Can the team recreate the success of 2005?
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Charlie Batch helped the Steelers beat the Ravens to improve to 7-5. The last time they were 7-5 was 2005, when they won the Super Bowl for the fifth time.The comparisons popped up not long after Shaun Suisham's 42-yard kick held true on the final play Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore that provided the Steelers with a 23-20 victory against the Ravens.
Can the Steelers repeat what they did in 2005 at this same point in the season?
They have a 7-5 record for only the second time in the 21st century. The most recent time, they would win eight in a row ending with them hoisting their fifth Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks at Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
Can they do it again? Or does that kind of magic come around only once in a lifetime?
"There's a bunch of us in here who went through that and understand what it takes to do that," said Brett Keisel, in his 11th season. "Hopefully we can lead this team down that direction. It would be great to get them in the tournament and make another run."
That run in '05 was unprecedented. The Steelers won their final four regular-season games to squeak into the playoffs as the sixth and final seed in the AFC. They then won three postseason games on the road and won the Super Bowl. No team had ever done that.
Since then, the New York Giants did it in the '07 season and the Green Bay Packers in the '10 season. The Giants came close again a year ago, but as NFC East Division champs had one home game before winning the next two on the road and then another Super Bowl.
It has become the stylish path to a Super Bowl victory. Despite the Steelers victory Sunday in Baltimore, it's a path they probably will have to take to win another because the Ravens (9-3) still have a two-game lead in the AFC North over the Steelers (7-5) with four to go.
"I'm sure they're probably going to win the division," Larry Foote said. "I can't see them losing two more games."
The Steelers are one spot (by virtue of a tiebreaker) ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) for the second wild-card playoff spot and that could be decided when they play Dec. 23 at Heinz Field. Three of their final four games are at home, starting Sunday against San Diego.
"We have to take care of our business," Foote said. "The way this league is going, everybody's making a big deal about momentum and stuff like that. We started it in '05. We'll go on the road, no matter."
The difference between their position now and in '05 at the same point is they do not have to win their final four to make the playoffs. They can win three as long as the Bengals are among them, and perhaps even go 2-2 if they beat the Bengals.
While Foote would take the end results, he does not want to compare what they must do today to the history they made seven years ago.
"I don't mess with '05. I have that locked away in a safe. But this is big."
Ten players remain from that Super Bowl XL team, fewer than 20 percent of the 53-man roster. The advantage they have is they have gone through it and perhaps can help their teammates relate.
"We have a lot of younger guys," Foote said. "I don't know how many of us were there, 10 or 11. Our core guys, we're not going to blink. It's our job to make sure our young guys can't blink and they got to believe we can get it done.
"The Giants did it twice, the Packers. All we have to do is get a ticket and make it happen."
Gary Anderson had a nickname when he kicked for the Steelers for 13 seasons through '94, "Mr. Automatic." He wasn't as sure a thing, however, as Shaun Suisham has been this season.
Suisham made all three of his field-goal attempts again Sunday, all from beyond 40 yards including the 42-yard winner with no time left.
He has made 24 of his 25 field-goal attempts. His only miss came from 54 yards in Tennessee, an ill-advised try that otherwise makes him perfect for the season.
His kick in Baltimore was his third on the final play of the game this season. His 34-yard field goal with no time left to beat the Eagles, 16-14, and his 23-yarder beat the Chiefs in overtime.
No Steelers kicker has had a perfect season and because of that 54-yard try that came up short in Tennessee, Suisham will not either. But his .960 success rate would set a Steelers record currently co-held by him and Anderson, who made 93.3 percent of his kicks (28 of 30) in '93. Suisham made 14 of 15 after he was signed in the middle of the 2010 season to replace Jeff Reed.
Right now he is the most accurate career kicker in Steelers history, having made 61 of 71 field-goal tries for an .859 percentage, topping Norm Johnson's .827.
With third-string quarterback Charlie Batch at the helm -- has anyone mentioned he'll turn 38 Wednesday -- and three-fifths of the offensive line shuffled, things were not looking up for the offense Sunday in Baltimore.
Hadn't the Ravens savaged the Steelers line two weeks earlier in Heinz Field? How would they do with new starters at three different positions? Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey played left guard, which thrust backup center Doug Legursky into a starting role. And the Steelers dug down to their No. 3 starting right tackle, their fourth seventh-round pick, rookie Kelvin Beachum, making his first NFL start.
Terrell Suggs, Paul Kruger, Haloti Ngata and Co. had to be licking their chops.
But there were just two sacks of Batch, at least one a coverage sack, no holding penalties and plenty of time Sunday for the old quarterback to find his targets.
The focus was on Beachum because of his lack of experience and pedigree as the 248th overall draft pick this year. He started four seasons, 52 games, at SMU -- all at left tackle. The Steelers drafted him to be a guard because he is only 6 feet 3, but their need Sunday came at right tackle.
"I think he played huge in a big-time game," said tackle-turned-guard Willie Colon, who missed his second consecutive game with a knee injury. "No holding calls, no sacks, no false starts. He's a four-year guy. He really showed his worth to this organization.
"The whole week I was telling him, 'You'll play great.' He played his tail off. My first game, I got my tail kicked. He stood up."
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