Go to Game Statistics
Patriots owner Robert Kraft says he wants to keep Coach Bill Parcells.
New England's win clinches another home playoff game, not exactly a common occurrence.
It was an afternoon of frustration for the Steelers.
Go to Patriots Page
Go to Steelers Page
Go to NFL Playoffs Report
Go to NFL Section
Go to Sports Section
With Steelers in a Fog, Patriots Roll AlongBy Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 6, 1997; Page D1
FOXBORO, Mass., Jan. 5— After two weeks to prepare for their first home playoff game in 18 years, the New England Patriots went into attack mode on their first offensive play today. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe completed a 53-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Terry Glenn, and from that moment, the Pittsburgh Steelers flailed in the fog at Foxboro Stadium.
When this dreary afternoon in the mist and cold ended, the Patriots exulted in a dominating 28-3 victory over the defending AFC champions before a wildly enthusiastic crowd of 60,188. Most of them will be right back in their seats this Sunday to watch the Patriots play the Jacksonville Jaguars for the AFC title. The winner will advance to Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans on Jan. 26.
"Tell 'em to come back next week," said Patriots Coach Bill Parcells, who has two Super Bowl rings from his glory days with the New York Giants. "Same people, same seats, same noise, same pom-poms . . . Just get here a little earlier. There's more on the line."
The Patriots, whose 11-5 regular season record assured them a bye in the first round of playoffs, arrived today with plenty of motivation, the defense in particular. They had been reading all week about the Steelers' fearsome zone blitzes, their big-back attack and their two-man quarterback tandem that was supposed to slash and bash the home team halfway to Cape Cod.
Instead, the Patriots came out and controlled both lines of scrimmage. Their defense held the Steelers (11-7) to 213 yards — only 90 passing — allowed Jerome Bettis 43 yards rushing and sacked Mike Tomczak (pictured) and Kordell Stewart three times, with countless knockdowns after passes were released.
"We wanted to make a statement," said linebacker Chris Slade, a Virginia graduate who leveled Tomczak after he threw his first two passes, one for no gain, the second incomplete. "We had something to prove today. Everyone was saying what they were gonna' do to our offense. We were mad. We took it personal."
So did the offense.
"Our guys played with a little chip on their shoulders," said Bledsoe, who completed 14 of 24 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown. Bledsoe's sweetly executed 34-yard screen pass to veteran fullback Keith Byars gave New England a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Also, Bledsoe was more than willing to hand off to tailback Curtis Martin, a Pittsburgh native who had felt the sting of some typically pointed barbs from Parcells and other coaches all week because of mistakes he made in practice.
Today, however, Martin converted the opening pass play from Bledsoe to Glenn — thrown against All-Pro cornerback Rod Woodson — into a two-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead with 11 minutes 58 seconds left in the first quarter.
Martin (pictured) rushed for a team playoff-record 166 yards on 19 carries and had three touchdown runs. His 78-yard dash — he second longest scoring run in NFL playoff history — on a Steelers blitz gave the Patriots a 21-0 lead with 9:55 remaining in the first half on a play Parcells described as "taking it to the house."
Martin made his final house call with a 23-yard scoring run for a 28-3 advantage that settled things once and for all with 12:31 left in the fourth quarter.
"During the week, the coaches were concerned about me," Martin said. "I was so antsy, I kept making mistakes, jumping offside. I was kind of pumped up. Some of us were so pumped up we couldn't control it."
The Steelers, meanwhile, headed home a week after their own dominating 42-14 victory over the visiting Colts in their wild-card game. Tomczak saw blitzing Patriots coming in from all directions before yielding to Stewart, who was equally ineffective. Stewart was 0 for 10 passing and rushed 19 yards in four carries.
"I thought we put up a great fight," said Tomczak, who must have been watching a different game. "They had a lot of energy and their productivity was good the early part of the game. They established the momentum early and it was very difficult to regain it back."
Bettis clearly was bothered by a groin sprain he suffered last week against the Colts and also aggravated a sprained ankle. In a season that saw him go over the 100-yard mark in 11 of the Steelers 17 previous games, his longest run today was 11 yards, and he managed only six yards in the second half as his team tried to throw its way back into contention, to no avail.
The Patriots began throwing right from the start, on a play Parcells said had been planned by his offensive staff and approved, somewhat reluctantly, by the head coach. "I was choking on it a little," Parcells admitted later. "We talked about that one last night a little bit . . . You've got to try to attack. We had pretty good field position, so we thought we'd try and do it . . . We were trying to get a little momentum."
On first and 10 at their own 45, Glenn lined up wide to the right, with Woodson defending him man to man. Bledsoe (pictured) helped with a play-action fake to a running back, then heaved the ball through the mist and into the waiting arms of Glenn, a step ahead of the defender and running in full stride. Glenn caught the ball at the 10 and was tripped up by Woodson at the 2. On the next play, Martin scored off right tackle, and the rout was on.
"Rod Woodson's a great player," Bledsoe said. "He does a great job of sitting on routes and making plays on curl outs and comeback passes. We really felt like we had to run by him early and we decided, hey, why not the first play of the game?"
The Patriots are a game away from advancing to the second Super Bowl in team history and the first since 1986, when they were drubbed by the Chicago Bears, 46-10. They will face a Jacksonville team that has won on the road the past two weeks at Buffalo and Denver, has a seven-game winning streak and will be a prohibitive longshot win again here.
Parcells is very familiar with Jacksonville Coach Tom Coughlin, who was an assistant on his Giants staff before leaving to coach at Boston College.
"This is not easy for either one of us," Parcells said. "I talked to him two or three times last week. I'm proud of Tom and what he's done. He's a terrific coach and his team will be ready, I know that. They're a big threat. I can remember sitting upstairs with the media in Boston about a month ago and everybody was talking about Denver being the [favorite], just like Kansas City was last year.
"I told you, don't be too sure . . . Once you get in this tournament, it's not who has the best record, but who's playing the best. Jacksonville has played the best in those games, and we played the best today."