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Pre-Game Report

DATE: Sunday, January 27, 2002

SITE: Heinz Field (64,450) - Grass

TIME: 12:30 p.m. EST

TELEVISON: This week's game will be broadcast nationally on CBS (locally on WBZ Channel 4 in Boston). Greg Gumbel will provide the play-by-play detail and will be joined by broadcast partner Phil Simms. Armen Keteyian will report from the sidelines.

RADIO: WBCN's Rock Radio Network 104.1 FM. Gil Santos, now in his 25th season as voice of the Patriots, will call the action along with Gino Cappelletti. The tandem is enjoying their 18th season together. For a complete listing of all local affiliates, please see page 23. The game will also be broadcast nationally on CBS/Westwood One Radio. Joel Meyers and Bob Trumpy will broadcast the game along with John Dockery, who will report from the sidelines.

The AFC's second-seeded New England Patriots (12-5) will travel to Pittsburgh to battle the conference's top-seeded Steelers (14-3) in the AFC Championship Game this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. It is the first time the AFC's top two seeded teams have met in the conference finals in three years, when the New York Jets traveled to Denver to play the Broncos. In the past seven years, only one top seeded team has won the AFC Championship (Denver in 1998). The last time the Steelers entered the playoffs as the top seeded team was in 1994. That year, Pittsburgh was defeated in the AFC Championship game by the San Diego Chargers. The last time the Patriots entered the playoffs as a number two seed, they hosted the AFC Championship game against Jacksonville and won to advance to the Super Bowl.

This will be the Patriots' third appearance in an AFC Championship game. In 1985, the Patriots traveled to Miami and claimed a 31-14 victory. In 1996, the Patriots hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars and won 20-6. After both games, the Patriots advanced to play in the Super Bowl in New Orleans (Super Bowl XX and Super Bowl XXXI).

This week's game will be the playoff rubber match between the Patriots and the Steelers. It is the second time the Patriots have played a playoff game in Pittsburgh in the past four years and the third time these two teams have met in the playoffs in the past five years. The two previous meetings were both divisional playoff games, with the home team claiming the victory. The last time the Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship Game was in 1996, after defeating the Steelers, 28-3, in the divisional playoff game. The following year, the Patriots traveled to Pittsburgh for a divisional playoff game and suffered a heartbreaking 7-6 loss.

Last week, the Patriots defeated the Oakland Raiders in overtime, 16-13, avenging a 25-year old loss suffered in Oakland in 1976. This week, the Patriots have the opportunity to avenge another painful playoff loss, the 7-6 loss at Pittsburgh on Jan. 3, 1998. In that game, Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel played a critical role as a member of the Steelers when he forced a fumble after hitting Drew Bledsoe from behind with just 1:50 remaining in the game. The turnover came at the Patriots own 42-yard line, ending a drive that started at the 1.

On Jan. 5, 1997, the Patriots defeated the Steelers in a divisional playoff game, 28-3, in one of the most memorable games played at Foxboro Stadium. Thick fog blanketed the field throughout the game, but the Patriots emerged with a convincing 28-3 victory.

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