The time for talk is over.
Two of the most respected and successful NFL franchises will face off in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, and the matchup has the makings of something special.
The game has everything: two of the most talented quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, two of the best head coaches (Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin) and rosters loaded with offensive talent.
On paper, though, the Patriots have the edge. Namely because of Belichick and Brady.
“You’re going up to the lion’s den. The dragon’s lair,” Roethlisberger said of having to face New England in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where the Patriots are 33-4 overall since 2013 and 16-3 in the playoffs. They’ve also hoisted the Lombardi Trophy four times in six trips to the Super Bowl since 2001.
“They’re the dragon,’’ Roethlisberger said. “We’re trying to slay them.”
The two franchises have won 10 Super Bowls between them, including six of the past 16. But for all of their talent, the Steelers — winners of five consecutive road games, counting the playoffs — are the clear underdogs.
“We’re 60 minutes away [from the Super Bowl],” Pittsburgh defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “Trust me, guys’ eyes are going to be so wide. It’s going to be heartbeats, you’re going to be able to hear a pin drop. People are going to be ready to go. That’s going to be a fun part, especially when you’re going against the Patriots.
“Who else better is a better opponent to be able to go to a Super Bowl than to go through the Patriots? We’ve got to give everything we have to make sure we go through that.”
Added Roethlisberger: “They are the best in the world. They are the gold standard, if you will. So you want to have that opportunity to go up to play the best. It will be an awesome challenge for us.”
Pittsburgh is 1-3 against New England in the playoffs, and in their previous postseason meeting during the 2004 season, the Patriots defeated the Steelers at Heinz Field to clinch the conference title. But Brady said the constant talk of their past success isn’t a distraction for the Patriots.
“It’s just important for us to focus on what our job is, and that’s to go out and play well,” he said. “Our job is to show up and try to do a great job when we get the chance, and that’s the way it’s been all year for us.
“We have to play our best game of the year,” Brady added. “I think that’s what it comes down to. We’ve got to all do whatever it takes to be at our best for those three hours on Sunday night. They put a lot of pressure on you in a lot of areas. They’re tough to prepare for. We’re going to have to just rise to the occasion.”
Brady and Roethlisberger are the first multiple Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks to meet in the playoffs since 1979 (the Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw and the Cowboys’ Roger Staubach). And in order for the Steelers to escape the hostile environment at Gillette Stadium, they’ll need to get after Brady and execute on both sides of the ball for four full quarters.
But that’s easier said than done — especially after a week in which as many as 15 Steelers were battling stomach flu.
“We’re not making excuses,” Tomlin said. “We’ll be there. We’ll be ready to play.”