The coach whose kicker missed a pair of potentially winning field goals last Saturday wouldn't be surprised if tomorrow's AFC Championship game between the Steelers and Patriots comes down to a special teams play.
"These two teams are as tough as can be," Jets coach Herman Edwards said yesterday. "Both teams can score quickly, both teams can defend. The Steelers have one heck of a return man [Antwaan Randle El] and the Patriots have excellent special teams and a great kicker [Adam Vinatieri]. So there could be an outcome as a result of a play in that area of the game."
Edwards watched helplessly as Doug Brien missed from 47 and 43 yards at Heinz Field in a divisional playoff game against the Steelers.
Edwards, who named former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger to take over the same job with the Jets after Paul Hackett resigned Wednesday, said he doesn't blame Brien for the loss.
"I think that's what everyone sees and it's the easiest thing to pin it on, but we had other opportunities in that game to win it," Edwards said. "Doug was 83 percent from that area. You can't figure it out. It happens." Edwards came away from that game with a great deal of respect for the Steelers -- their toughness on both sides of the ball and their competitiveness from the opening kickoff to the end of the game.
"They're well coached. They don't make mistakes. They don't shoot themselves in the foot," Edwards said. "To beat them you have to play a mistake-free game and take care of your own business. You can't give them anything. You hear all they do is run, and it's true they run to set up the pass, but the quarterback [Ben Roethlisberger] can make plays. He made plays against us. In the game I saw earlier in the year against New England, he made plays down the field. Sometimes he can get lost out there in that offense, but you've got to make sure you're on him because he'll hurt you."
Asked whether Roethlisberger has been affected by the rib and thumb injuries he suffered late in the season, Edwards said, "Not that I could see."
Edwards does believe the Patriots have an advantage when it comes to Tom Brady's experience in big games.
"Brady has been in them and he's won them. That's all you need to know," Edwards said. "He can make plays at crunch time. He's done it. I will say that I believe that last week's game is going to help Roethlisberger because now he's experienced a tough playoff football game and he can watch the tape and learn from his mistakes and continue to do the things he does well. Already he has playoff experience, so now he understands the intensity involved. Again, this kid hasn't lost a game."
Edwards said one of the toughest things the Patriots will face is Pittsburgh's zone blitz.
"You have to identify it and then you have to block it," he said. "It's hard to identify. They have guys coming from every imaginable area, different angles. They disguise things very well. You never know where they're coming from. A couple of times they got to us. You hope you see it and then you've got to do a `hot' [where the QB identifies the blitzing player]. Now, you hope in that case that you have a favorable one-on-one matchup somewhere on the field, but they seem to cover up pretty well even when that happens. Even when you identify it, you have a short time to make a decision and the right decision. It taxes you, no question about it."
Edwards believes the Steelers can excel if Roethlisberger opens it up and throws to his physical receivers.
"The kid can throw the ball and he's very poised," Edwards said. "Don't believe the rookie stuff. He's more than a rookie and the Patriots understand that from having played him earlier. They know he can throw the ball against them."
Edwards doesn't believe the home field will be an advantage to the Steelers, though he does acknowledge, "It's really loud. A very boisterous crowd. If you're backed up near one of those end zones, you hear it, there's no doubt about that."
Edwards predicts a close, hard-fought game, much like his Jets played against the Steelers.
"That's what happens this time of the year," he said. "You have two excellent teams going head to head. I doubt very much one team is going to blow out the other. I think getting off to a lead is hugely important, though. You don't want to play from behind. If you can get the lead you can do the things you're comfortable doing."
As for watching the game, Edwards said, "It's frustrating to think if we had made a play here or there we'd be playing in this game. But all we can do now is look forward to next year."
"Oh, no. I'll leave that up to you guys [the media]," Edwards said.