Tuesday, November 21, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two years ago, Ben Roethlisberger suited up for his first game in Baltimore expecting to do what he did in his first professional game the previous week: Watch from the sideline as Tommy Maddox played quarterback.
Everything changed that afternoon. Maddox left in the third quarter with an elbow injury and Roethlisberger replaced him. The Steelers lost that day to go 1-1. They would not lose again until the AFC championship game, 15 consecutive victories, one in the playoffs against the Jets.
They did not carry a big picture with them then. Their goal was to play each week and somehow win a game with a rookie quarterback. As they head Sunday to Baltimore, where Roethlisberger will start for the first time in that city, the goal is similar except the quarterback no longer is a rookie.
"Where we're at now, we move on to the next game," guard Alan Faneca said. "We're still in that one-game mode, build off it, build off that confidence."
The Steelers have no choice at this point. At 4-6, they would embarrass themselves if they even mentioned their playoff chances. Today, they are 60-1 odds to win the Super Bowl on Bodog.com. Baltimore is 6-1.
Their dreams of going down in history as the first franchise to become three-time Super Bowl repeat winners have been dashed, only no one has told the Steelers that yet. Last year, they had to win eight in a row to win a Super Bowl; this year it would have to be a dozen.
"It's definitely too early right now," nose tackle Casey Hampton said, spitting out his distaste when someone asked about the playoffs. "We've only won four games this year! We have to worry about just winning games. We're way far away from that right now."
Hampton does not care that the Steelers play Baltimore, their fiercest rival and, at 8-2, the runaway leader of the AFC North.
"Any game in the division gets your attention," Hampton said. "We have to win all the division games. That's just the bottom line. It's just like anybody else. That's how I feel."
At 4-6, the Steelers have fallen behind 18 NFL teams, including San Francisco and the New York Jets, both 5-5. Their record is as good, or bad, as Buffalo and Green Bay, two places where they're certainly not talking about the playoffs.
But, there is that two-game winning streak, their first this season.
"Winning a couple in a row, man, that's nothing," Hampton said. "We've won 10 in a row around here. We just have to go out and get it done."
Hampton does not believe that a two-game winning streak can provide anything to the collective psyche of a team. Others do, especially on a team that was 2-6 just 10 days ago.
"It's starting to establish something we're used to and what we can identify more with," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "Last year, we went on a streak. The year before I don't know how many we won in a row; it seemed like we just kept winning."