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The New England Patriots beat the Steelers 34-13 Sunday to improve to 13-0, finding in Pittsburgh safety Anthony Smith's guaranteed victory the inspiration they needed to return to their dominating form after close calls in consecutive games.
Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, two of them to Randy Moss, and two of them burning Smith. One TD was a quick-strike 63-yarder after Moss ran past Smith and cornerback Ike Taylor on his way into the open field.
With 2 minutes left, the crowd reacted to a picture of Smith on the scoreboard with a mocking chant of "Guarantee!''
"When something like that is said, it's either going to be really good for you or really bad. I think we all saw how it turned out there,'' New England offensive lineman Matt Light said. "The big man upstairs, they say he has a sense of humor.''
The Patriots were laughing openly after a flea-flicker that went from Brady to Moss, off the turf, and back to Brady, who heaved a 56-yard floater to a wide-open Jabar Gaffney in the end zone. Smith was sprinting to catch up.
"We've played against a lot better safeties than him, I'll tell you,'' New England coach Bill Belichick said with a smile, adding later: "The safety play at that position was pretty inviting.''
After winning their previous two games with a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks, the Patriots clinched a first-round playoff bye. They play the New York Jets (3-10) and winless Miami Dolphins before wrapping up the regular season against the New York Giants (9-4).
New England refused to consider the prospect of going 16-0, or 19-0, if they win the Super Bowl: "14-0 means something to me. I think that's about as far as I would go,'' said Brady, who completed 32-of-46 for 399 yards.
Moss and Brady are on track for records of their own.
Moss, who caught seven passes for 135 yards, needs four more touchdown catches in the last three games to break Jerry Rice's record of 22 in a season. Brady needs five more TDs to break Peyton Manning's record of 49 set in 2004.
"I told him I hope he breaks the record next week, because it's so much fun watching him play,'' said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 19 of 32 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown. "I don't like him playing against us and how well he played, but it truly is an honor to watch such a great quarterback play the game.''
The Steelers would have clinched a playoff berth with a victory, but still lead the AFC North.
"We are still writing our story,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. "This is not the final chapter in our story, and it wasn't going to be whether we won or lost.''
The Steelers led 3-0 on Jeff Reed's 23-yard field goal, then fell behind 14-3 on the two touchdowns by Moss, for 4 and 63 yards, just 1:59 apart. Roethlisberger's 32-yard scoring pass to Najeh Davenport cut that to 14-10. Reed added a 44-yard field goal just before the 2-minute warning, but Steven Gostkowski kicked a 42-yarder with 42 seconds left in the second quarter to make it 17-13 at halftime.
Then the Patriots blew it open in the second half and held the Steelers scoreless.
The flea-flicker made it 24-13, Brady hit Wes Welker from 2 yards out to make it 31-13 and Gostkowski added a 28-yard field goal with 7:00 left.
This program aired on December 10, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.
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