Patriots and Steelers go at it again

Posted: Friday, September 23, 2005

The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t been tested yet. New England was tested in Carolina last week and failed.

Still, the Steelers know what they’re facing Sunday at Heinz Field, their third meeting with New England there in 11 months.

‘‘This is one of those games you circle on your calendar,’’ Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward says. ‘‘You’re not going to put all of your chips in one game. But when anyone plays the Patriots, you’re going to play your best. You’re going to have to play your best.’’

The rest of the Steelers know that well.

After all, Ben Roethlisberger’s only loss as a starting quarterback was against New England in last season’s AFC championship game. The Patriots, who lost 34-20 to the Steelers in the regular season, won that one 41-27, intercepting Roethlisberger three times and making him look like the rookie he was.

Roethlisberger is now 16-0 as a starter in the regular season after wins over Tennessee and Houston by a combined score of 61-14. He has four TD passes, no interceptions and a passer rating of 153.6, only 4.7 points from perfect.

In part that’s because he still doesn’t have to do much — he’s thrown just 32 times. Most of the load has been carried by Willie Parker, who moved up from third string when Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley were hurt and has rushed for 161 and 111 yards in the two games.

The Patriots should be much more difficult than the Titans and Texans, despite offensive line problems that contributed to a mistake-filled 27-17 loss in Carolina last week, only their fifth loss in their last 40 games.

‘‘The passing game wasn’t as efficient as it needs to be. The running game wasn’t,’’ Bill Belichick said. ‘‘Defense. Special teams. You can go right down the line. There wasn’t one part of that game that there isn’t quite a bit of room that could stand some improvement.’’

The Patriots haven’t won three Super Bowls in four seasons by ignoring his words.

In other games Sunday, Carolina is at Miami; Atlanta at Buffalo; Cincinnati at Chicago; Cleveland at Indianapolis; Tennessee at St. Louis; Jacksonville at the New York Jets; Tampa Bay at Green Bay; Oakland at Philadelphia; New Orleans at Minnesota; Arizona at Seattle; Dallas at San Francisco; and the New York Giants at San Diego.

Kansas City is at Denver on Monday night.

Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and Washington are off.

Jacksonville (1-1) at New York Jets (1-1)

If a loss can be called ‘‘good,’’ it was the Jaguars’ 10-3 defeat in Indianapolis last week. They held Peyton Manning to 122 yards passing and a rating of 44, his worst in four years. Overall, they intimidated Manning as he’s rarely been intimidated outside New England.

QB Byron Leftwich injured a groin in that game and safety Donovin Darius is gone for the season with a knee injury. Leftwich says he’ll play; David Garrard is a capable backup.

The Jets have injury problems, too. RB Curtis Martin hurt a knee last week in a win over Miami and QB Chad Pennington’s shoulder still doesn’t seem to be at full strength.

Kansas City (2-0) at Denver (1-1) (Monday night)

A win by the Chiefs would leave them two games ahead in the AFC West. Their defense is certainly better — the 24 points allowed in wins over the Jets and Raiders was what they used to allow in about a half.

The Broncos got a last-minute win over San Diego and may have found the latest plug-in running back in Ron Dayne, who had 38 yards on their winning drive. Dayne, who backs up Mike Anderson, was a first-round bust with the Giants, but coach Mike Shanahan says: ‘‘I think he fits our system a little better.’’

New York Giants (2-0) at San Diego (0-2)

This Sunday night game is more critical to the Chargers than to the Giants. The featured player is New York quarterback Eli Manning, who told the Chargers not to take him with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft. They did anyway, then traded him for Philip Rivers and draft choices.

Rivers has been sitting behind Drew Brees, although he might play soon if Brees continues to struggle — he threw an interception returned for a TD in Denver. LaDainian Tomlinson has only 124 yards rushing and is averaging 3.3 yards a carry, although he set a record last week by running for a touchdown for the 14th consecutive game.

Atlanta (1-1) at Buffalo (1-1)

The question here is Michael Vick’s sore hamstring, which limited him on the Falcons’ final possession in a 21-18 loss in Seattle. If he can’t go, it will be Matt Schaub, nowhere near as mobile. That’s not a good thing against the Buffalo defense.

But Buffalo had its own quarterback problems in its loss in Tampa Bay, where J.P. Losman struggled in his second career start. He was run out of the end zone for a safety and finished just 12-of-28 for 113 yards.

New Orleans (1-1) at Minnesota (0-2)

Maybe the mental and physical exhaustion has gotten to the Saints, who have carried the burden of being the sports symbol of the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. That might explain six turnovers at their ‘‘home opener’’ at Giants Stadium on Monday night.

Nothing explains what’s happened to the Vikings and Daunte Culpepper, who has thrown eight interceptions in losses to Tampa Bay and Cincinnati. The Vikings’ only offensive touchdown came after they were down 37-0 in Cincy, and the interceptions are only three less than Culpepper had in 16 games last season

Cincinnati (2-0) at Chicago (1-1)

What was up with the Bears last week, when they flattened Detroit 38-6? ‘‘We need to win a couple games before we can really say we feel good about ourselves. We won one game, and we just evened up the score,’’ said Muhsin Muhammad, who went to the Super Bowl with Carolina two seasons ago and isn’t about to get as giddy as some Chicago fans.

After 14 years out of the postseason, Cincinnati looks like a playoff team. Carson Palmer is maturing and the young defense leads the league in takeaway margin.

Oakland (0-2) at Philadelphia (1-1)

The Raiders are learning that Randy Moss doesn’t help enough against a killer schedule that began in New England, then continued with a 23-17 loss to Kansas City last week.

This game pits Moss against Terrell Owens, the NFL’s two best and most vocal wide receivers. But Moss doesn’t have the supporting cast: Kerry Collins certainly isn’t Donovan McNabb, though he’s dangerous when protected.

Cleveland (1-1) at Indianapolis (2-0)

Peyton Manning has just two touchdown passes in two games after a record 49 last season and was shut out in the Colts’ 10-3 win over Jacksonville last week. His passer rating of 74.7 is 1.6 points lower than brother Eli’s.

This probably should be easier, although the Browns got Romeo Crennel his first win as a head coach last week in Green Bay.

Tampa Bay (2-0) at Green Bay (0-2)

This rivalry produced some classics when both teams were powers in the same division. The Bucs probably wish they were back with the old NFC Central teams, because the NFC North could have a champion under .500.

It probably won’t be the Packers, who are feeling the effects of an offensive line torn apart by free agency and injury. Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, Anthony McFarland and company are likely to exploit that against Brett Favre, who is experiencing a lot of adversity at the end of a brilliant career.

Arizona (0-2) at Seattle (1-1)

If the Cardinals are to come anywhere close to being the contender some people thought they were, they better win this game.

‘‘It seems like too many people, whether the fans or the media, all of a sudden think this is a typical season,’’ coach Dennis Green whined after a bad loss to St. Louis. ‘‘There is no such thing as a typical season, not for the Cardinals, not for San Diego, not for Minnesota.’’

Seattle’s typical season is between 9-7 and 7-9. The Seahawks showed enough at home against Atlanta last week to suggest this could be a little better than typical. Maybe.

Carolina (1-1) at Miami (1-1)

The Panthers’ bounceback win over the Patriots legitimized some of the preseason expectations. And even with DT Kris Jenkins gone for the season, their defensive line demonstrated it still can be one of the game’s best.

But this might not be the easiest of tasks for Carolina. Nick Saban has the Dolphins playing hard. In truth, their defense has been good since Dave Wannstedt stepped down midway through last season.

Tennessee (1-1) at St. Louis (1-1)

The teams that met in the 2000 Super Bowl aren’t nearly at that level now, in part because they stayed good for about as long as anyone can with the salary cap.

But the Titans still have QB Steve McNair and seem to be developing a solid corps of younger players, which bodes well for the future.

Dallas (1-1) at San Francisco (1-1)

The Cowboys have only themselves to blame for their loss to the Redskins on Monday night, the first time in 78 games a Bill Parcells-coached team has lost after holding a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.

It probably was cruel for the NFL to send the 49ers to Philadelphia after their uplifting opening-game win. Especially with the Eagles having lost in Week 1.

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