The atmosphere in the Steelers locker room on Thursday was the same as it's been all season, with players joking around, shooting pool, having fun and being loose.
But don't let that light-hearted atmosphere fool you for a second. The Steelers know what is at stake and it's playoff football.
"It's a whole new season right now," said Trai Essex. "If we lose this week, if we don't give our best effort, then that will be it for the season. There is an expectation of excellence here. We don't like to be one and done. There is more attention to detail. We want to stay here for the long haul.
"The attention to detail in meetings and on the field is up a notch. People know what is going on, people are aware. You can't afford a lapse in concentration. That one play could be the difference in your season."
There is extra film study, a little more time in the weight room, the cold tub, and extra reps on the field. It's a matter of doing whatever it takes to get the job done on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
"It's win or go home," said Doug Legursky. "No one wants their season to be cut early. Everybody wants that Lombardi at the end. It's a lot more cut throat. Mistakes are magnified that much more. You really have to focus in on what you need to get done to win the game."
It's been the veterans on the roster who are making sure to keep the atmosphere the same as it always has been, knowing it's important that none of the young guys get tight as the game approaches.
"We've got a lot of veterans, but there are a lot of young guys in important positions on this team," said Essex. "They can't afford to be tight and over think situations. As much as you want to pay attention to detail, you have to keep a loose atmosphere because you don't want those guys to get locked up."
First-round pick Cameron Heyward is preparing for his first NFL playoff game and he is taking in all of the advice from the veterans and following their lead.
"You have guys like (Brett) Keisel and James Farrior and we have to learn a lot from them," said Heyward. "It's win or go home. It's single elimination. We have to prove we are the best team out there on Sunday.
"They are telling us to stay ready. You never know what can happen. We have to make the most of every situation we are in. We are going to need a big play in every way possible - special teams, offense or defense."
Heyward also appeared to be following the lead of the veterans with the light atmosphere, joking around with staff members during the lunch break.
"These guys are always playful," he said of his teammates. "They keep a level head because they are all good guys. They joke around a lot and it keeps everyone at ease.
"No one is getting tensed up or out of their element."
By Teresa Varley
5 Jan 2012