Steelers shocked

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

First they waved their Terrible Towels.

Then they watched a terrible performance.

At least that's what many long-faced fans were grumbling as they slinked their way out of frosty Heinz Field last night, despondent at the manner in which their heroes were outclassed to the tune of 41-27 to the visiting New England Patriots in the AFC title game.

Big Ben's a bust, one lamented.

Bettis is a bum, cried another.

Well, here's a wakeup call for any of those Pittsburgh Steeler supporters who might be contemplating a dip into the icy waters of the Mohongahela River today in order to drown their sorrows.

The Steelers are not the first team to be waxed by Bill Belichick's juggernaut Patriots.

And they won't be the last.

In an era of free agency and salary caps in which it often seems the majority of teams are 8-8, the Pats are on the verge of becoming a dynasty, if they are not one already.

Beat the Philadelphia Eagles at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville in 13 days, and the Patriots will have captured three Super Bowl crowns in four years.

Maybe they don't have the same ferocity of those bloodthirsty Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the mid-1970s, an intimidating squad that won four Super Bowls in six years.

Maybe the Tom Brady to Deion Branch connection does not conjure up memories of the Joe Montana to Jerry Rice duo, one which helped the San Francisco 49ers to three titles.

And maybe they don't have the swagger of Michael Irvin's Dallas Cowboys, a team that soared to three championships in four years in the mid-1990s.

What they do have is two Super Bowl rings ... and counting.

When the Eagles braintrust meets this week to dissect film of Brady and Co., they'll see a team that already has shredded two of the best squads in the NFL in the past eight days.

A week ago, it was Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, one of the most explosive offences in NFL history, who were supposed to knock off the defending champs.

Instead they could only muster one measly field goal in a 20-3 Patriots victory.

So long, Peyton.

Next up came the Steelers, the only AFC team to post a 15-1 regular-season record.

Surely Bill Cowher's No. 1 ranked defence could suffocate the Patriots like they did on Halloween, a game the Steelers dominated by a 34-20 score.

No chance.

This modern day version of the Steel Curtain melted last night when going up against Brady, the Pats pretty-boy quarterback who is now a perfect 8-0 in post-season play.

"Pittsburgh is outstanding but we have great determination," said Brady, who tossed a pair of touchdowns, including a 60-yard strike to Branch in the first quarter -- the longest scoring pass in Pats post-season history.

More importantly, the Pats did not turn the ball over, a constant trait of the Belichick era.

"Their defence is tremendous, but we did a great job protecting the ball," Brady said.

The Steelers could make no such claim.

For those wearing black-and-gold coloured glasses who chose to overlook rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's jittery two-interception performance against the New York Jets one week earlier, reality struck early and often.

Forget about the fact he set an NFL record by winning his first 14 regular-season starts.

Forget about the fact that Roethlisberger, the Steelers' first-round pick last April, was attempting to become the first rookie quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl.

Despite the hype, he is a 22-year-old kid who looked it last night.

He was picked off three times.

"I let the team and the city down but I'll learn from this," Roethlisberger said.

The Eagles, already 6 1/2-underdogs, had better do the same.


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