After such an epic game on Saturday night, still fresh in the minds of all the Steeler Nation, we get yet another bit of good news! The road Super Bowl XLV comes through Heinz Field! You can’t ask for anything more if you are the Pittsburgh Steelers right now. You work all year, overcoming all the adversity and secure the 2nd seed in the postseason. You get a week off, your arch rival comes to town talking all the trash they can, and end up on the short end of a 31-24 Steelers victory. You get an extra day to rest, and now you find you that you get to stay at home all week and play in front of the hometown fans for the right to head to Dallas.
The effort it took to get to this point is well documented, arguably one of the most tumultuous offseasons in team history served as great motivation for this team. All the thoughts of Ben’s troubles are long gone in the hearts and minds of fans as our beloved Black n Gold sit on the cusp of their 3rd Super Bowl in 7 years. There were many question marks heading into the 2010 season, not the least of which was the defense. After a year where they were down by normal standards and possibly on their last leg for many veterans, they responded by being the #2 defense in the NFL overall and #1 against the run. Another question mark was the Wide Receivers. With Santonio finally making one too many mistakes and former #2 draft pick Limas Sweed a bust and on IR, there was cause for concern. Low and behold, 2 rookies named Emmanuel Sanders (3rd round) and Antonio Brown (6th round) quieted the doubters with a combined for 44 catches to pick up the slack, many of which were big time receptions at key parts of their games. Oh and a 2nd year speedster named Mike Wallace proved his 2009 rookie year of 39 receptions for 756 yds. and 6 TD’s was just the beginning. Wallace finished the regular season with 60 catches for 1,257 yds. and 10 TD’s. A feat that should not go unnoticed considering the venerable Hines Ward is still on the roster and as important as ever to this young crop of pass catchers.
Here the Steelers sit, ready to try and realize another dream next Sunday night. Lest we get ahead of ourselves here, there is still work to be done. The Steelers know all too well what it’s like to be in the AFC Championship game and come up empty handed. That in itself should be enough motivation for this game. Next Sunday night will mark their 15th appearance in this setting. As we recall, they were 0-2 at Heinz Field when playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl under former Head Coach Bill Cowher (he did win at Three Rivers Stadium in 1995 vs the Colts). Each time they were bested by the New England Patriots. The NFL’s golden boy is now out of the equation though, who oh by the way has now lost 3 straight playoff games. However under Tomlin they are 1-0 after defeating the Ravens en route to Super Bowl XLIII. The Jets now stand in the way of the Steelers plans. This Steeler team is noticeably different than those teams of the recent past. Gone is Neil O’donnell, with the 3 yds. and a cloud of dust offense. With the weapons that Ben Roethlisberger has at his disposal this team can play smash mouth or light up the scoreboard. That type of versatility will be a big factor against a tough Jets defense and an ever growing confident young QB in Mark Sanchez.
The Jets have plenty of weapons themselves so thinking this will be a low scoring defensive battle is not as likely as you might think. Both defenses will come to play there is no doubt about it, but don’t be surprised to see both teams hit the end zone more than a couple times. There is plenty of time to cover the ins and outs of the game this week, but for now one thing is for sure. The Steelers have a golden opportunity in front of them, all the hard work that was the 2010 season will mean nothing if they don’t win this game. Sure, you can talk about how they responded, beat the odds, and saw young players develop, which is all well and good. The fact remains though, the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl is at hand, seize the moment! Don’t be afraid to be great!
Photo courtesy of NFL.com