In a few days it will be determined whether or not the Steelers move on to make an NFL record 9th Super Bowl appearance, following an NFL record 16th AFC Championship game appearance. To get here, the Steelers have had to overcome more injury and adversity then any of the three remaining teams, and now, they just might be the healthiest and most complete team remaining. The history of this 16 year rivalry coincides with the birth of the Patriots dynasty which began in 2001. The Patriots first Super Bowl championship came at the expense of the Steelers, who they defeated 24-17 in the AFC Championship game, and now, 15 years later, the Steelers have the chance to put an end to the Patriots dynasty, in what could be the only opportunity for 39 year old Tom Brady to become a 5x Super Bowl Champion.
The difference between this AFC title game and their previous two meetings, is that these Steelers have players and a coaching staff with Super Bowl experience behind them. They understand the pressures and the preparation that go along with chasing a Lombardi trophy, but perhaps the best thing that the Steelers have in their favor is that, in round three, they are the hunters. Typically, when they are playing the role of hunter, as opposed to being the hunted, the Steelers are at their most dangerous. The Patriots may very well be in over their heads this time around. With the Patriots recent criticism of Mike Tomlin, and a Steelers organization with two more Lombardi Trophies than the Patriots currently possess, they certainly aren’t doing themselves any favors.
He has more receptions over the span of the last four years than any receiver in history over the same period of time. He works as hard as it takes for all that he has achieved, and he shares his success with his fans to a greater degree than most. Maybe he likes to dance following touchdowns, and maybe he loves to celebrate big wins by bringing his fans into the post game celebration, so what does that make Antonio Brown? Definitely not a bad teammate or a locker room distraction. It’s what makes him the best wide receiver in the game who has an unbridled joy for getting to play the game he loves. Brown never has been a problem or a distraction, no, that distinction belongs to guys like Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens. They were problems and distractions, and the reason that the league has the kind of celebration rules that they do in place.
The New England Patriots are the defending world champions, and still very good, but not the team that they once were. On offense, the Patriots are already without TE Rob Gronkowski, and might not get a whole lot out of backup TE Martellus Bennett either, who is battling a knee injury. Their deep threat at WR has been Chris Hogan, who has six games this season where he averaged over 2o yards per reception, and four games with over 90 yards. Rounding out the receivers are Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola (ankle), and Malcom Mitchell, who is also dealing with knee issues.
On defense, New England is led by Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Trey Flowers, and Jabaal Sheared. Flowers and Sheared lead the Patriots in sacks while Butler leads them with 4 interceptions. The Patriots played a cupcake schedule this past season, and faced a multitude of backup quarterbacks, including Landry Jones. This will be the first time this season they have faced a team with the kind of firepower that the Steelers have on offense, and the size, speed, and playmakers they have on defense.
Ben Roethlisberger lives for games like this, and although he has had his issues on the road this season, a win here gets the Steelers to the big dance, and Ben will show up in full force. With the belief that they can beat anyone, anywhere, the Steelers are ready to make the third time against the Patriots count, and they will. The young defense doesn’t blink, LeVeon Bell continues his torrid pace, and Ben Roethlisberger shows once again why he is an elite quarterback, by being Big Ben in a big game.
Steelers 28-Patriots 24