With a conference title and a berth in Super Bowl XXXIX at stake, the New England Patriots will travel to the Steel City to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game this Sunday. The game will feature the two highest-seeded teams in this year's AFC playoffs in a rematch of the 2001 AFC title tilt.
The Patriots will return to the venue where they saw their NFL record 21-game winning streak come to an end in a 34-20 loss to the Steelers on Oct. 31. More streaks will be on the line this week, as the Steelers enter the contest having won 15 consecutive games, including 11 in a row at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh's 15 consecutive victories in a single season are tied with the Patriots' mark of 15 straight wins in 2003 as the second longest single-season winning streak in NFL history, trailing only the Miami Dolphins' 17 consecutive wins in 1972. New England enters this week's game looking to extend a streak of its own, a 7-game playoff winning streak that is tied for the second longest postseason winning streak in NFL history.
TELEVISION: The AFC Championship Game will be broadcast to a national audience on CBS. The game can be seen in Boston on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle the play-by-play duties and Phil Simms will provide analysis. Bonnie Bernstein and Armen Keteyian will contribute reports from the sidelines.
RADIO: WBCN 104.1 FM is the flagship station for the Patriots Rock Radio Network. Play-by-play broadcaster Gil Santos is in his 28th season as the voice of the Patriots and will call the action along with Patriots Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti. Santos and Cappelletti are celebrating their 21st season as a broadcast tandem.
NATIONAL RADIO: This week's game will be broadcast to a national audience by Westwood One/CBS Radio. Marv Albert and Boomer Esiason will call all of the action from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. John Dockery will report from the sidelines.
POSTSEASON WINNING STREAK
The Patriots have won seven consecutive playoff games, tying the second longest playoff winning streak in NFL history. New England is two victories shy of the all-time record of nine straight playoff wins, accomplished by the Green Bay Packers from 1961-67. The Patriots are currently tied with four other teams for the second longest streak: Pittsburgh (1974-76), San Francisco (1988-90), Dallas (1992-94) and Denver (1997-98).
The Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game for the second consecutive season, for the third time in four years and for the fourth time in the nine seasons since 1996. New England is the first team to play in three AFC title games in a four-year span since Pittsburgh did it from 1994-97. The Patriots are 4-0 in AFC Championship Games since the Super Bowl Era began following the 1966 season. New England owns more conference championship game victories without a loss than any other team in NFL history.
The Patriots and Steelers will square off in the playoffs for the fourth time in the last nine seasons. New England has won two of the previous three playoff contests, including a 24-17 upset win at Heinz Field in the 2001 AFC Championship Game as part of New England's first Super Bowl run. The teams followed up on that memorable matchup in the grand opening of Gillette Stadium to open the 2002 season, with the Patriots breaking in their new home with 30-14 win on Monday Night Football. This week's game will be a rematch of an Oct. 31, 2004 regular season clash and will be the ninth meeting between the two teams in the last 10 years. The Patriots have won three of the last four meetings. Of the previous 20 games in the series, 14 have been played in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers own a 9-5 advantage. New England, however, won the only playoff meeting at Heinz Field in the 2001 AFC Championship Game. Including regular season games, the teams have played 20 times previously, with the Steelers holding a 13-7 lead in those games. In the playoffs however, the Patriots hold a 2-1 advantage, including victories in the 1996 divisional playoffs and the 2001 AFC Championship Game.
Tom Brady is 2-1 as a starter against Pittsburgh, helping lead New England to victories in the 2001 playoffs and in the 2002 season opener. In the 2001 AFC Championship Game, Brady was the team's leading passer, completing 12 of 18 tosses for 115 yards before leaving the game late in the second quarter with an injury.
- Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel played in 51 games with the Steelers from 1997-2000. He totaled 43 tackles, including seven sacks while with the Steelers.
- Patriots running back Kevin Faulk played with Steelers guard Alan Faneca at Louisiana State (1995-97).
- Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour, Steelers receiver Hines Ward and Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell were teammates at Georgia.
- Steelers linebacker James Farrior was coached by Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel with the New York Jets from 1997-1999, where he was also a teammate of Roman Phifer.
- Patriots center Dan Koppen and Steelers quarterback Brian St. Pierre were on the same offensive unit at Boston College.
- Patriots punter Josh Miller played for the Steelers for eight years, from 1996-2003.
- Former Patriots practice squad member Russell Stuvaints is now on the Steelers active roster at strong safety.
- Steelers linebacker Larry Foote and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady played together at the University of Michigan.
- Steelers running back Jerome Bettis and Patriots linebacker Roman Phifer were teammates with St. Louis from 1993-94.
- Steelers quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple was the head coach at UMass from 1998-2003.
- Steelers defensive backs coach Darren Perry was the secondary coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2002 when Patriots running back Corey Dillon was on the team.
- Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was Corey Dillon's head coach with the Bengals from 2000-2002.
- Steelers special teams ace Sean Morey played in two games for New England in 1999.
- Patriots cornerback Hank Poteat played for the Steelers for three seasons from 2000-02.