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Reed getting his footing

Steelers kicker more consistent

PITTSBURGH -- This might have been viewed as the biggest mismatch between the Steelers and Patriots when the season started: kickers Jeff Reed of Pittsburgh vs. Adam Vinatieri of New England.

Now, if Sunday's AFC Championship game comes down to a field goal -- just as Pittsburgh's divisional playoff game against the Jets did -- the Steelers don't think New England has a distinct advantage at all.

Reed has made 19 consecutive field-goal attempts, tying Gary Anderson's team record, and has missed only once since the first half of the season. He's not getting all chip shots, either; he is 8 for 11 from 40 yards and beyond and 2 for 2 from 50 yards-plus this season.

The former North Carolina kicker hasn't won two Super Bowls in three seasons with field goals, as Vinatieri has, but he's given the Steelers their most consistent kicker since Anderson starred for them from 1982-94.

Appropriately enough for the son of former Wichita State basketball player Morris Reed, Jeff Reed has rebounded from some difficult times to become a reliable and, often, clutch kicker. He has won three games with last-minute or last-play field goals this season, including the 20-17 overtime playoff win Saturday against the Jets.

"He's done a terrific job," running back Jerome Bettis said. "When he puts that No. 3 on, you know this guy's coming to play. When you have a dependable kicker, it's priceless."

Just ask the Jets, who would be playing in New England for the AFC title if kicker Doug Brien hadn't missed potential winning field goal tries of 47 and 43 yards in the final two minutes of regulation.

Reed, signed following an unusual midseason tryout camp in 2002, was an upgrade over the kicker he replaced (Todd Peterson) but displayed troubling signs of inconsistency last season. He was 23 for 32, compared with 30 for 35 this season, and 5 for 9 during December 2003.

And see if this scenario sounds familiar, if only in reverse: The Jets beat the Steelers, 6-0, last season because Brien made two field goal tries and Reed was 0 for 2.

Just like the Steelers, who improved from 6-10 in 2003 to 15-1 during the 2004 regular season, Reed has upgraded his play significantly.

"It's just a matter of being consistent like I know I can be," said Reed.

Kickers often get noticed only when they miss, yet coach Bill Cowher held up Reed as an example to his teammates during a recent team meeting. Cowher's message: Get this guy in position, and he'll make the big kick for you.

Still, Reed acknowledges being nervous before his winning 33-yarder against the Jets.

"I think I stopped shaking [Sunday]," Reed said. "It was real emotional."

Going against Vinatieri is a challenge because Reed considers the Patriots kicker to be the best in the sport. Vinatieri was 2 for 2 during New England's 20-3 rout of the Colts Sunday after going 31 for 33 during the season.

"As far as one-on-one, I'm going against the best," Reed said. "He's proven himself. Once again, he's going to the Pro Bowl. He's a great kicker and a great role model for me. I want to be where he is someday, and I'm striving to be where he is."

On Sunday, he will be.

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