Patriots' next call: Bledsoe or Brady?

Notebook

For starters, Belichick has tough QB decision

Pro Football : AFC Championship Game

January 28, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH - The New England Patriots are heading to the big game with a big question.

Who will be their starting quarterback?

Tom Brady, who led the Patriots to a charmed playoff run, rolled his left ankle late in the first half and did not return. In his absence, Drew Bledsoe engineered New England's only touchdown drive in stating his case to regain a starting job lost in September because of a chest injury.

"We'll take a look at Tom's situation and make an evaluation there," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll make a decision later on in the week. We're trying to enjoy the victory. We'll take care of some of those other things later on."

When asked about his health, a limping Brady was not forthcoming.

"I'm feeling good, and that's all Coach wants us to say," said Brady, who was 12-for-18 for 115 yards before the injury.

According to Belichick, Brady could have returned to the game yesterday.

"I just felt like the way things were going, we were better at that particular point in time with a healthy Drew Bledsoe rather than not knowing exactly where Tom was with his injuries," Belichick said.

Does Bledsoe think he will start the Super Bowl?

"I don't know," Bledsoe said. "Obviously, this is the biggest game there is, and everybody wants to play in this game. It would be a hard situation."

Steelers grounded

One of the keys to New England's success was its ability to stop the Pittsburgh running game.

The Steelers, who had the league's top rushing attack, were held to a season-low 58 yards on the ground. Pittsburgh's running backs combined for just 19 yards, as quarterback Kordell Stewart rushed for 41 yards. (Receiver Hines Ward lost 2 yards on a run.)

"It's just team defense," Belichick said. "No one guy can stop that running game."

The respect factor

Lack of respect became major motivation for the Patriots. But they feel they still need to take another step to justify themselves.

"I think that the only way we are going to get our respect is not even making it to the Super Bowl, but to win it," safety Lawyer Milloy said. "Hopefully, we'll have a party at the end of the year and nobody else will be invited."

The Patriots were also miffed by entering yesterday's game as 10-point underdogs.

"It was the same for us as it was when Pittsburgh played a 1-12 Detroit [team]," Belichick said. "I think that definitely rubbed us the wrong way."

Kick in the pants

Steelers kicker Kris Brown wrapped up a forgettable season when his 34-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Brandon Mitchell and returned for the game's pivotal touchdown. Brown missed a league-worst 14 field goals during the regular season.

When asked about the block, Brown said, "The most dreaded sound a kicker hears is that thud. I tried to tackle the guy [Troy Brown] who returned it, but he lateraled it and they scored a touchdown. Nothing more needs to be said."

Stewart's slump

Stewart, an MVP candidate during the regular season, continued a late slump. He finished 24-for-42 for 255 yards but threw three interceptions.

So how would Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher evaluate Stewart's performance?

"I think the day is going to be evaluated by wins and losses," Cowher said. "That's been our stamp from Day One, and he feels the disappointment like everybody else."

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