Talk about a battleground state …
Mon., Jan. 17, 2005
FOXBORO, Mass. – The Patriots are getting another shot at the Pittsburgh Steelers, and this time New England will have Corey Dillon in the backfield.
The Patriots and Steelers will play for the AFC title Sunday, a rematch of the conference championship game that New England won en route to its first Super Bowl victory in 2002. The teams also played on Halloween this season, when Pittsburgh won 34-20 to end the Patriots’ record 21-game winning streak.
In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles go to the NFC title game for the fourth consecutive year. After losing their first three tries, two at home, they hope they can beat Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons to advance to their first Super Bowl since 1981.
“We know what’s at stake, we’re a better team now,” Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. “This is our year.”
Philadelphia advanced by beating the self-destructing Minnesota Vikings 27-14 on Sunday, and Atlanta defeated the St. Louis Rams 47-17 on Saturday. The Steelers got past the New York Jets 20-17 in overtime on Saturday.
When the Patriots beat Pittsburgh in 2002, Drew Bledsoe came off the bench for an injured Tom Brady to throw a second-quarter touchdown pass. New England also scored a touchdown on defense and another on special teams.
Pittsburgh waited until this season for revenge. Facing a New England team that hadn’t lost since Week 4 of the previous season, rookie Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to victory on Oct. 31.
Dillon missed that game because of a thigh injury. But now he’s healthy and running well, as evidenced by his 144 yards on 23 carries in Sunday’s 20-3 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
“This is the playoffs,” Dillon said. “Whatever happened in the regular season is left in the regular season.”
The Falcons also have payback on their minds. The Eagles ended Atlanta’s season in the playoffs two years ago with a 20-6 victory.
“Everyone will know if you win, you go to the Super Bowl,” Atlanta coach Jim Mora said. “If you lose, you’re forgotten.”
Atlanta has only reached the NFC title game once in its 39-year history, upsetting Minnesota in overtime to reach the 1999 Super Bowl. Only two players – linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive end Travis Hall – remain from that team.
“This is a totally different team than was here, with a different feel and a different look,” Brooking said. “But it is similar in the sense that we are making plays when we need to.”
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