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Steelers aim for revenge against Pats

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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PITTSBURGH

Ryan Clark has spent almost a week hearing about New England’s past offensive achievements against his Pittsburgh Steelers defense.

He's heard enough.

Speaking with FOXSports.com after practice Friday, the hard-hitting free safety acknowledged Tom Brady’s 6-1 career record and stellar passing numbers when facing the Steelers. Clark, though, is equally upset with how the Patriots have responded while enjoying such success. That includes a December 2007 incident in which Brady jaw-jacked safety Anthony Smith after wide receiver Randy Moss beat him on a touchdown pass. Smith had boldly predicted Pittsburgh would end New England’s then-perfect season.

“When they play against us, they don’t really try to beat us physically but technically,” said Clark, who was replaced by Smith in that 2007 game because of injury. “Tom Brady gets the ball out of his hands extremely quick to try and get run after the catch.

“Also, if you watch the antics of this team when they do score on us — Tom Brady and the running backs spiking the ball, throwing a touchdown and running to talk to Anthony Smith — you see that there’s no respect there. Maybe at times we’ve given them too much respect.

“For me, personally, that’s over.”

Thus the stage is set for a game that will determine which team should be respected as the AFC’s best at the midway point of the 2011 campaign.

So far this season, conference supremacy has resembled an ice cream parlor. There were multiple Flavors of the Week — Buffalo, Tennessee, Houston, San Diego, Oakland, the New York Jets and, most recently, Baltimore — but the mainstays remain chocolate and vanilla.

In NFL terms, that’s the Patriots and Steelers — the franchises that have made the most Super Bowl appearances (a combined nine) in the past 17 seasons.

This isn’t that much of a surprise considering they were the AFC’s top two playoff seeds last season. But the road Pittsburgh has traveled en route to a 5-2 record was far bumpier than that taken by New England (6-1).

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A 35-7 loss at Baltimore in the season opener led to Warren Sapp-inspired criticism that Pittsburgh’s defense was, as Clark put it Friday, “old, slow and done.” It wasn’t. The Steelers enter the game Sunday ranked third in both total and scoring defense.

“It’s extremely funny that there was so much dirt being thrown on us,” said Clark, who ranks third among Steelers defenders with 42 credited tackles. “Go check the stats now, see where we’re ranked. But nobody is talking about that. It was, 'Let’s pile on. Let’s kick them while they’re down.’ ”

“Embarrassing” is the word Clark and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin used to describe the Ravens debacle. But in retrospect, the result might prove a godsend. The Steelers were given a discomforting reminder that reaching the Super Bowl last season doesn’t mean squat this season. Tomlin also said the Ravens game prompted players to refocus on their fundamentals.

“There’s no denying that (was a wake-up call),” Tomlin said. “These guys are competitors. To go out and perform the way we did, it was humbling. It’ll right you if you’ve got it in you.”

The Steelers still weren’t completely right after a 2-2 start but have since won three consecutive games. The most encouraging part of this stretch: Pittsburgh’s offense has shown signs it might be able to keep pace with the Patriots if the defense struggles to stop the Brady Bunch again.

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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s six completions of 40-plus yards is just two shy of his total for the entire 2010 season. Wide receiver Mike Wallace also has emerged as the speedy deep threat Pittsburgh sorely lacked in previous meetings with New England. Wallace scored on a 95-yard touchdown catch last Sunday in a 32-20 win at Arizona.

Steelers left tackle Max Starks acknowledged Pittsburgh will probably need similar fireworks against the Patriots.

“They don’t have to depend on their defense as much as a lot of other teams because their offense is going to score so many points,” said Starks, whose return to the starting lineup three games ago helped stabilize Pittsburgh’s offensive line. “They can take risks and hit you with some oddball-type (defensive) front or blitz because they know even if we get one over the top on them their offense is going to match it. When you play like that, it’s from a position of strength.

“What’s their defense ranked — last? But the Patriots still have the record they do.”

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Clark opined that “this is the first time in a while we’re playing somebody we’re not supposed to beat.” Clark, though, said the Steelers aren’t trying to push a little-guy motif in the locker room despite being three-point underdogs.

“We’re never going to play the damsel-in-distress role, but we understand the importance of beating a good team,” Clark said. “This will be the first team we beat that we may have to see again. That’s what’s important about winning this game.”

Now it’s up to Clark and his teammates to give the NFL something new to talk about besides Patriots dominance.
 

Tagged: Titans, Patriots, Steelers, Tom Brady, Ryan Clark, Anthony Smith, Mike Wallace

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