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Teammates challenge Big Ben to upgrade play vs. Patriots

Alan Faneca must be trying to motivate Ben Roethlisberger again.

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Alan Faneca must be trying to motivate Ben Roethlisberger again.

The offensive lineman said the Pittsburgh Steelers badly need Roethlisberger to upgrade his play for Sunday's AFC championship game against New England, after the rookie quarterback's errors nearly led to a playoff loss to the New York Jets.

He's going to have to pick his game up,'' Faneca said Monday.We're all going to have to pick our game up, and it's going to take our best effort of the season to win this week.''

Roethlisberger, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, threw two interceptions one for a touchdown and another creating Doug Brien's potential game-winning field goal try and got nothing going as the Jets scored 17 consecutive points in the second and third quarters.

The Steelers came back to win 20-17 in overtime Saturday, but only after Brien missed two field goal tries in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.

``He was off a little bit, but we were all off a little bit as an offense,'' Faneca said.

Faneca wasn't singling out the rookie, but said that kind of quarterback play won't be good enough _ not after the Super Bowl champion Patriots held NFL MVP Peyton Manning's high-output Colts offense to a field goal in a 20-3 win Sunday.

Still, Faneca's motivating words were reminiscent of those the day after former starting quarterback Tommy Maddox injured an elbow Sept. 19 in Baltimore, making Roethlisberger the starter by default.

Then, Faneca said he wasn't overly excited about going into a game with ``some little young kid who's just out of college'' rather than a veteran like Maddox. Roethlisberger went on to lead the Steelers to a 13-3 victory in Miami.

If Roethlisberger picked up a Sunday newspaper, and he insists he doesn't, he would have read fan comments calling for Tommy Maddox to replace him despite an unequaled 14-0 record as a starter.

He had a rough game, people were really down on him and said he played bad, but he's a young quarterback and he has a lot in his face right now,'' linebacker James Farrior said.But he's such a good player, he knows how to handle every situation like he's done it all year, and he's sure do the same this week.''

Especially since the Patriots will likely try to be in the rookie's face all night, something they didn't do in their 34-20 loss in Pittsburgh on Oct. 31. Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes to Plaxico Burress as the Steelers opened a 21-3 lead in the first quarter and went on to end New England's 21-game winning streak.

Faneca thinks Roethlisberger will be just fine if he quickly moves on to the Patriots and doesn't keep replaying the mistakes against New York.

Everybody always wants to know how he handles the pressure, the setbacks,'' Faneca said.Just like everybody else, nobody likes it, but you've got to think about it for a minute, brush it off and move on to the next play. That's how Ben's been handling things all year.''

The Steelers don't sound overly concerned that, unlike the other NFL division champions coming off a first-week bye the Patriots, Falcons and Eagles they struggled in their playoff opener. The Jets nearly won despite not scoring a touchdown offensively in either game against Pittsburgh this season.

The Steelers' message seems to be: This week, not last week, is the week they must play well.

We have all the confidence in the world in Ben,'' cornerback Deshea Townsend said.We were 15-1 during the season because of him. He's a very confident guy, very poised for a rookie and I'm sure he'll do fine.''

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