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Thursday, October 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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This Game Has Familiar Look But Style Of Chargers, Steelers Usually Saved For Nfc Powers

Barry Wilner Associated Press

It has the look and feel of an NFC championship game: Conservative offenses built around running games, staunch physical defenses looking to tear your head off.

So what are the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers doing in it?

This game would fit perfectly in 1986, when the Washington Redskins and New York Giants butted heads. Or the year before, when it was the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams. This game was made for the conference where bigger, more bruising teams dominated.

So what are the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers doing in it?

They are playing for the right to represent the AFC, known in the last decade as the conference of losers, in the Super Bowl. On Sunday, they will bring to their showdown at Three Rivers Stadium everything a Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs or Mike Ditka would love.

Maybe the AFC finally has gotten things right.

“We’re not shy about what we do best,” Steelers Pro Bowl guard Duval Love says of the NFL’s top-rated rushing game. “We’re going to run it right at you, tell you it’s coming, and see if you can stop it.”

Not the most exciting stuff. Certainly nothing like John Elway or Dan Marino playing bombs-away. Or the Buffalo no-huddle attack.

But possibly the most effective stuff for a conference that has lost 10 straight Super Bowls, being overpowered in most of them with the likes of the Broncos and Bills. This is the first time in a decade that either Denver or Buffalo is not in the title game.

“If teams shut us down in the first quarter, we’re not going to say, ‘We can’t run, we’re going to pass,”’ Steelers rookie running back Bam Morris adds. “Eventually, we’re going to wear them down and then we’ll get big yardage.”

That kind of style can wear on the fans, too. Most of America will eagerly await the third straight NFC championship matchup between Dallas and San Francisco. Will the folks stay tuned to a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair in the AFC game, which starts 3-1/2 hours earlier?

The participants couldn’t care less. They know everybody will be watching them if they get to the Super Bowl.

“You can’t flip the script,” says Natrone Means, San Diego’s thundering 245-pound running back. “You’ve got to keep doing what’s made you successful.”

There is some hope, however, that these neanderthals just might revert to AFC form. In the season finale at San Diego, the Chargers won a shootout, 37-34. They combined for 786 yards, 43 first downs and eight touchdowns.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a totally different game,” All-Pro linebacker Greg Lloyd says. Lloyd was one of four starters - All-Pro cornerback Rod Woodson, tight end Eric Green and fullback John L. Williams were the others - who didn’t play at San Diego. Many other key Steelers played sparingly, because Pittsburgh already had clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

“They played a good ballgame out there against us. But when you look at it, I didn’t play, Woodson didn’t play … and those guys still had to pull out every string to beat us.

“I don’t think we showed them everything we have. What we did show them was we have enough depth on this team to line up and play.”

Everyone will play for Pittsburgh today. The Chargers should have all their guns, except perhaps defensive tackle Shawn Lee, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Monday, but has not been ruled out by coach Bobby Ross.

Neither side will rule out some trickery from the opponent. But both know it isn’t likely, particularly on defense, where linebackers Junior Seau for San Diego, and Lloyd and Kevin Greene for Pittsburgh are All-Pros.

“They’ll try to get Seau to the ball and make some big plays with their secondary,” Green said. “Seau is the guy we have to watch out for.”

“That Lloyd is a hell of a football player,” said Ross. “He’s a tremendous athlete. The thing that stands out is not only his quickness and all those things that are so evident, but the guy knows how to finish a play. It appears to me he is somewhat the emotional leader of their defense.

“The problem is you can’t lock in on him, because they have the other guy (Greene) on the other side of the field, and the guys up front who are pretty good.

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