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An ‘anxious’ Tom Brady ready for the ‘big build-up’ to Sunday: ‘Hopefully, we’re up for it’ 01.20.17 at 5:50 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For Tom Brady, there’s a fine line between being nervous and simply being anxious for a big game.

For the 11th time in his career, the Patriots quarterback will be playing Sunday night for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. He is 6-4 as a starter in the previous ten trips.

At Gillette Stadium, Brady has been beaten just once in five previous AFC championship games.

Brady was asked if, at the age of 39, he still feels nervous in the hours and days before taking the field for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

“No, I think you just get anxious for games, because there is a big build-up to them and you prepare pretty hard,” Brady said. “So, you finally get out there and play, because you feel like you’ve built up the whole week on the practice field and you’ve talked about a lot of situations and you’ve just got to see how they play out. I think it’s just more anxiousness.”

Brady has certainly played his fair share of physical defenses, from the Jets and Bart Scott to the Ravens and Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs to the Broncos and Von Miller. Now, it’s James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Lawrence Timmons and Stephon Tuitt and the Steelers who will be getting after Brady.

If Brady has proven anything this season, he can take a hit and still execute. Even last week, while taking a beating from Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus and throwing a pair of interceptions, he managed to stand in the pocked and fire a pair of touchdown passes.

Is there anything that intimidates Brady?

“I don’t know if intimidate is the word. I think you always go into the game understanding what gets you beat and cautious of the things they do well,” Brady said Friday. “I don’t think it’s necessarily intimidation. I think what helps you win and lose is really good performance and execution and so forth.”

As for his teammates, Brady is not worried about his teammates being mentally ready for Sunday.

“I think a lot of guys know how to get ready to go, and coach does a good job of preparing them,” Brady said. “I think part of the veteran responsibility is to let some of those guys know anything that you might know as a player, or feel as a player going into a big game like this. So, you try to convey those messages over the course of the week of practice, and basically all the time. Wherever you are you try to let other guys know some of your experiences and how to deal with them. But a lot of people ask questions, and some people take the information and retain it and others don’t. So, you just try to do the best you can do.

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Read More: AFC Championship, New England Patriots, nfl, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Petraglia, Ryan Hannable break down clear advantages for Patriots in AFC Championship vs. Steelers at 10:45 am ET
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FOXBORO — What will be the keys to Sundays AFC Championship game? Just how big is the advantage for the Patriots? Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable preview inside Gillette Stadium.

Read More: Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Ryan Hannable
Bill Belichick on praise from President-elect Donald Trump: ‘I mean really, we’ve got a big game’ at 10:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — Even a mention by the President-elect on the eve of his inauguration couldn’t budge Bill Belichick.

The Patriots coach was predictably all about the AFC Championship game Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium, declining to elaborate on the praise from Donald Trump heaped on him, Tom Brady and Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Thursday evening at a dinner honoring Trump.

Belichick was asked, somewhat rhetorically, if he’d ever been mentioned by a President-elect on the eve of an inauguration.

“No,” Belichick replied.

And Belichick’s reaction to Trump’s kind words?

“I mean, really, we’ve got a big game,” Belichick deflected.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft traveled to Washington Thursday for the inauguration and a dinner, and received a shout-out from Trump, who also said he got a call of support from Tom Brady.

“In the audience we have somebody that’s under no pressure whatsoever because he’s got a great quarterback named Tom Brady and a great coach named Belichick — Bob Kraft,” Trump said. “So, good luck Bob. Your friend Tom just called, he feels good. He called to congratulate us, he feels good. Good luck. You’re going to do great, thanks.”

At the moment Donald J. Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States at noon Friday, Bill Belichick will be on the practice field outside Gillette, putting his team through the final preparations in advance of Sunday’s game.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Donald Trump, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers
Breaking down exactly how Patriots are perfectly-suited to contain Steelers explosive weapons 01.19.17 at 4:31 pm ET
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Jan 14, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) is tackled by New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) during the third quarter in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Dont’a Hightower will be a big part of the Patriots defensive game plan Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Sunday night discipline and fundamentals will meet patience and speed.

The winner will advance to the Super Bowl. The loser will ponder why their approach didn’t work.

The discipline and defensive fundamentals belong to the Patriots defense while patience and speed belong to the Steelers and their explosive offensive weaponry.

The Steelers arguably possess the most feared running back and wide receiver tandem in the NFL in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. They also have a gunslinger in Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and a supporting cast in running back DeAngelo Williams, tight end Jesse James and wide receiver Eli Rogers totally capable of spreading a defense and finding weak spots.

The Patriots have built a reputation as the most disciplined defense in the NFL. They’re not spectacular playmakers but they’re rarely out of position and play with a healthy chip on their shoulders, which Logan Ryan pointed out again Thursday. It’s why Jamie Collins was traded and Jabaal Sheard was benched for a week. If you think you’re bigger than the sum of the parts, you will quickly find your way out of town, or – at the very least – the lineup.

What does discipline on defense mean exactly?

“Basically doing your job,” Dont’a Hightower said. “Patience is something than [Bell] does and discipline is something that will kind of counteract that. A lot of times it’s guys who may have an A-gap and they’re looking in the B-gap and they are shedding, trying to get off because of his patience—not having good enough discipline or getting off and causing those areas that he’s looking for. He has such great quickness and bust that’s he’s able to hit that hole and before you know it, it’s seven yards and he’s pulling the pile for another three yards. Those 2-yard runs, 3-yard runs turn into 11-yard runs real quick.”

Devin McCourty, just like he is on the field, was in sync with Hightower in explaining the approach.

“I think it’s going to start with everyone understanding their role and whatever the defensive call is,” McCourty said. “If you’ve got to be at that one spot we’re going to need you there. They’ve got guys on the field that if they catch a ball on the left side of the defense they can easily end up on the right side if they break a couple tackles. So first is just doing your assignment then I think it’s just pursuit. We can’t be out there jogging or not getting to the ball. We’ve got to get everyone to the ball once the ball is in the air.

“Whether it’s Le’Veon Bell running the ball and he’s so patient behind the line you don’t really know where he’s going to end up once he puts his foot in the ground and goes or it’s one of the receivers catching the ball. If it’s [Darrius] Heyward-Bey on a crossing route he has the speed to catch a pass and turn up field and go 70-80 yards. It’s just everyone hustling, [in] pursuit and just really wanting to get it done. We’ve had plays throughout this season where we’ve seen that. Where we have plays where it’s a five-yard gain and we get all 11 guys to a pile. I think we’ve got to have that for 60 minutes all day Sunday.”
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Read More: AFC Championship, Antonio Brown, Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower
Mike Tomlin ’embarrassed’ at way he dressed down Patriots 01.18.17 at 1:58 pm ET
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Mike Tomlin addressed Antonio Brown's video on Tuesday. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Mike Tomlin addressed Antonio Brown’s video on Tuesday. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

With the chance to clarify his untoward comments about the Patriots in his post-game address to his team Sunday night, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he would take those words back if he knew they were going to be public.

“I was embarrassed by the language,” Tomlin told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. “I take my role as a role model and the platform that we have in the National Football League, very seriously. As a parent, I’m just not into public displays of that type of language. So I was more embarrassed about that element of it, not necessarily the content or the message in the video.”

Did those words express true feelings about the Patriots?

“Man, you’ve could’ve applied that sentiment to any opponent,” Tomlin said. “You could’ve made that tape two weeks earlier [against the Dolphins] and applied it to that opponent. It’s not about the nameless, gray faces that we play for us, it’s about our overall readiness and preparation. And that was the sentiment of the message that was I sending to the guys, not necessarily about the New England Patriots. They just happen to be who we’re playing this week.”

In that video posted by Antonio Brown on Facebook, Tomlin made reference to the fact that the Patriots had head start on the Steelers in their preparation for the AFC championship this Sunday, made more difficult by the fact that the Steelers were playing on the road on Sunday night.

Tomlin was asked if the time change last Sunday has been difficult to compensate for this week.

“It’s not necessarily something to make up,” Tomlin said. “I was just trying to instill a sense of urgency in the group regarding our preparation. And I wanted them to understand that we didn’t have a lot of time to pat ourselves on the back, based on the performance of the last game. We needed to transition, and transition quickly and start the preparation process, whether it was actual preparation or just from a mentality standpoint.”

Back in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Tomlin said that he regrets that Brown posted the video and sent a thinly veiled message to his star receiver that that kind of behavior is the kind of thing that can start a trend of moving from team to team, even for a player of Brown’s caliber.

“I think time always tells those stories,” Tomlin said Wednesday.

Read More: AFC Championship, Antonio Brown, Mike Petraglia, Mike Tomlin
Ben Roethlisberger heaps nothing but praise on Bill Belichick, Patriots and the fans at 11:44 am ET
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Jan 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) looks to pass during the second quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Roethlisberger (7) looks to pass during the second quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Who says Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have glowing things to say about the Patriots or their fans?

Just hours after responding to Julian Edelman with a “we’ve got our trophies” barb, the Steelers quarterback had nothing but glowing things to say about the Patriots head coach, their fans and the organization.

Asked why the Patriots bring out such a visceral reaction like the one Antonio Brown captured in his Facebook Live video, Roethlisberger would only heap praise.

“They’re the gold standard,” Roethlisberger said in a conference call with reporters in New England. “They’re awesome.”

What makes playing the Patriots so difficult?

“You never know what you’re going to get,” Roethlisberger said. “They out-coach you. Have to make adjustments”

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers,
From James Harrison to Bud Dupree, the Patriots are ready for a new ‘Blitzburgh’ 01.16.17 at 9:37 pm ET
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Jan 8, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore (8) passes against pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) during the second quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 30-12. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bud Dupree (48) gets ready to lay out Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore during the second quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

The Patriots aren’t going up against the Steel Curtain Sunday in their mission to get to a record ninth Super Bowl. They are going up against a different type of Steeler defense – a type that’s been around for the better part of three decades.

And it’s a defense that’s been getting better and more aggressive as the season has progressed.

No team had more sacks in the second half of the season than the Steelers, who recorded 30 in the final nine games of the regular season. Their eight sacks against the Browns kicked off a seven-game winning streak to end the season. They continued it in the wild card round against the Dolphins with five sacks of Matt Moore.

They had just one against the Chiefs Sunday night but it was one by the ageless James Harrison. The Texans had the top-ranked defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed but the way the Steelers are attacking the quarterback, they might be the most fearsome defense left in the playoffs.

“Yes, most players are playing at a very high level right now, and seem to get better as the year goes on,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday.

The Patriots kept Tom Brady clean in their Oct. 23 meeting in Pittsburgh, as the quarterback was not sacked.

“They’ve always had an element of those experienced veteran players really helping those younger players come along, and learn the system, and learn what it means to play the way they play in their scheme and their system,” McDaniels continued. “I think those are two good examples right there of guys that [are] much different in terms of their age and experience, but both physical guys, both very difficult to handle in the running game, set the edge in the running game and they do a good job of trying to knock people back.”

The Steelers are also generating turnovers so far in the playoffs. They created three against Miami and two Sunday against Kansas City. If ball security was a weakness Saturday against the Texans, with two interceptions and two fumbles, the Patriots know they have to be on guard this weekend.

“And then [they] can create pressure on the quarterback, whether it’s with speed or power, and they do it both,” McDaniels said. “So, they fit into their scheme nicely, they’ve always done a great job of integrating young players into their scheme, because they know very specifically what they’re looking for. I think those two guys are a good example of what they’ve had for a long time and how they develop these young guys to play really well and integrate them into their system and into their defense.”

When the Steelers added Kevin Greene to the likes of Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland, Jason Gildon and Chad Brown in the mid-90s under Bill Cowher, “Blitzburgh” was born. In the 2000s, there was Joey Porter, James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote and a young James Harrison out of Kent State.

Now, the Steelers have bookended the 38-year-old Harrison (in his second stint in Pittsburgh) with 23-year-old Bud Dupree, the 6-foot-4 beast out of Kentucky that laid out Moore with that devastating hit to the jaw in the wild card round. Throw in Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons, and you have a group that is just as imposing as the group in the mid-90s.

“They have a lot of guys that can do different things,” McDaniels said. “Their down guys are not just run stoppers. [Stephon] Tuitt is a very active guy, and he’s created a lot of pressure on the quarterback from the spots that he plays. They’ll pressure people with pressures, so with linebacker blitzes, so guys like Timmons and Shazier and those types of guys, they all have sacks, they all have quarterback pressures. And then the edge rushers, the Harrison’s and the Dupree’s, those guys, I mean they’re constantly involved in the rush as well. It’s not just one guy; that’s the biggest thing.

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Read More: Bud Dupree, Chuck Noll, James Harrison, New England Patriots
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