By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots are the top dog in the AFC, and so they’re naturally hearing some trash talk from their opponent.
No, not this week’s opponent (though Kevin Byard’s comments may qualify). The trash talk now is coming from next week’s potential opponent.
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell — you may know him from his time going viral in December — is 100 percent confident that not only will his team take on the Patriots next week. He knows his Steelers are going to win.
“We’re going to play [the Patriots] again,” Mitchell told Sports Illustrated. “We can play them in hell, we can play them in Haiti, we can play them in New England. … We’re gonna win.”
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, the Steelers do have to beat the Jaguars this weekend in order to earn a trip to Foxboro. And yes, the Jaguars did beat the Steelers by 21 points in Week 5. So maybe there’s no reason to talk about the Patriots right now but also, maybe, perhaps Blake Bortles was so incredibly bad last weekend that opposing safeties just aren’t interested in pretending like they’re worried. Hard to say.
Of course, the Steelers have reason to believe they can beat the Patriots. After all, if tight end Jesse James had just focused on catching the football instead of lunging over the goal line mid-fall, then it would have been rather unlikely that Tom Brady could have engineered a winning drive with the 28 seconds that were left on the clock.
And if Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t thrown one of the most confounding interceptions in history to lose the game, then the Steelers certainly would have had a 50-50 chance or better at securing a victory in overtime.
Those things didn’t happen for the Steelers last time, but perhaps next time they will.
At the same time, the Steelers would probably feel better about their chances for the (apparently inevitable) rematch if it weren’t in Gillette Stadium. The Steelers lost in that building in the 2016 AFC title game, in Week 1 of the 2015 season, and in November of 2013. The only Steelers victory in New England against a Bill Belichick-coached team came in 2008, when Matt Cassel was the quarterback. They’re 0-5 there against Brady. (In Pittsburgh, the Steelers are only 2-5 against Brady, and that’s if you’re generous to not include the 2001 AFC Championship Game, when Brady left early due to injury. So perhaps Mitchell is correct that the location of the game doesn’t really matter … just not in the way that he means.)
(In Mitchell’s own career playing for Oakland, Carolina and Pittsburgh, he’s won once in five games played against the Patriots.)
Alas, this time promises to be different, Mitchell told SI’s Greg Bishop, because the team is playing for Ryan Shazier. The linebacker suffered a terrifying injury late in the season, and his teammates want to make sure they get to a Super Bowl for him.
“I think about my boy, and how he gave up his ability to move just for us to win a game,” Mitchell told Bishop. “If he’s willing to make that sacrifice, I’m willing to do anything — anything — for us to win for him.”
It would make for a great story, and certainly everyone in the world is rooting for Shazier to have the best and fastest recovery possible. But it must be remembered that Shazier made a surprise appearance at Heinz Field to wave a towel and inspire the home crowd — and the home team. The Steelers’ defense still allowed Brady and Rob Gronkowski to drive 77 yards for the game-winning score in 1:10, and James still dropped the football and Roethlisberger still threw the interception. Inspiration only goes so far; the players still have to execute.
In any event, the Patriots can log these comments until next week, because they’ll never publicly acknowledge anything or anybody right now aside from the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers are run by a different coach with a different philosophy, and if they’re able to get past the Jaguars, perhaps the Patriots and Steelers can get together to organize this game to be played in Haiti. Boy, would there be egg on Mitchell’s face if the Steelers lost that one.