Steelers Ryan Clark haunted by his own ghosts as team prepares for Patriots Tom Brady

Jared Wickerham

Today may be Halloween, but it gets an encore on Sunday afternoon, when a November New England football field will be filled with more ghosts than any haunted house this season - between Tom Brady's and Ryan Clark's.

In the spirit of Hallow's Eve, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark's words are silently coming back to haunt him.

Early in the off-season, Clark accepted an internship with ESPN, appearing several times on the network. During one appearance, a conversation about the New England Patriots was turned to him. He answered the question honestly, about the loss of receiver Wes Welker in free-agency and the effect pressure can have on quarterback Tom Brady.

"He see ghosts."

Standing at Halloween and looking back to May when Clark's comments were made, his analysis was spot on; but also a bit ironic.

Welker has become just another megaton warhead in Peyton Manning's arsenal, while Amendola has been on and off the field. The Patriots have still managed a winning record without Amendola, and Rob Gronkowski until recently. However, they still lost to the New York Jets, and teams who beat the Patriots tend to do so as Clark described.

''In 2010, we saw it start with the Jets in the playoffs. When Tom Brady gets pressure and when you're man-to-man and bumping those guys and making it hard for him to throw, he sees ghosts. Even when guys aren't around him, even when he's not about to be sacked, when his clock goes off in his head that the ball should be out, we'll see him duck, we'll see him flinch. When you get Tom Brady doing that, the whole New England Patriots mystique goes away.''

Regardless of their accuracy, words should always be chosen wisely; because sometimes, they come back to bite you.

Clark has been seeing his own share of ghosts during the Steelers house of horrors 2013 season. Granted, with the amount of youth seeing regular playing time in the defense, Clark is attempting to step his game up to the highest level, as is every other veteran; but his over-aggressive play has surrendered several touchdowns and other big plays.

He was one of the many who bit on Terrelle Pryor's fake handoff and subsequent big run on the first play from scrimmage. He over-covered Dallas Clark of the Baltimore Ravens, allowing an easy touchdown quickly forgotten in a victory. Neither were the first case for such mistakes by the team's leader, either.

Clark is also finding himself haunted by the souls of those he claimed during his career in which he earned the reputation of the team's headhunter, enforcer, and executioner when need be. All of New England felt the hit Clark laid on Welker in 2008, as did Baltimore the blow to Willis McGahee in the AFC Championship game the same year.

His ferocious, self-sacrificing style is one reason why 'defenseless receiver' penalties are so popular these days. Clark has even talked about possibly being targeted by the referees as a team and individually, and drawing penalties on clean hits, solely on the reputation he helped to build along with James Harrison.

He admits he has been focusing on hitting cleanly and in accordance with the rules. His 2-5 football team needs him to go back to focusing on the entire field. He isn't the only one in guilt, but those who speak up have to pay up. He grabbed the first takeaway of the season, but the team needs him for 60 minutes. The team needs its veteran leader to be able to recognize a play fake, and cover an out route. They don't need him to deal out lethal hits, just sure tackles.

This Sunday, the Steelers will need Clark to lock the skeletons in the closet and play his part in bringing Tom Brady's ghosts back to life, if Pittsburgh wants any chance to participate in the post-season.

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