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Big Ben taking off the gloves in fight for AFC



Published: Thu, January 20, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The rookie quarterback threw for two TDs and no interceptions in the Steelers' previous bout with the Patriots.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Ben Roethlisberger is issuing this warning to the Patriots: The gloves are coming off for the AFC championship game.

Roethlisberger is one victory away from becoming the first rookie quarterback to take a team to the Super Bowl. But since he threw two interceptions in a playoff victory over the Jets while wearing gloves, Roethlisberger's handwear has become Pittsburgh's No. 1 topic of debate.

To a city that grew accustomed to the tough-guy Super Bowl Steelers of the 1970s, who played in bare sleeves no matter the weather, it was unsettling to watch a quarterback in gloves.

Bare Ben

With snow showers forecast for Sunday night and the likelihood of a wet, sloppy field, Roethlisberger plans to discard the gloves. That should please those Steelers fans who remember Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw beating teams barehanded.

"I'm going to try to go without it," said Roethlisberger, who wore a glove on his left hand but not his throwing hand in practice Wednesday. "If it's wet, it makes it worse [to throw]. We'll see if we can go without this week."

Maybe Roethlisberger is expecting, ahem, a bare-knuckle brawl against the Patriots, whose perplexing defenses throttled NFL MVP Peyton Manning of the Colts during New England's 20-3 second-round victory.

If a quarterback who threw a record 49 touchdown passes this season can't do anything against a Bill Belichick- and Romeo Crennel-designed defense, how can a raw rookie expect to do much better?

Actually, Roethlisberger already has, throwing for two scores -- and no interceptions -- during a nearly flawless performance Oct. 31 in a 34-20 Pittsburgh victory that ended New England's 21-game winning streak.

"I didn't think anybody could stop the Colts," Roethlisberger said. "Their offense is so powerful in what they do, but New England obviously finds a way. ... They do so many things, throw so many things at you. If they can slow down that offense, who knows what they can do to ours?"

Ground Pitt

To keep the pressure off Roethlisberger, the Steelers probably will try to pound the ball from the start with powerful backs Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley, who will split time in an effort to wear down the Patriots.

New England's run defense will be weakened if lineman Richard Seymour, perhaps its best defensive player, can't play. He didn't practice Wednesday because of a sore knee and is listed as questionable.

That's why the Steelers don't necessarily need Big Ben to win the biggest game of his life; instead, he might just need to make he sure he keeps from losing a matchup of streaking quarterbacks. Roethlisberger is 14-0 as an NFL starter; the Patriots' Tom Brady, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, is 7-0 in the playoffs.

"My rookie year, there is no way I could have done what he did," said Brady, who occasionally wears gloves himself to get a better grip on the new footballs used in every game. "I was awful. I couldn't do anything. I was hoping to show up and bring my playbook. He is out there and hasn't lost a game."

Steelers coach Bill Cowher isn't necessarily treating his prized rookie with kid gloves, but he was careful to not be too critical despite the near-escape against the Jets.

"We wouldn't be sitting here today if he hadn't done some of the things that he's done, let's not lose sight of that," Cowher said. "I'm not going to overanalyze it. Certainly there were some choices he made he would like to have back, but we overcame it and we're moving on."

Gloves or no gloves.

"If the guy's open, just throw it to him," Cowher said, passing on the advice he offered Roethlisberger. "Whatever that entails, you wear."




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