Title game fields will be tough on kickers

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Cold, wind and frozen turf. They make Pittsburgh's Heinz Field and Chicago's Soldier Field such forbidding places.

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Chicago place-kicker Robbie Gould practiced field goals as Soldier Field workers waited to clear snow before a Bears' game this season. The field's quality has been criticized by players.   Associated Press
Associated Press
Chicago place-kicker Robbie Gould practiced field goals as Soldier Field workers waited to clear snow before a Bears' game this season. The field's quality has been criticized by players.

Just ask the guys who play there.

"Some people say it's a sorry field," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said, adding that others prefer to describe his home turf with an expletive. "They say what they want, but at the end of the day, you've got to play. That's what we do. We accept it. We just play."

Both natural grass fields will be front and center Sunday when the New York Jets play the Steelers in the AFC championship game, and the Green Bay Packers take on the Bears in the NFC championship game, with Super Bowl spots on the line. And it could all come down to how the kickers deal with the less-than-ideal conditions.

"I think that's what's going to happen," Jets coach Rex Ryan said of his team's big game. "I think that this is going to be one of those games. I don't see a team blowing the other team out. I think this is going to be hard-fought all the way to the end and will probably be a three-point game."

That's why Nick Folk is bringing several pairs of cleats with him to Pittsburgh and taking extra kicks before the game. Sunday's weather forecast calls for morning snow showers and bone-chilling temperatures of about 13 degrees at kickoff.

"Everything about kicking at Heinz Field makes it tough," Folk said. "The fans, the weather can turn nasty at any time, the field can be pretty bad, too."

Pittsburgh has been an unpredictable and frustrating place for kickers since Heinz Field opened in 2001, and not just because of those Terrible Towels.

But there might be some good news for Folk and the Steelers' Shaun Suisham, according to meteorologist Brad Rehak of the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

Rehak said the winds usually come down the Ohio River and into the stadium, but the current weather pattern doesn't indicate that flow.

Soldier Field, sitting next to Lake Michigan, has also had its problems.

After being re-sodded before the regular-season finale in 2006, the Bears slipped and slid to a 39-14 victory in the NFC championship over New Orleans, which fumbled four times and lost three.

Earlier this week, Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings was critical of Soldier Field after watching Seattle players slip in the snow in the Seahawks' playoff loss last weekend.

"It's rough," he said. "It's probably one of the worst -- probably the worst -- in the league."

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Brian Urlacher have made similar comments.

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature is expected to be in the upper teens at kickoff in Chicago, with wind chills in the upper-single digits.

"You know it's going to be cold," Bears kicker Robbie Gould said. "You know it's going to be windy. You know the conditions on the field aren't going to potentially be great."

Mason Crosby has been kicking in Green Bay for four years, so cold and windy conditions are the norm for him.

Plus, he has been to Soldier Field once a season since coming into the league, so he tries to maintain his usual routine.

"It's like any other game, go out and hit some balls, see if the wind's blowing in any way," he said. "Then, trust it once game time comes and know you're going to hit the ball and it's going to go where you need it to."

Sunday's games

- Green Bay at Chicago, 3 p.m. (Fox-Ch. 54)

- N.Y. Jets at Pittsburgh, 6:30 p.m. (CBS-Ch. 12)

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