PHOTO: Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward celebrates Pittsburgh's 27-10 win over the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 20, 2002, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers will host the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship next Sunday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Steelers Receiver Confident in Matchup Against Patriots
By Ken Castro, Patriots Insider Contributor
Midway through last Sundays AFC Divisional matchup, it became brutally clear that there was a fatal flaw in the reasoning of Patriots fans who, leading up to the game, felt a nervous twitch whenever the names of Manning, Wayne, and Harrison surfaced.
The rational was sound in theory, given the eye-popping numbers that the trio etched in time. But such anxiety among New England fans waned as the Patriots patchwork secondary clamped down in earnest on the Manning- to- Harrison air show on the way to an AFC title bid.
In Pittsburgh this weekend, Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress will attempt to accomplish what the Colts receivers found daunting; to move the ball with regularity and keep Tom Brady and his cadre of receivers on the sidelines.
Ward, who garnered 80 receptions (1,004 yards) during the Steelers 2004 campaign, was the recipient of a pair of TD passes from Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburghs Halloween win over the Patriots. Coming off a 105 yard-10 reception day over the Jets last weekend, Ward figures to get a lot of attention this Sunday. Upsetting the pass and catch rhythm of Roethlisberger and Hines should be interesting.
We are starting to gel, Ward said. We are starting to get that chemistry where we are able to communicate out on the field. We come to the sideline and speak after every series and learn what the defense is trying to do. We are all on the same page, and the timing of our routes, just working with one another now. Ben doesn't have just one go to guy. He has a rapport with everybody, and I think that's something that I think develops over the season.
Ward is looking at the lead-up to Sundays game as one in which there is no deviation from a norm that has provided Coach Bill Cowhers Steelers with 16 victories thus far.
He's just wanted us to keep our same routine, don't really get out of our elements and worrying about next week and stuff like that, said Ward. Let's just continue doing what we've been doing and taking the one-game-at-a-time approach. And that's why we were able to have a streak like we had, winning 14, 15 games straight, because we were able to take it one game at a time and not really overlook anyone.
Can the Patriots upset the apple cart of the Steelers psyche?
That's just been our whole demeanor for the year, and it's not going to change this week. We are going to come out and prepare. And going against the Patriots, we know they have a solid team, so we are going to have to bring our A game, no question. Each player out there, special teams, offense, defense, we have to bring our A games and make sure we can increase our chances to win this ballgame, Ward concluded.
Ward, like the Colts receivers before him, is anticipating a wealth of different looks from the Patriots. It's going to be tough for us just to go out there and maintain our level, he offered. We can't sit there -- I'm pretty sure Coach Belichick is going to have something, because Plax (Burress) is obviously our deep threat and you have to be able to contain him.
As for the Patriots secondary, Ward doesnt entertain the theory that alarmed New England fans prior to the Colts game, They have done a tremendous job all year, he said. Losing a guy like Law, and then Poole going down; but I think Harrison, he keeps those guys together. He's putting them in the right position. And Belichick, he's not going to go out there and put them in a situation where they can get exposed as far as giving up big plays.
Ken Castro is a freelance sports journalist covering Greater Boston and Rhode Island area sports teams for the AP, local papers and magazines. He continues to assist the Patriots Insider with coverage of the New England Patriots football team. You can read more of his articles on PatriotsInsider.com by searching for "Ken Castro". Ken can be reached via e-mail here: subject "Other"
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