know it's going to be tough.”

Now he'll have another shot at the Steelers, and it's no secret that Belichick has a history of providing his team with an even better game plan the second time around. He did it in 2001 against St. Louis during their Super Bowl win, giving them a game plan that stifled the Rams, despite the fact that New England lost to them earlier in the season. However Belichick said he doesn't expect to see much different from the Steelers this week. After all, they beat the Patriots easily earlier in the year and ended up winning 15 regular season games. Since what they've been doing has obviously worked just fine up to this point, he doesn't expect Pittsburgh to do much differently this time around either.

"When you win 15 in a row, you don't scrap everything you are doing,” said Belichick. "You've been successful doing it, so a lot of that continues to carry over. They had a lot of success in our game doing pretty much everything.”

"I'm sure that there will be some changes and some modifications, but I am sure that the Steelers would keep, I imagine, a significant part of that just because it was so effective. They totally dominated the game in every phase of the game. I'd be surprised if they get too far away from that. They don't get too far away from what they do anyway.”

Following their first game earlier in the year, many believed there was a chance it could come down to these two clubs to decide which AFC team would be represented in the Super Bowl. Now here they are, facing off in the game that will decide it.

After their 15-1 regular season Belichick said on Monday of Pittsburgh, "They've been the best team.”

When Sunday's game is over we'll know which team really is.