Err out of Steelers sails

STEVE MacFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

Last week, Ben Roethlisberger looked like a rookie for the first time this season.

He tossed a pair of interceptions against the Jets -- one returned for a touchdown and the other at a critical moment in the fourth quarter -- during the 20-17 overtime victory that set up this week's Conference Championship showdown with the defending champs.

Luckily for the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, a couple of field goal misses by New York's Doug Brien allowed Big Ben to redeem himself during the game-winning drive.

Against the New England Patriots Sunday, mistakes will cost the Steelers a trip to the Super Bowl.

Nobody understands that better than Roethlisberger.

"I definitely can't make any mistakes," he said this week. "One mistake is too many out there but you still have to learn to play within yourself. Try not to do too much and play within the offensive system. I just need to use the guys around me a lot more than I probably did on Saturday (against the Jets)."

Despite his freshman status, Roethlisberger has to be considered a team leader because of the position he plays. After shaking off the near disaster, he watched tape of last week's game to learn from his errors and is ready to bounce back.

His teammates have faith in him.

"It doesn't matter if it's a divisional playoff game or an AFC Championship football game, he's definitely going to bounce back and play a lot better this week," said Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress. "We have all of the confidence in the world in him. He's one of the reasons why we're in the position that we're in and we all know that."

Big Ben was instrumental in his Steelers' 34-20 over the Patriots in Week 8. He didn't break 200 yards passing but threw two touchdowns to Burress and no interceptions to stop New England's winning streak at 21 games.

Pittsburgh jumped out to a 21-3 lead in the first quarter thanks to the pair of strikes to Burress and a Deshea Townsend interception return for a touchdown.

The Steelers defence got to Pats quarterback Tom Brady but New England's defenders had no such luck with Roethlisberger.

"We threw some blitzes at him last time and he was able to stay calm, cool and collected and was able to deliver the ball downfield," said Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi this week.

* NEW ENGLAND -3 AT PITTSBURGH: Running back Corey Dillon will play the Steelers for the first time this season after sitting out the Patriots' 34-20 loss in Week 8.

Dillon will help New England's offence but Pittsburgh's defence is more than capable of unseating the defending champs.

The real difference-maker in this game could be Steelers speedster Antwaan Randle El, kick returner and third wide receiver. Steelers 24, Patriots 23.

* ATLANTA +51/2 AT PHILADELPHIA: Despite an easy win against the Vikings last week, the Eagles didn't look like a dominant team playing a porous defence.

If Philadelphia plays this weekend's game with the same lack of passion and doesn't have the lucky bounces go its way, Michael Vick's Falcons will stun the Eagles the same way they surprised the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau two years ago. Falcons 27, Eagles 24.

CHECK THE RECORD: Last week: 2-2 against the spread; 3-1 straight up. Playoffs: 5-3 ATS; 4-4 straight up. Regular season: 122-122-8 ATS; 158-98 straight up.


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