Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Staff Writer 38d

Battle-tested Steelers embrace chance to 'beat the champ' Patriots

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers had every answer covered when greeted with questions about Sunday's clash with the New England Patriots.

Fresh off a wild 39-38 win against the Baltimore Ravens to clinch the AFC North, many Steelers downplayed the Patriots showdown, sticking to the script that every game is equally important.

Steelers safety Mike Mitchell couldn't contain his excitement.

"This is the game everyone's been waiting to see," Mitchell said of facing the Patriots. "I've been thinking about this game since we lost it last year. Very much look forward to playing them."

Then Mitchell emphatically acknowledged that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the "GOAT."

"For us to be the champ, we have to beat the champ," Mitchell said.

The Steelers believe they are ready to battle the quarterback who owns 22 touchdowns, zero interceptions and six wins in his past seven games against Pittsburgh.

The defense giving up 38 points to the Ravens' 30th-ranked offense on Sunday was alarming. The Steelers struggled with miscues, penalties and missed tackles. If Brett Hundley, Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco can have success against the Pittsburgh defense, Brady has to like this matchup.

But this is still a top-six team in scoring defense, sacks and passing defense. The Steelers will make it a game.

And the play of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell at Heinz can't be ignored. In the past three home games, Brown has 526 yards with five touchdowns, Roethlisberger has 1,156 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions, and Bell has 411 yards with four touchdowns.

Those opponents paled in comparison to the Patriots, but Baltimore and Tennessee are looking at playoff berths and Green Bay would be with a healthy Aaron Rodgers.

With the no-huddle attack at home, the Steelers believe they can overcome any deficit. That won't stop at least a few players from toning down the Patriots-Steelers hype.

"What would it mean? Just another check mark, that's all it is," said Steelers guard Ramon Foster about beating New England. "I won't make a big deal about it because we have to bring our 'A' game. They asked for it, it was put out there, so here you go."

The Steelers' opportunistic-but-shaky defense has proved resilient all season, getting late-game stops to quiet opposing offenses. But it has also given up six receptions of 40 or more yards since Week 10, and a team that banks on stopping the run let Ravens running back Alex Collins go for 120 yards (6.7 per carry) Sunday night. The pass rush didn't get to Flacco until late in the game.

Many of the Steelers' 101 penalty yards came on defense.

Now the Steelers will be tasked with cleaning that up while trying to beat Brady without Ryan Shazier and possibly Joe Haden.

But sitting on back-to-back seasons of at least 11 wins, the Steelers feel battle-tested for the stretch run, even as they know who is in their way.

"I feel we can beat everyone in the NFL but the Patriots -- that's what it's been," Mitchell said. "Now we need to prove we can knock them off, and prove it to ourselves that we know we can do it, and do it."

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