Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Champs Stand Tall; New England Makes the Big Plays, Earns Chance to Defend Super Bowl Title

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Champs Stand Tall; New England Makes the Big Plays, Earns Chance to Defend Super Bowl Title

Article excerpt

Byline: VITO STELLINO, The Times-Union

PITTSBURGH -- Tom Brady is still perfect in the playoffs and the New England Patriots are still super.

The Patriots are heading to Jacksonville for Super Bowl XXXIX in two weeks in search of their third championship in the last four years because Brady easily outdueled rookie Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC title game Sunday in freezing weather at Heinz Field.

While Brady threw two touchdown passes, Roethlisberger threw three interceptions as the Patriots jumped to a 24-3 halftime lead and then held off a Pittsburgh comeback attempt to beat the Steelers, 41-27.

Deion Branch, who was sidelined with an injury when the Patriots lost 34-20 in Pittsburgh on Oct. 31, caught four passes for 116 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown pass, and ran 23 yards for another touchdown.

The Patriots, who beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII last year, will now play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX at Alltel Stadium. The Patriots are 6-point favorites.

"It's a great pleasure for us, on to Jacksonville," owner Bob Kraft said as he accepted the Lamar Hunt Trophy from Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath for winning the AFC title.

The Patriots won what was expected to be a low-scoring, defensive battle because they had the huge advantage in the two definitive matchups in any game -- coach and quarterback.

While New England coach Bill Belichick is 9-1 in the playoffs, Steelers coach Bill Cowher is 8-9 and 1-4 in home AFC title games since 1994. He's also been the top seed five times since 1992 and failed to make the Super Bowl all five times. The only time Cowher made the Super Bowl was as a No. 2 seed in 1995.

Belichick's 9-1 mark ties the late Vince Lombardi for the best percentage among coaches with 10 or more playoff games on their playoff resume.

"It's very flattering to be mentioned in the same breath with Vince Lombardi," Belichick said. "I don't think I'm deserving of that. I've been fortunate that I've got some outstanding players."

Brady, who's 8-0 in the playoffs, had the edge over Roethlisberger, who failed in an attempt to become the first rookie quarterback to make the Super Bowl. …

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