Friday, January 20, 2017

When it comes to Patriots, Steelers have to be ready for anything


By Chris Bradford
January 20, 2017

Image result for steelers patriots foxborough
Nov 3, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) makes a call at the line of scrimmage during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH – Bud Dupree’s NFL debut was a baptism by fireworks and, as they usually end for the Steelers in Foxborough, ultimate frustration.
On a rainy Thursday night last September, the Steelers’ 2015 first-round pick best remembers the din of the 66,829 that packed Gillette Stadium as the New England Patriots celebrated their fourth Super Bowl championship during an elaborate pregame ceremony.
“Loud, man. It was loud,” Dupree said. “It was my first NFL game, period. So I was in shock just being there.”
The Steelers’ 2015 first-round pick was elated, obviously, after recording a sack of Tom Brady on his first pro snap … but then things pretty much went downhill.
Punter Jordan Berry’s sensory reflexes recall something a little different. It was a foul, but universal, odor emanating from the bathrooms in the visitor’s locker room at Gillette.
“I just remember that they used swamp water from outside the stadium in the toilet for the sewage stuff,” said Berry, who also making his NFL debut. “It just reeked in the locker room.”
It was not the only thing that stunk about that game – and others -- for the Steelers in the Boston suburb.
Besides a 29-21 loss, which wasn’t even that close, Mike Tomlin claimed his headset mysteriously gave out for the majority of the first half. Instead of hearing his coaches from the press box, he was reduced to listening to the Patriots’ radio broadcast. “That’s always the case (in Gillette),” Tomlin fumed later.
And that wasn’t even the most bizarre incident that night.
Though he was later cleared of any wrongdoing, James Daniel, the Steelers’ 63-year-old tight ends coach, was investigated by police for allegedly kicking an overzealous Patriots fan as he tried to make his way into a press box elevator.
All in all, it was just another game at Gillette.
“You are going up to the lion’s den, the dragon’s lair,” quarterback Ben Roetlisberger said. “They are the dragon.”
With that backdrop, the Steelers return to Gillette on Sunday night with a trip to Super Bowl 51 at stake. It’s a venue where Roethlisberger has won just once, and it was eight years ago in a game in which Brady didn’t even play. Since its opening in 2000, the Steelers are 1-4 while being outscored by an average of 31.4-22.4 at Gillette.
It will be New England’s first time hosting an AFC championship game since Jan. 18, 2015, against the Indianapolis Colts. Of course, that game is better known for Deflategate, a scandal in which the Patriots were accused of tampering game balls by leaking air pressure from them. That controversy cost Brady a four-game suspension to start this season.
It will be the first time the Steelers have faced New England in the postseason since the 2004 AFC Championship at Heinz Field. Before Antonio Brown’s ill-conceived Facebook Live video, Spygate had been the most infamous case of a Steelers locker room’s sanctity being compromised. Those who played in those days, such as linebacker James Harrison, maintain that the Patriots were tipped off to their play sheets, an allegation not completely unfounded. In 2008, Spygate cost the Patriots a quarter million dollars and a first-round pick.
“They came here and hit us on 90-92 percent of our blitzes,” Harrison said last September. “They only missed one or two, that’s impossible. That’s like going to Vegas and rolling the dice 20-30 times and you only lose twice. Come on.”
That might help explain why, in Brown’s candid locker room video, that Tomlin referred to the Patriots and their coach, Bill Belichick, in a, let’s say, less-than-flattering term. The Steelers would be far from alone in their disdain for the Patriots. Outside of the six New England states, the Patriots have replaced the New York Yankees as sports’ Evil Empire. But like any good put-down, there is an element of truth -- and of admiration.
If it weren’t for New England, its four Lombardi Trophies and 11 AFC title game appearances, including six straight, perhaps the Steelers would be considered the dominant franchise of the new century. It should be worth noting that in each of Pittsburgh’s last three Super Bowl runs, it hasn’t had to go through the Patriots in any.
“Professional respect, competitive animosity,” said Tomlin, on the record, of his thoughts on this week’s opponent. “They haven’t had to go through us, either, since I’ve been here. So, stay tuned.”
Embroiled in their own controversies between Brown’s video and Joey Porter’s arrest, the Steelers have steered clear this week of any talk of potential trickery from the Patriots.
When asked if he had concerns about the sideline communications on Sunday, Tomlin said: “No, I’m not anticipating that at all.”
When asked if there would be adequate security for his staff, Tomlin said: “I’m going to proceed with the assumption that’s the case.”
But it’s also worth noting that here has been increased security at the Steelers practice facility this week. Are the Patriots or the mystique of Brady and Belichick in the Steelers’ heads?
“If you’re mentally weak enough to buy into it and feel like that’s a deciding factor, then you shouldn’t be playing the sport,” said veteran guard Ramon Foster. “Definitely shouldn’t be playing for our team.”
Whether it’s malfunctioning headsets, a smelly locker room or toying with the eligible receiver rules (they did that to the Baltimore Ravens the week before Deflategate), the Steelers insist they’re not expecting the unexpected Sunday in New England. They haven’t deviated their preparation or their game plan. And if something does happen again Sunday in Foxborough, the Steelers have contingency plans in place.
“That’s why we have hand signals, we have wristbands and we’re ready to move on with whatever we need to do,” said Roethlisberger.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tom Brady-Ben Roethlisberger meeting has been a long time coming


January 19, 2017

Image result for roethlisberger brady
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have been to the AFC Championship Game frequently. (Winslow Townson/The Associated Press)

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/nfl/kansas-city-chiefs/article127008724.html#storylink=cpy

FOXBORO — There will be an historically prominent pair of quarterbacks on the field Sunday at Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship Game.

So what took so long?

Patriots franchise cornerstone Tom Brady and Steelers signal caller Ben Roethlisberger have combined to win six Super Bowl rings, the most among opposing quarterbacks in playoff history. It’s also the first time since 1979 and third time ever that two multi-Super Bowl winners have squared off in the postseason.

And to think, Brady and Roethlisberger lead a pair of powerhouse franchises but haven’t met in the playoffs in a dozen years. It had the makings of a great rivalry a decade ago, even if only an appetizer to Brady and Peyton Manning, but the seasons have flown by without it ever materializing.

So this could be, albeit briefly, the start of a mini-rivalry as the two all-timers close down their careers.

“I think there’s always something going on,” Brady said of the historical element surrounding Sunday’s matchup.

The 39-year-old is certainly used to the peripheral storylines surrounding these games. After all, it’s his record-setting 11th appearance in the title game. He met Manning four times with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in back-to-back years.

There were also two major showdowns with the Steelers, including the 2001 title tilt when the visitors felt disrespected by Pittsburgh’s public declaration over its Super Bowl XXXVI plans. And in 2004, after Roethlisberger and the Steelers ended the Patriots’ record-setting 21-game winning streak, Brady and company got revenge in the pair’s lone postseason meeting. And on and on the storylines have gone.

Roethlisberger is the second-most accomplished playoff quarterback in the game today with a 13-6 record and two Super Bowl victories. And to think, the 34-year-old’s credentials pale in comparison to Brady, a four-time champion with a 23-9 record in the postseason. That obviously says more about Brady’s achievements than Roethlisberger, who will have a case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame upon his retirement.

“Ben is an incredible player, and he’s been that way since 2004 when he came into the league,” Brady said. “I’ve always loved the way he plays, very tough, hard-nosed. He’s great for the city of Pittsburgh — a very tough, hard-nosed city.”

Brady, who has a well-documented case as the greatest of all time, is peerless among today’s quarterbacks, and Roethlisberger hasn’t been shy over his appreciation for his weekend opponent. He even asked Brady for his jersey when the teams met in October at Heinz Field.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Roethlisberger said. “I think that’s very well-known. I think he’s one of, if not the greatest, quarterbacks of all-time. It’s been an honor to play against him, to call him a competitor. So I put (the jersey) up in my office with the likes of the (Dan) Marinos and (John) Elways and (Jim) Kellys.”

Surely, Brady will never be part of another rivalry like what he had with Manning, as he was 11-6 against the future Hall of Famer. And Brady may never experience a Super Bowl rematch quite like the Patriots’ pair of meetings with Eli Manning, unless of course Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or Matt Ryan continue exceeding their level of play.

But on the AFC side, what’s left? Brady and Flacco have taken the lead in four duels between the Patriots and Ravens, but Flacco’s inconsistency issues have kept him out of the conversation among the game’s best. And as much as everyone has wanted to elevate Andrew Luck into the discussion, the Patriots’ pair of playoff blowouts over the Colts turned that potential rivalry into a dud. Ditto for Brady and Philip Rivers, who met in back-to-back postseasons before the Chargers tumbled to irrelevance.

Maybe Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota continue to emerge in the coming years, but there are plenty of holes in their teams’ rosters to lock the Raiders and Titans into playoff spots. That’s why Roethlisberger and the Steelers could meet Brady and the Patriots again on the big stage.

But clearly, there’s a degree of flukiness to these showdowns. Heck, Brady and Peyton Manning endured a six-season stretch without crossing paths in the playoffs. And when the Steelers exploded with a 15-1 record in 2004 during Roethlisberger’s rookie season, which was cut down by Brady’s Patriots, it seemed like this could be an annual episode. Oddly enough, this is Roethlisberger’s ninth trip to the playoffs (the Patriots have been in the playoff field in eight of those seasons), but the dearth of meetings remained.

Maybe this can spark something new. Brady wants to play another half dozen years, and Roethlisberger might have the same amount of gas left in his tank. Based on their reciprocal admiration, they probably wouldn’t complain if they could rip off something special, both Sunday and in years to come.

“I think the respect is very mutual,” Brady said.

Fehr, Guentzel help Penguins top Canadiens 4-1


Associated Press
January 19, 2017
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray gloves the puck as they face the Montreal Canadiens during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
MONTREAL -- Matt Murray got back into form, and that's good news for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Murray made 19 saves, and Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.
Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid. The Penguins held on for a wild 8-7 win over Washington on Monday night, with Murray making just 21 saves on 28 shots.
"I wanted to have a bounce-back effort, for sure," Murray said. "I haven't been as good as I need to be for a while.
"I've had a couple of bad games. I definitely wanted to put an end to that and bring as much energy as possible. My game's been there, but I just haven't been making those timely saves in the last couple of weeks and that's what I tried to focus on tonight. The guys made it really easy for me. They played a heck of a game."
Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.
Carey Price's woes also continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games.
"When you allow goals it's usually a team fault, but you've got to look at it for what it's worth on my part -- I need to play better," Price said. "I've also got to stay positive and look at the bright side.
"We're still first in our division and you can't win the Stanley Cup in January, so we've just got to improve moving forward."
A tight-checking first period saw Pittsburgh strike first as Cole took a feed from Evgeni Malkin on a counterattack and scored on a high shot inside the near post with Patric Horqvist screening Price. Malkin picked up his seventh point in five games.
Fehr, who got into the lineup with Matt Cullen out 3-to-4 weeks with a foot injury, was left alone in front to take a pass from Chris Kunitz and score 5:19 into the second. Guentzel made it 3-0 at 17:38 when he tipped a point shot from Cameron Gaunce, who was making his Penguins debut. 
"That's a good team," Price said. "They play a winning style of hockey and that's the reason they won the Stanley Cup last season. A good team like them will take away your options."
Andrighetto got one back at 18:11 when he banked one in off Murray from the side of the net.
Conor Sheary got away with tripping defenseman Jeff Petry behind the Montreal net and fed the puck to Maatta at the point for a low shot that went through Price's pads 15:36 into the third frame.
"As a team, we've got to be better," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "When you don't compete you have no chance to win."
A scoreboard tribute was paid to former Montreal Expos star Tim Raines for his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier Wednesday.
UP NEXT
Penguins: at Carolina on Friday night.
Canadiens: at New Jersey on Friday night.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Steelers have a history with Patriots in AFC Championship Game


By Chris Bradford
January 18, 2017
troy-12
Troy Brown returns a punt for a touchdown in the 2001 AFC Championship game (Patriots.com)

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers are quick to point out that their 36 playoff wins are the most in NFL history. That’s two more victories than second-place Dallas and six more than fifth-place New England.
However, the Steelers amassed 14 of those wins during the franchise’s glory days between 1970-79, when they won four Super Bowls in a six-year span.
In recent years, however, the Patriots are the NFL’s most dominant franchise. Since 2000 and the hiring of Bill Belichick as their coach, the Patriots are 23-9 in postseason play with four Lombardi Trophies on their mantle.
Though the Steelers have also enjoyed great success in the new century, including three Super Bowl appearances, they are a distant 15-8. Two of those losses came against New England in AFC championship games in 2001 and ‘04.
Sunday night’s AFC title game will be the Steelers’ sixth since 2000 and the Patriots’ sixth in a row.
A look at the past Steelers- Patriots AFC Championship games:
2001 AFC Championship: Patriots 24, Steelers 17
At Heinz Field, Jan. 27, 2002
After cutting an early 18-point deficit to just four in the third quarter, Kordell Stewart threw two interceptions in the final three minutes as the Steelers, 10-point favorites, were stunned by New England.
Jerome Bettis returned after being sidelined the previous eight weeks with a groin injury but carried nine times for just 8 yards.
Former Patriots starting QB Drew Bledsoe, who lost his starting job in late September with a punctured lung, replaced Tom Brady in the second quarter to lead New England to victory. Bledsoe completed 10 of 21 for 102 yards and one TD. Troy Brown returned a punt 55 yards for a TD and blocked a field goal that Antwan Harris returned 49 yards for a TD.
A week later, Brady and Aliquippa native Ty Law led New England to a 20-17 upset win over the defending champion St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
2004 AFC Championship: Patriots 41, Steelers 27
At Heinz Field, Jan. 23, 2005
Led by rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger and the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense, the Steelers were riding high. Pittsburgh had a 15-game winning streak, including a 34-20 win over New England on Oct. 31.
This time, New England scored early and often, taking a 24-3 lead into the half. In the coldest game in Heinz Field history, Roethlisberger cooled off on the big stage. The 22-year-old completed 14 of 24 for 226 yards but was intercepted three times.
Tom Brady threw for 207 yards, 116 of them to Deion Branch, who scored on a 60-yard reception in the first quarter.
Jerome Bettis, who rushed for 100-or-more yards the previous three games, was held to 64 yards on 17 carries and hinted after the game he was leaning toward retirement.
Two weeks after beating Pittsburgh, the Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years by beating the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX
After talking Bettis into playing one more season, Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to its fifth Lombardi Trophy the following season.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A legitimate debate about Patriots will end soon


By Christopher L. Gasper
January 16, 2017
Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots
Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers prepares to throw during a game with the New England Patriots in the 1st half at Gillette Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
(Jim Rogash/Getty Images North America)

Legitimate has become a subjective designation. There’s a lot of dispute these days in this country about whose victories merit legitimacy. The Patriots are going to dodge any of that divisive debate, thanks to the outcome of the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan are still firing away. That means the legitimacy of the Patriots’ fifth Lombardi Trophy can’t be questioned if it comes to fruition.
The weekend was a win for the Patriots and their fans. The Patriots dispatched the Houston Texans, despite a lackluster offensive performance, to advance to a sixth straight AFC Championship Game, and the remaining postseason field gives them the chance to silence any defensive detractors.
The Tomato Cans are on the shelf from here on out. There are no more free passes for the Patriots, just capable passers. There’s no more complaining that the Patriots haven’t played anyone or that fate falls at the feet of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
If the Patriots beat Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl winner, in Sunday’s AFC title game and then take down Rodgers, who has a ring, or Matt Ryan, author of an MVP-caliber season, in Super Bowl LI there are no qualifiers or caveats left to discuss. It’s as legit as it gets.
The biggest knock against the Patriots and their stingy defense to this point is not how they’ve played, but who they’ve played. Their level of competition, or lack thereof, this season is a sticking point for the team that allowed the fewest points per game in the NFL (15.6).
Winners of eight straight and 15 games in 17 tries, the Patriots have only played two starting quarterbacks whose teams finished in the top 10 in passing offense. (Roethlisberger missed the Patriots’ first matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 23 with a torn meniscus.) They went 1-1 in a pair of agita-inducing games
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks lit them up in a 31-24 loss. Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals lost when their field goal kicker missed a potential game-winner with 41 seconds left, as the Patriots prevailed 23-21.
Let’s be honest. There have been a lot of weeks this season that the best quarterback the Patriots faced was Jimmy Garoppolo in practice.
There are no more Bryce Pettys, Matt Moores, and Brock Osweilers awaiting the Sons of Belichick. There’s not even a Trevor Siemian-type serviceable QB. It’s pedigreed passers the rest of the way.
Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who ranted about the Patriots’ lack of competition on Twitter during Saturday night’s win over the Texans, will be happy to know that the easy path for Brady and the Patriots is officially closed.
All of their potential remaining roadblocks -- the Steelers, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Green Bay Packers finished in the top seven in the NFL in passing offense. The Falcons (third) and Steelers (tied for fifth) finished in the top five.
Houston had a problem. It couldn’t score. That’s not an issue for the Steelers, Packers, and Falcons.
They all finished in the top 10 in scoring offense; Atlanta led the league, averaging 33.8 points per game. The Packers finished fourth behind the Patriots at 27 points per game. The Steelers were tied for 10th (24.9).
The competition upgrade starts Sunday at Gillette Stadium with a visit from the Steelers, who have won nine straight games. The only time they’ve scored fewer than 24 points during that stretch was Sunday night’s 18-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs to advance to the AFC title game.
The Steelers boast Big Ben, wide receiver Antonio Brown, who has surpassed 100 yards receiving in his last four postseason games, and running back Le’Veon Bell, who has broken the Steelers’ postseason, single-game rushing mark in back-to-back weeks with 167 yards and 170 yards.
This is a far different Steelers team than the one the Patriots defeated, 27-16, back in October. In that game, Roethlisberger’s backup, Landry Jones, threw for 281 yards. This will be the best offense the Patriots have faced all season.
With Peyton Manning retired, Brady v. Roethlisberger is what passes for an AFC quarterback showdown. This will be only the second time they’ve matched up in the playoffs and the first since Roethlisberger’s rookie season of 2004.
Big Ben is 3-6 all-time against the Patriots, including the playoffs. He has completed 61.3 percent of his passes and thrown 19 touchdowns and 9 interceptions against New England, but he has never beaten Brady in Foxborough.
Roethlisberger’s lone win at Gillette Stadium in four tries came in 2008, when Brady was out with a torn ACL.
This is going to look a little different than Osweiler struggling to identify open receivers and throwing the ball with the accuracy of a water sprinkler.
In his last four games against the Patriots, dating back to 2010, Roethlisberger has topped 300 yards each time and thrown 10 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
If the Patriots get past the Steelers, then either the red-hot Rodgers or Matty Ice awaits.
Rodgers is playing on an otherworldly level right now. It feels like he can telekinetically guide the ball wherever he wants, and if he gets it last you’re losing. He has thrown 21 touchdowns and 1 interception during Green Bay’s eight-game winning streak.
Ryan, the Boston College alum, is knocking on the door of the elite QB club. He is a popular MVP pick after throwing for 38 touchdowns (against 7 interceptions) and nearly 5,000 yards this season while completing 69.9 percent of his passes.
Only Rodgers threw more TD passes during the regular season.
Beating two of these three quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks would be an accomplishment any time, but doing it in the most important games of the year would provide the Patriots with a ready-made rebuttal to any schedule-related criticism about how they reached the NFL’s final four.
The Patriots are about to get some legitimate competition and a legitimate chance to bury the degree-of-difficulty argument once and for all.

Patriots’ defensive preparation for Steelers begins with Le’Veon Bell


January 17, 2017

Image result for le'veon bell patriots 2016

Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is tackled by Devin McCourty #32, Duron Harmon #30 and Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots in the first half during the game at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh.

There’s a lot of flash and pizazz to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ explosive offense, especially when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lets it rip.

But the Patriots’ true concern this week as they prepare for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game? It’s the Steelers’ power.

The Pittsburgh offense truly runs through Le’Veon Bell, whose unparalleled rushing style creates problems for even the most disciplined of defenses. That’s why, despite having the day off yesterday, many Pats were fully immersed in their preparation with film study for Bell and the other problems the Steelers present.

In Bell’s nine games since Week 10, he has 1,129 rushing yards, 336 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. And during their eight-game winning streak since Week 11, he has averaged 27.5 carries and 4.3 catches per outing, so the Steelers are letting it ride with their most dominant weapon.

“He is good all of the time,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

Bell’s patience immediately stands out, as he’ll wait for the offensive line to set up their blocking matchups, sometimes even by stopping entirely before accelerating through the hole. And despite his unorthodox vertical, seemingly effortless running style, Bell can cut around a tackler or a blocker with speed and precision. He is also deceptively strong, and that combination of assets helps him turn a little into a lot, as plays commonly appear to be over when Bell disappears into a crowd before he emerges with a nice gain.

That’s the frustrating part for a defense, because they can play technically sound with their gap control and Bell can still slither through a crack.

“Really, very dynamic in his ability to make people miss in open space from a tackling standpoint, a very patient runner,” Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “It’s kind of a different style of running game where he kind of gets to the line of scrimmage and really just finds that hole or that seam, and he has this incredible burst to be able to get through.”
And then there’s the matter of the Steelers offensive line, which is led by a pair of Pro Bowlers in center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro. On many of Bell’s runs up the middle for 8-10 yards, he has two or three linemen right there alongside him at the end of the play.

The Steelers have a great blocking scheme, too. They’ll set up double teams to create a wall for Bell, and they’re also proficient at devising plans to get their offensive linemen into the second level. The Patriots are cognizant of that tactic, and the linebackers don’t want to be stuck in a compromising position that can allow a short gain to turn into something far greater.
Some of those second-level blocking assignments are straight up, but others involve pulling linemen. They typically like to pull from right to left, particularly with DeCastro, but they had several plays in Sunday’s divisional round win in Kansas City against the Chiefs when they pulled from left to right, including a 17-yard run when Pouncey was running almost stride for stride with Bell down the right sideline.

“I think the offensive line, these guys are big and long and strong, and they just cover you up,” Patricia said. “They really do a great job of getting into their blocks and making it very difficult for the defensive line to get off. And then with the speed of Bell and the burst of Bell through the line of scrimmage it’s very difficult to get a good hit on him.”

If the Pats don’t stop Bell, they don’t have a prayer, so that’s where it starts. To their credit, the defense held him to 81 yards over 21 carries in Week 7 when the Steelers relied on him with backup quarterback Landry Jones playing for Roethlisberger. The Pats also haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since November 2015, and it’s only happened four times in 32 Belichick-coached playoff games.

Stopping Bell is about winning matchups, so it wouldn’t be a shock if rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts earned increased playing time because he has been one of their best run defenders. Front-seven anchors like linebacker Dont’a Hightower and linemen Alan Branch and Trey Flowers have been so good against the run that the Pats have the pieces fight back against Bell.

From there, it’s about matchups in the passing game. Cornerback Malcolm Butler should draw a heavy dose of wide receiver Antonio Brown, and safety Devin McCourty will provide help. The Patriots should feel good about that because Butler has been consistently good all season and McCourty has had a terrific two-month stretch, including last Saturday when he played one of the best games of his career in the divisional round win against the Texans.

Cornerback Logan Ryan would then take Eli Rogers or whoever draws the snaps as the second receiver, and safety Patrick Chung will have an important task against tight end Jesse James. Chung has only allowed tight ends to catch 13 passes on 27 targets for 146 yards and one touchdown this season.

The Patriots also have to be aware of some of Pittsburgh’s creativity through the air. The Steelers prey on teams that are consumed by Bell and Brown, so they’ll occasionally stack them out wide to stress the coverage.

But really, the Pats will start with Bell and trust their coverage assignments. That’s how to ensure the Killer B’s don’t ruin their Super Bowl LI party.

Penguins halt Capitals' win streak at 9 in wild 8-7 victory

By Will Graves, Associated Press
January 16, 2017
Image result for penguins capitals january 16 2017
Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary, center, celebrates his game-winning overtime goal with Sidney Crosby (87) and Trevor Daley (6) at the end of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Pittsburgh, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. The Penguins won 8-7. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH -- The goals kept coming. One after another. A dizzying three periods of shots followed by baffled goaltenders fishing pucks out of the net wondering how things got out of hand so quickly.
When Pittsburgh's Conor Sheary ended it 34 seconds into overtime to give the Penguins a chaotic 8-7 victory over the Washington Capitals, Sheary's teammates darted for the tunnel while Washington stood on the bench a little dumbstruck after their nine-game winning streak came to an abrupt -- if highly entertaining -- halt.
"I actually heard the crowd started yelling because I was just digging at it and I was kind of face down on the ice," Sheary said after getting his 13th goal of the season . "Luckily it went in."
At times, it seemed like most of them did.
Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with three assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray earned his seventh straight win at home win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.
The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after two periods, and its eight goals overall were the most Washington has given up since the Penguins rolled 8-1 on Jan. 25, 2006.
"That second period is one of the craziest periods I've ever been associated with," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I don't even know how to assess it."
Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. OshieBrett ConnollyNicklas BackstromJustin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period explosion.
The Capitals came in with the NHL's best defense, leading the league in goals against while rocketing to the top of the hyper-competitive Metropolitan Division. And for about 25 minutes, it seemed Washington was well on its way to a 10th straight win -- which would be the second-longest streak in franchise history -- as it raced to a three-goal lead.
Pittsburgh's rally didn't start with a goal but an elbow. Forward Patric Hornqvist hit Oshie in the corner, leading to a wrestling match with Daniel Winnik that sent both off for roughing.
Malkin's 19th of the season, a one-timer from the right circle, put the Penguins on the board 6:28 into the second. And just like that, the floodgates opened.
"I was slow to react to the pass," Holtby said. "After that, I mean, it was just weird."
Really weird. The teams combined for eight goals over the next 11 minutes, like a video game set to "rookie."
Some were pretty, like Sheary's backhand deflection by Holtby that came after a perfect cross-ice feed from Crosby that split the legs of Washington's Karl Alzner. Some were odd, like Rust's innocent flip from behind the net that ricocheted off Alex Ovechkin's skate and by a surprised Holtby.
Malkin ended the flurry by jamming the puck by a sprawled Grubauer. The fans, perhaps a bit stunned, waited a beat before tossing their hats onto the ice after the Russian star's third goal. Referees spent several moments reviewing it to see if Hornqvist -- sliding on his stomach -- interfered with Grubauer. When the score stood, another handful of hats flew from the stands to celebrate Pittsburgh's first six-goal period since March 21, 2000 against the New York Islanders.
And neither team was done. Crosby gave the Penguins a 7-5 lead 5:55 into the third, but Oshie and Eller beat Murray to tie it and assure each team of at least a point.
"So, we had a lot of things going for us lately, but when things went bad in the second, it went really bad," Eller said.
Game notes
Justin Schultz finished with four assists for Pittsburgh. Trevor Daley added three. ... Ovechkin had two assists for Washington. ... Pittsburgh placed D Kris Letang on injured reserve on Monday with a lower-body injury. ... Washington scratched D John Carlson, who was held out for precautionary reasons due to a lower-body injury. ... Washington went 1 for 4 on the power-play and added a short-handed goal. The Penguins were 1 for 1 with the man advantage.
UP NEXT
Capitals: Continue a three-game road trip at St. Louis on Thursday night. Washington beat the Blues 4-3 in the nation's capital on Nov. 23.
Penguins: Visit Montreal on Wednesday night. The teams split their first two meetings this season, each winning on home ice.