FOXBOROUGH -- Coaches Bill Belichick of the Patriots and Bill Cowher of the Pittsburgh Steelers took to some flattering coachspeak yesterday when speaking about Sunday's game.
''The first thing we're going to have to do is just find a way to stay competitive in the game because these have been over by halftime," Belichick said, referring to the Steelers' blowout wins in their first two games, 34-7 over Tennessee and 27-7 over Houston.
Cowher chimed in with, ''We have to be on top of our game to even have a chance to compete with them."
Cowher was asked which coach is exaggerating the least.
''All I can tell you, I know who's been standing on the podium [accepting the Super Bowl trophy] for the last couple of years, so who do you think you should believe?" he said.
They're hurtingThe Patriots have 13 players on their injury list for the Steelers game, with three players -- cornerback Randall Gay (ankle), guard Stephen Neal (back), and punter Josh Miller (shoulder) -- listed as questionable after getting injured in Sunday's loss to Carolina.
Nine others are also questionable: Tully Banta-Cain (knee), Andre' Davis (foot), Brandon Gorin (thigh), James Sanders (ankle), and Bethel Johnson (thigh) did not play in either of the first two games. Defensive lineman Jarvis Green (shoulder) played in both contests, while cornerback Duane Starks (thigh) saw his first action against the Panthers. Cornerbacks Tyrone Poole (ankle) and Chad Scott (shoulder) were hurt in the opener and missed the Carolina game.
All of the players on the injured list missed some portion of yesterday's practice, except for Tom Brady (shoulder), who is listed as probable and practiced the entire session.
Staley on mendRunning back Jerome Bettis (calf) and receiver Sean Morey (hamstring) were the only Steelers to miss a portion of practice yesterday. Bettis, who hasn't played this season, is listed as doubtful.
Cowher said running back Duce Staley (questionable with a knee injury) has been practicing since last week and is the more likely of the two to play this week.
''He certainly has a much better chance of playing than Jerome does," Cowher said. ''We'll see how Jerome is by the end of the week."
Willie Parker started at running back for Pittsburgh the first two weeks, and ran for more than 100 yards in each game.
''He came out of nowhere. The rest of the league is surprised as well, but the Steelers are going to run the football," Patriots linebacker Chad Brown said. ''[He has] lots of speed and lots of confidence in his speed. He's able to get around the corner and make some plays their other backs couldn't make because he's so much faster than they are."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is listed as probable with a sore back.
Thomas rejoins teamThe Patriots signed defensive lineman Santonio Thomas, placing him on the practice squad in the spot vacated by running back Kory Chapman, who signed yesterday with Indianapolis.Thomas joined the squad as a free agent a week after the draft, but was released the last week of preseason. He was injured throughout training camp, and didn't play in any preseason games.
Jerome Solomon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org