PITTSBURGH -- The record book says the Pittsburgh Steelers lead the all-time series with the New England Patriots, 15-14, but those paying attention lately probably don't believe it.
The Patriots have defeated the Steelers nine times in 12 games since Tom Brady took over the starting QB job in 2001, and one of the Steelers' three wins in that span occurred while Brady was injured. Another win was avenged in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, when it really mattered.
That was the second such AFCCG win for the Patriots over the Steelers, and Sunday will be the third such meeting.
Will it be the Steelers' charm?
Long-time fans and media no doubt laugh at the idea, because it's not that the Patriots have won nine of 11 with Brady, they've dominated, particularly at Gillette Stadium where the average margin of the four Brady-led victories is 17 points.
And they haven't really been that close.
The modern Steeler, though, appears to be blissfully ignorant of this history. While Ben Roethlisberger yesterday called the Patriots "the gold standard," and said his team is "going up to the lion’s den, the dragon’s lair," many of the younger Steelers just shrugged.
"I just know you line up and you play football," said Stephon Tuitt. "It's probably a good thing that I don't know much about that. I line up and play, and I love to play. I love to play with my teammates. On a team full of young guys, we don't have that in our heads. We go and do what we're going to do, and that's what we've been doing every week."
Tuitt was a starter on a Steelers defense that lost to the Brady-led Patriots last season, 28-21, and again this season, 27-16. Roethlisberger sat out of the latter.
While Tuitt's experienced some of the bitter taste, he hasn't dealt with the heartbreak. He's one of eight defensive starters who joined the team in the last three years.
David DeCastro is similar to Tuitt in that he's a young pillar, but of the offensive line. He's experienced three losses to the Patriots but the fear isn't engrained.
"No, and it's kind of a weird feeling with this team right now. I feel good about it," DeCastro said. "I don't say that in an arrogant way. It's just that we're having fun right now. We're enjoying it. No one's looking at the outside questions, the comments. That's all nonsense, and that's why this is such a beautiful thing. You just come here and practice, play football and have fun like we've been doing the past couple of months.
"Obviously it's working, and hopefully we can keep it going."
Say the name Patriots to a Steelers fan and they're likely to recoil. DeCastro just smiles.
"Nothing scares me," he said. "We know we can beat 'em, but we have to play really well to do that. So, we have confidence. We know what it takes. It just takes a lot more this week."
The Steelers, of course, are riding a nine-game winning streak that includes two playoff and five road games. And four of their last five wins were white-knucklers decided by four points or less. It's no doubt a toughened team, or, as Mike Tomlin might put it, the iron has been sharpened by iron.
"It has," DeCastro said. "That Raven game was insane, and this past game, not being able to score a touchdown, whew. But it's good. We've seen a lot this year. It's been an awesome journey. Just want to keep it going."
They'll have to do it with a win at Gillette Stadium, a haunted house for the Steelers in this millennium, but a place that doesn't seem to frighten a young core that lost by only seven points there last season.
"I think this group has grown up a lot," DeCastro said. "I look at myself, five years now. The first time I went in there I was shellshocked. But the more you do something, the less there is that's mystical about it.
"It's just a game. We're playing on the same field. And that's the way I look at it, just go out there and have fun and enjoy it and do your best. I try to keep it as simple as possible as opposed to making it this mystical picture the media makes it out to be."null