Steelers' Smith welcomes Patriots to target him
PITTSBURGH -- His head coach told him he shouldn't have done it. His teammates warned him to watch his words. His family hopes he knows what he's getting himself into.
Smith, a second-year safety from Syracuse, insists he's not trying to make a name for himself by boldly guaranteeing the Steelers will halt the Patriots' drive for the NFL's first 16-0 regular season.
"I just felt we're going to go out there, we're going to have a good week of practice and everybody's focused, and we're going to get a victory," Smith said.
In Smith's mind, he merely spoke what everyone else in Pittsburgh's locker room is thinking: The Steelers (9-3) are going to Foxborough on Sunday to win, and nothing else.
Even if some teammates wish Smith hadn't opened his mouth, possibly giving an inspirational lift to a Patriots team that looked tired after rallying in the final minute to beat Baltimore 27-24 on Monday night.
Defensive back Tyrone Carter pulled Smith aside when he arrived at the Steelers' practice complex Thursday, and his message was simple: Don't carelessly give other teams words they can throw back at you.
"I said, `You can't really do stuff like that,"' Carter said. "You've got to really think about it, the stuff that you say. I don't care how you feel about it, you've still got to think about it."
Wide receiver Hines Ward also said a young player such as Smith needs to be careful in a league where even the most casual and harmless remark can provide motivation to an opponent.
"You don't need to give New England any bulletin board material to motivate themselves," Ward said. "You've got to be smarter and be careful what you say."
The reaction among the Patriots players was mixed. Rodney Harrison said he's never heard of Smith and doesn't care what he said, but linebacker Junior Seau said such comments do wind up on locker room bulletin boards.
Smith isn't worried his remarks will make him more of a target Sunday.
"For a receiver to try to come get me?" Smith said, clearly amused by the notion. "If receivers come after me, I welcome it."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, too?
"I hope they do," Smith said. "I haven't been getting a lot of action, so hopefully I get a chance to make some plays. If the receivers come after me, I welcome it."
Doesn't sound like Smith has lost any of his confidence. He made those remarks even after Mike Tomlin -- who, despite being a head coach, still finds time to do a daily crossword puzzle -- cautioned him about the power of the spoken and written word.
Tomlin also suggested that the best thing for a player to say often is nothing at all.
"In this business, it's not about what we say, it's what we do," Tomlin said.
Some of Smith's friends and family members also called him after the guarantee became public, some out of curiosity and others out of concern.
Defensive end Aaron Smith received some of the very same calls after friends saw a headline reading, "Steelers' A. Smith guarantees win over Patriots."
"I said, `What are they talking about?' " Aaron Smith said.
Now that he knows, Aaron Smith isn't particularly worried his teammate's comments will provide extra motivational fuel for the Patriots, whose quest for the NFL's first 16-0 regular-season record would seem to be incentive enough.
"The fact is we want to win the game, that's why we play the game," Aaron Smith said. "If we didn't think we could win, why would we even bother showing up? I don't know exactly how he said it but, in reality, we plan on going up there and winning the game."
Should the Steelers do that, Anthony Smith is likely to be remembered as much for what he said before the game as how he played in it.
"I could look like a mind reader or a fortune teller or something like that," he said.
Meanwhile, it seems likely Carter will make his third consecutive start at strong safety in place of Troy Polamalu (knee), who did not practice Thursday.
On Tuesday, Tomlin said he expected Polamalu to play, and the former Pro Bowl defensive back did work out Wednesday. Missing Thursday's practice appears to be a setback for Polamalu, who hasn't played since the Steelers' 19-16 overtime loss to the New York Jets on Nov. 18.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press