View Full Version : Steelers spell relief 'S-u-p-e-r'

01-26-2011, 03:07 AM
Steelers spell relief 'S-u-p-e-r'
Monday, January 24, 2011
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

James Farrior wound up calling it "a small, sick feeling of relief," rarely the kind of nominative phrase associated with the winning side in the AFC championship game, but given the only alternative -- a gigantic, nauseous feeling of lingering disbelief -- it managed to make perfect sense.

On their way to Super Bowl 45, the Steelers' iconic defense probably came within one more sorry series of fully regurgitating a 24-point lead at Heinz Field, a virtually unthinkable collapse that every last man in Dick LeBeau's decorated deployment might have spent the rest of his life trying to chase from his memory.

"It could have been a disaster," said nose tackle Chris Hoke after Pittsburgh canceled all Jets to Dallas at the last minute. "They really had all the momentum in the second half. It was like we were banging our heads against the wall out there. We finally stopped them at the goal line and I think that changed things."

Arguably, but then, just about everything is arguable.

Surely it was mad clutch when Brett Keisel and Lawrence Timmons stopped LaDainian Tomlinson on fourth down at the 1 with 7:44 left on the game clock, but Ben Roethlisberger, working on a miserable passer rating of 35.5 on this bitter winter night, fumbled the snap from backup center Doug Legursky for a safety on the very next play. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez then went 6 for 6 on the ensuing New York possession to pull Rex Ryan's team to within five at 24-19.

The Steelers could not play pass defense to save their Super Bowl reservations after a Rashard Mendenhall-powered offense erected most of the 24-0 lead that was established 63 seconds before halftime.

Fortunately, the same people who couldn't catch up with anybody in the Steelers' secondary had taken the precaution of making what proved to be the winning play in the Jets' backfield. It came on third-and-17 at the Steelers' 26, just 47 seconds after Roethlisberger's 2-yard keeper had erected a 17-0 lead.

Sanchez dropped to pass again, two plays after LaMarr Woodley planted him 7 yards deep in his backfield, but now a corner blitz from the opposite side was even more destructive. Ike Taylor crashed into Sanchez from behind just as the quarterback cocked his arm, ejecting the ball onto the grass in the vicinity of William Gay, who was on the approach from the opposite corner.

Gay waited with a kind of maddening precarious patience, looking for something like a hop that he could scoop. The fact that he got it just as Ziggy Hood was clearing a path in front of him resulted in a 19-yard fumble return for a touchdown and the bonus points that would ultimately prove too daunting for New York to overcome.

"That wasn't an individual play," said Gay in a boisterous Steelers locker room. "That was just great coverage, great pressure, a great call, just a total team defensive play. I didn't want to fall on it. I was trying to scoop it, but I don't take any credit for that play. That was just a great effort by everybody."

But the Jets didn't blink; they taxied into position even before the intermission, when Brad Smith (who burned the Steelers for a 97-yard kickoff return in New York's victory here a month ago) caught two passes for 25 critical yards on the drive to a Nick Folk field goal with nine seconds left in the second quarter. It was 24-3.

As the second half began, the Jets were somehow cleared for takeoff. They needed just five plays to go 90 yards, half of them on Santonio Holmes' 45-yard touchdown catch behind Taylor that made it 24-10.

"This is the AFC championship game," Timmons reminded people afterward. "These guys are going to come out and make some plays too. We expected a very competitive game, and that's what we got, a very competitive game."

But what they very nearly got was a nightmare scenario in which the Jets scored 26 second-half points to rip a Super Bowl berth from the very defense that's put its signature all over recent Super Bowl history.

"We made just enough plays in the first half," said Woodley, "but this just shows that you can never make enough. It's never enough until that fourth-quarter clock hits 0:00."

"They were the better team in the second half," said safety Ryan Clark, "and they're a very brassy team. You can't talk before you play like they do. You know I can't wait. I can't wait to get on the jet to Dallas and go to the Super Bowl."

Especially since such a long, long layover over indeterminate duration was just barely averted.

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01-26-2011, 03:09 AM
The moments that shaped the Steelers' Super Bowl season
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 19799.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_719799.html)

The Steelers will play the Green Bay Packers on Feb. 6 in Super Bowl XLV. It is a dream matchup for the NFL and the Fox television network the team whose legendary former coach shares the same name as the Super Bowl trophy against the franchise that houses six Lombardi trophies.

Super Bowl hype at Steelers headquarters shifts into another gear today.

The players return from an off day and the Steelers practice for the first time since beating the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.

As the Steelers prepare for the Packers, it is worth looking back to how they arrived at this point.

In a nod to the Steelers playing in their eighth Super Bowl they are wearing white as the away team, just as they did in Detroit (2006) and Tampa (2009) here are eight key developments that helped shape the 2010 season and send them to Dallas.

Trade of Santonio Holmes

It looked like the mere dumping of a talented player who couldn't seem to get out of his own way off the field.

But dealing Holmes to the New York Jets in April provided the opportunity for wide receiver Mike Wallace to stage a breakout season.

The Steelers took the fifth-round pick they got in return for Holmes, the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, and traded it to Arizona for starting cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round draft pick.

The player they got with that pick?

A guy by the name of Antonio Brown, who has made memorable plays in both Steelers playoff wins.

The 2010 NFL draft

The Steelers' philosophy has been to draft for two seasons ahead so they don't have to lean too heavily on rookies.

But they have gotten immediate contributions from a number of first-year players, starting with top pick Maurkice Pouncey.

Pouncey has started every game at center and made the Pro Bowl an invite he will decline with the Steelers headed to the Super Bowl.

Emmanuel Sanders and Brown have become a big part of the passing game, and all the latter has done in the playoffs is catch the touchdown pass that beat the Ravens and close out the Jets with a clutch third-down grab.

"A lot of the young guys are a big part of what's going out there on the field," said receiver Mike Wallace, who is in his second season. "Without us, we probably wouldn't be going to the Super Bowl."

Under-the-radar signings

The signing of journeyman Jonathan Scott in March barely registered a blip. But he will start his 11th consecutive game at left tackle on Feb. 6 in his native Dallas.

Flozell Adams, who signed with the Steelers in late July, will return to Dallas as the team's starting right tackle after making a successful transition from the left side of the offensive line.

The signings of kicker Shaun Suisham and punter Jeremy Kapinos during the season also have loomed large.

Suisham has converted 16 of 18 field-goal attempts since replacing Jeff Reed. Kapinos has been steady while filling in for the injured Daniel Sepulveda.

Big Ben's redemption

Ben Roethlisberger promised to change following a sexual assault accusation in March.

He made good on that vow, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reduced the six-game suspension he had imposed on Roethlisberger to four.

Roethlisberger has been a better teammate this season and is nothing if not driven, as any number of opposing defensive coordinators will attest.

The Steelers' season could have been lost during the low point of a tumultuous offseason.

Now, Roethlisberger stands one victory away from joining Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to win at least three Super Bowls.

Fast out of the gate

Rashard Mendenhall flashed through an opening on the right side of the line in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, and he and the Steelers were off and running.

The 50-yard touchdown on the Steelers' first offensive play in overtime allowed them to beat the team that would finish with the best record in the NFC.

Mendenhall, meanwhile, has rushed for 1,440 yards and 16 touchdowns in 18 games, including the postseason. And he grounded the Jets in the AFC Championship Game with 121-yard effort Sunday.

'We expect to win'

Mike Tomlin figured to be all smiles after the Steelers physically dominated the Tennessee Titans in a 19-11 win in the second week of the season.

But the fourth-year coach was noticeably edgy after the Steelers weathered injury and heat-related issues to beat the favored Titans in Nashville.

"We're a little bit annoyed, to be quite honest, (of) the premature reporting of our death," Tomlin said on the third Sunday in September. "We're pleased that we're 2-0, but we're not astounded by it. We expect to win."

The Steelers turned perceived slights into motivational fuel all season.

It has helped power them all the way to Dallas.

Winning without Ben

Most fans would have gladly taken a 2-2 record at the quarter point of the season. But the Steelers surprised everyone but themselves by winning three of their first four games while starting Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at quarterback.

Had the Steelers gone .500 in those first four games, they would have finished second to the Ravens in the AFC North.

And they would have had to go on the road for the playoffs.

Down goes Flacco

Troy Polamalu did not just add to the volume of highlights that are unofficially classified as "Did he really just do that?" in Baltimore.

His sack-strip of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco set up the decisive touchdown in the Steelers' biggest win of the regular season.

Polamalu shrugged off the play as mere execution of a perfect call by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Steelers fans know better.

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