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Former OSU star Vrabel shines in Patriots' victory



Published: Mon, January 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Cuyahoga Falls native was involved in two key defensive plays for New England.

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Vrabel spent the first four years of his professional life as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His greatest success in the city, though, has come as a member of the visiting team.

Vrabel never started a game from 1997-2000 after being drafted in the third round by the Steelers out of Ohio State. Prior to the 2001 season, he signed with the New England Patriots as an unrestricted free agent. He's started in 49 of 61 regular season game with the Patriots, and all eight postseason games.

Two of those playoff games have come at Heinz Field, in the 2001 AFC Championship Game and Sunday, in New England's 41-27 victory over the Steelers.

"It's incredible, celebrating the AFC championship two times in four years, and doing it here," said Vrabel, who graduated from Walsh Jesuit High in Cuyahoga Falls.

"To play like we did, against a great team in a tough environment, I think says a lot about our team."

Prepared for anything

Vrabel said that a lot of the credit must go to the players -- "they're making big-time plays" -- but that the mindset of total preparation espoused by coach Bill Belichick sets a strong example.

"I don't think there's a situation that we don't go over," he said. "We always are prepared for what a team will throw at us."

"During the week, everybody understands the game plan," added Vrabel. "The defense knows what the offense is going to try to do, the offense understands the defensive game plan. All 52 guys are on the same page."

Vrabel was involved in two of Sunday's key plays.

In the first quarter, the Patriots led 3-0 but Pittsburgh had driven from its 31 to New England's 39. But on fourth-and-one, Jerome Bettis was stuffed in the middle of the line and Patriots linebacker Roosevelt Colvin stripped the ball. Vrabel was there to recover.

On first down, quarterback Tom Brady hit Deion Branch for a 60-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead for the Patriots.

"I think we had them stopped short [of the first down] anyway, so it was a big play," said Vrabel. "Then, when you consider the next play and the offense scored, it was really a huge momentum swing for us."

Key block for TD

In the second quarter the Patriots were leading 17-3, but again Pittsburgh was driving.

On second-and-six from the New England 19, Rodney Harrison stepped in front of Jerame Tuman, intercepted Ben Roethlisberger's pass and returned the ball 87 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-3.

During the return, Vrabel blocked Roethlisberger along the sideline, Pittsburgh's last chance for a tackle, and sprung Harrison for the score.

"I was rushing the quarterback, saw the pass, saw the interception, then I just started running as fast as I could the other way," said Vrabel.

"Usually, on a play like that, there's only one guy on the edge and that's the quarterback, so that's who I was looking for. Rodney runs a lot faster than I do, so I'm sure he had to slow down for me to make the block, but fortunately I was able to."

Vrabel said he hasn't had time to think about the legacy the Patriots have developed -- three Super Bowl trips in four years. That's as close to a dynasty as the parity-obsessed NFL will allow in this age.

"That's for when my career is over," he said. "Right now, we'll take a couple of days off and start to prepare for the next game."




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