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Hines Ward Pre-Game Press Conf.

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Q: Hines, how are you?

HW: Pretty good.

Q: It's a pleasure to be able to talk to you. What kind of reaction did your ballclub have after the AFC Championship Game, and now that you're playing the Patriots, is it a good thing to be playing the team you played eight months ago where one play here or there could have been the difference?

HW: Yeah. We're excited and we're looking forward to it. We get the first chance to have the opportunity to dethrone the champions. We're not going to put all the chips on this game. It's not a must-win game. No matter the outcome, we still have a long season to go. But it's great: how much more exciting can it be than playing on Monday night against the defending Super Bowl Champions and getting the opportunity to go out there? They deserved to be champions, the way they beat the three best teams, or who you guys said were the three best teams last year. They beat all three to win the championship, and we get the first opportunity to play them this year. We're excited and we're looking forward to the challenge.

Q: Were you at all surprised to see the Patriots' performance against St. Louis to win the Super Bowl?

HW: No, I wasn't surprised. The way they play defense, they really don't have a marquee guy. They really play good team defense from the linemen down to the linebackers to the cornerbacks to the safeties, they play good team defense. We knew that they had a great defense going in, it was just a matter of what team could go out there and not turn the ball over against them and just play sound football.

Q: Is it sometimes a burden to have so much talent?

HW: With the expectations that were put on us this year, we're favored to win the AFC again. But that's not really true. On any given Sunday, anybody can lose, especially in this league. It was just a matter of on that particular day, the New England Patriots played better football than the Steelers. It wasn't about whether we had more talent. We could have all of the talent in the world, but if we don't know how to use it and not win ballgames, then … Look at the Patriots, they just played well throughout the playoffs, in the Championship Game and in the Super Bowl. You can't take that away from them.

Q: Do you feel that your team should be the favorite to win the AFC and go on to the Super Bowl this year?

HW: I mean, you really can't say that because that's so far down the line. With free agency, you have a lot of new players around. We've got the majority of our players back, and so do the Patriots. But you've got a couple of new faces here and there, and it's all about team chemistry. Nobody predicted the Patriots to be the Super Bowl Champions with the way they started off, but they found that team chemistry towards the middle of the year and then they won nine straight games. So, it's really hard to say right now at this early stage, but it really does come down to team chemistry.

Q: Did you learn anything from what the Patriots did last year?

HW: I think we had team chemistry, too. They just played a better ballgame on that particular day. As far as team chemistry, when you re-sign guys back and you play with each other for a while, you kind of know what the next guy beside you is doing when he's out there fighting, so it comes to the point where you want to go out there and fight just as hard as he is. When each person goes out and does that individually, then collectively as a team, you can go out and have a great year.

Q: You have a situation where Jerome [Bettis] is back and you've got a lot of depth at running back, but you had something like 94 catches last year. Is that arsenal maybe even a little bit better this year?

HW: Yeah, it is. To be on a predominantly running team in Pittsburgh, I mean, we were something like 28th in the league in passing, to have two 1,000-yard receivers, that's kind of unheard of, especially around Pittsburgh. We had a great year last year, but I think we can go out and put up the same kind of stats. Especially with guys like Terance Mathis and Antwaan Randle-El, that really gives us an explosive wide receiver group. We're the Pittsburgh Steelers and we know we're going to run the ball. That's something that we've always been known for and I don't see any reason why we should change it. We were number one in the league last year, but if the Patriots are going to load up and stop the run, then we have the confidence where we can go out there and sometimes you've got to win games with the passing game if the running game's not going too well.

Q: It seems like the Steelers have a national following. Does that translate into support for the players?

HW: Well, it does. To go to the away games and have a nice turnout of Steelers fans at our opponents' field, that just goes to show that the Steelers have been around with a lot of tradition for a long time. They have had high expectations since the two Super Bowls in the '70s. They just expect high things around here. They just love to support the Steelers. Regardless of whether we play at home or on the road, to us, sometimes it feels like a home game. To play at home or on the road, it's nothing different to us.

Q: The hoopla in this game, I mean, you couldn't ask for anything better than this.

HW: Like I said, we're playing the Super Bowl Champions in their new stadium. I'm pretty sure all the New England fans are rooting and it's going to be loud. A nationally televised game, what more can you ask for? We're all looking forward to it, and we get the first opportunity to dethrone the Super Bowl Champions.

Q: Hines, you've been quoted as saying that maybe the best team didn't win in January. Do you still feel that way?

HW: Well, like I said, I don't really feel like the best team on paper … They probably would look at it and say, yes, we're better on paper, but like I said, on any given Sunday, you could lose. On that particular day, the New England Patriots played better than us, regardless of who had the better team or not. They had an excellent game plan and they executed better than we did.

Q: But even if you feel that way, and I understand what you're saying, some people would say that even if you think that, why would you say it? You're not worried about that and you think that your play can overcome that?

HW: That's just the confidence that we have out here. We felt like we had a great team. We felt like no one could top us but us. Even going to the game, it was a fairly good game, until our special teams … I mean, Troy Brown running that ball back and then blocking the field goal, and that, I mean … That's the intangibles. You have to win all three phases of the game. I thought we played fairly good on offense, and our defense did a fairly good job, but I think New England just beat us in the special teams. That's something that you have to account for, and you have to win all three phases of the game.

Q: So, eight months later, do you feel that the team that beat you was yourselves?

HW: Not really. They just played particularly well on that day. I don't think that we're better than them now or then, but on paper, everyone was saying that we were better. But for us, we just have confidence in ourselves and feel like … We just beat Baltimore, and the year that we had, finishing 13-3, we felt like no one could beat us but ourselves. You've got to have that confidence in this game. If you don't have confidence and go in thinking that you can't win the game, then why even play it?

Q: How are you feeling health-wise after coming off of a major medical procedure just two weeks ago?

HW: I'm feeling good. The way they did it, with technology and science nowadays, it's amazing. I'm back faster than guys with high ankle sprains around here. The way they did the surgery, they went through the bellybutton, so I really don't have any major scars. It was a quick recovery. I was out of the hospital the next day. I've got a week to heal, and I'm feeling fine. I'm just excited to get the opportunity to play on Monday night against the Super Bowl Champions.

Q: Thank you, Hines. We appreciate your time and wish you well for the season.

HW: Okay, I appreciate it.

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