With just three games remaining the Steelers find themselves controlling their own fate as far as the postseason goes, with this Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys the first step.
If the Steelers win out, they would secure a wild card playoff spot and still could win the AFC North division, depending on how the Baltimore Ravens finish out the season.
“These next few games we are in control of the rest of our journey,” said running back Jonathan Dwyer. “It’s a big emphasis for us to get this win, not just because of the situation, but because it’s the next game.
“I think there is a sense of urgency just because you want to win. We are still the same guys, the atmosphere is the same. But it’s December football. We know how important that is. You can tell from all of the guys. Coach (Mike) Tomlin doesn’t have to say anything. It just what it is.”
When December football rolls around, for teams in the playoff race, things escalate. The intensity picks up with more on the line and like Dwyer said, there is no need to preach the importance of games, especially with a veteran team that has been to the playoffs.
“December is the most important month of the season,” said receiver Plaxico Burress. “You want to be coming together and building a stretch run to get into the playoffs. You want to gather that confidence. We wanted to go out and win that game last week, but right now is a time we really want to be on the rise.
“We have a tough game in Dallas this weekend and then two home games. It’s a great opportunity for us to finish strong. As Coach Tomlin says the eventual world champion usually isn’t losing any more games at this point of the season. Guys understand the sense of urgency to go out and win this game and get on a run. It’s all about who gets hot this time of year. I have seen some crazy things happen and we definitely have the talent to do it. We just need to focus and make it happen.”
Houston, New England and Denver have already clinched playoff spots, but three spots remain in the AFC with Baltimore, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, New York and the Steelers leading the way for those last spots.
“We need to win every game,” said receiver Mike Wallace. “We don’t have time to lose a game and look around. When you look at the reality of things and the stretch, there are teams with the same or better record than us so we have to continue to handle what we can. As long as we handle our business, you don’t have to worry about what other teams do.”
The Steelers remaining schedule includes the Cowboys this week on the road, and then home games against AFC North rivals Cincinnati and Cleveland. If the Steelers are going to make the playoffs, getting hot now is a must.
“At this point of the season you have to start feeling it, get that second wind,” said Burress. “Everyone is looking to make it to the playoffs. Everyone is eyeing that trophy. Everyone is chasing it. Games are tougher now because teams know how critical they are.
“We just have to focus on us. If we go and win out, we don’t have anything to worry about and we don’t have to look over our shoulder. If we finish out strong we can write our own story.”
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Steelers’ fans love wearing their team colors, and proudly showed them off in a recent contest sponsored by Tide, called “Show Us Your Colors.”
NFL fans were asked to upload a photo of the time they were most proud to wear their colors to Tide’s Facebook page, with one person winning a trip to the Super Bowl.
But, there was an even bigger winner in the campaign, as the team that had the most photos uploaded won a $15,000 donation to their charity of choice. Steelers’ fans once again showed their devotion by uploading the most photos, and the United Way of Allegheny County will receive the donation on behalf of the team.
“This contest again proves that Steelers fans are the best in the NFL,” said Steelers President Art Rooney II, who serves as Chairman of the Board of the United Way of Allegheny County. “Not only do our fans show their support at Heinz Field and throughout every stadium in the league, but they also prove that they support our team in every way possible. Their dedication to the Steelers has resulted in a major contribution to the United Way, which goes above and beyond what happens on the field. We are grateful to have fans who care about the team, the organization and the community as much as ours do.”
The Steelers and the United Way of Allegheny County have a long standing relationship, starting with founder Art Rooney, Sr., and continuing through today.
“There is a fantastic relationship between the Rooney family, Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL, Steelers fans and the United Way that has lasted for many decades,” said Bob Nelkin, President of the United Way of Allegheny County. “It’s helped children, people with disabilities, seniors and people who are struggling financially.
“It’s great that Steelers fans are so passionate and compassionate. They are making a real difference by supporting charities like the United Way.”
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Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley
Re: G David DeCastro’s progression:
I think it’s been a great story, other than the negative of getting hurt. The fact that the new rule was made kind of kept him alive, gave him something to work for and a goal. We didn’t know for sure whether he’d be able to make it back or not. It was a testament to him and the trainers for the hard work that he put in for a chunk of the season. To even get in a position to get out on the field, I think is terrific. Now that he’s been out here, I think every week he’s done a good job and got more and more comfortable with is feet under him and practicing football. We had pads on yesterday which was good, and he’s passed every test, so to speak.
Re: OT Max Starks’ impact and him being a rock on the offensive line this season:
Don’t jinx him. He’s been the rock for us over there. He’s got a great test this week against the rushers we’re going to see in DeMarcus [Ware] and Anthony [Spencer], and everybody they bring at you. Max has been a great re-addition for this team and for the offense. Now, we just have to get him ready to play his best game.
How did QB Ben Roethlisberger play on Sunday? Was there any rust he needed to knock off?
I think early on we knew that it was going to take him a little bit to get into the game, and I thought in the second half, we all felt comfortable that he was back to speed. It’s unfortunate we were in the situation we were in, but he had to get back out there and get back into it like everybody does when they’ve been out for a chunk of time. The good thing is he made it through with no setbacks. He’s having another good week of practice, and I expect him to be ready to go.
How did you feel about Roethlisberger scrambling and running the ball?
Once he was given a clean bill of health, we all felt good about that. I think it was more, for us as coaches, just getting him back into the speed of the game.
Have you ever had a situation where you have two rookies on one side of the offensive line with so little experience this late in the season?
I’d have to go back and look through the seasons but we’ve been in some pretty sticky situations. That’s kind of how this year has been for this group. I think it’s served us well in that we haven’t always performed the way that we’d like or up to our abilities. I do think that when some of the adversity that we’ve had to face through some of these injuries and changing, moving parts, that it’s forced the guys to become extra cohesive and look out for their own. We have to be ready, and this is a big game for us. It’s on the road against a team that has some premier pass rush guys. They know they need each other right now, and they’ve learned that over the year. It’s time to stick together and make good things happen.
What did you like from OT Kelvin Beachum coming out of training camp?
I think we were all excited from the start. We were excited when we drafted him and were able to get him where we did. You only have so many picks, and you’ve got a long list of guys that you’d love to have on the team, and he was one of them. When he was there and we were able to get him, I can remember clearly on draft day that there was some fist-pumping and high-fiving because we were able to get another guy that we wanted. He hasn’t disappointed. He’s a hard-working, nose to the grindstone type of kid that you don’t hear much out of, and he got his opportunity to play. He’s done a commendable job. He needs to get better like everybody else, but for a young guy being thrown to the wolves, he’s done a good job. He’ll be facing the ultimate test this week. Just like I said, these guys rushing outside in Dallas are the real deal.
If DeCastro hadn’t gotten hurt, would it have been close whether Beachum would have made the team?
That’s ancient history at this point. He’s somebody that’s done a good job from day one. Usually those guys that you know have a chance to make it and play, you find a way to keep them around one way or another.
Re: Having two rookies on the offensive line this week:
That’s what everybody keeps reminding me. My answer was that this whole season has been a challenge one way or another, as they always are. Obviously, some years you have a little more adversity and moving parts than others, and we seem to have had a bunch of moving parts. At times, we’ve handled it real well and other times not as well as we’d have liked to. With three games to go and going down to Dallas, another team that’s fighting to find their way into the tournament, we’re going to have to play our best game. It’s going to be all hands on deck. Whoever is on deck or is able to get on deck is going to be expected to go out and play good football. We’ve got to do some things to help guys all the time, so this will be no different from that standpoint.
Is it any more difficult with the rookies lining up next to each other on the offensive line?
The good thing is they came in together. Those guys that come in the same class tend to have good rapport right out of the gate. Obviously, they’re going to have to count on [Maurkice] Pouncey, David will. But they’re both smart guys, and Beachum has been in there now for a couple weeks. I don’t know who will be helping who but I know they’ll be communicating and they’ll be ready to go mentally and physically.
How much further along is Roethlisberger this week than he was at this time last week?
I think a great deal. The biggest part is just having that game under his belt after missing a significant amount of time. I think that we all knew going into last week that it might take a little time to kind of get up to the speed of the game. It did, and I think he probably would say the same thing, but he got comfortable as the game went on. Unfortunately we were in a situation we didn’t want to be in but he’s got a game under his belt. He’s been back to practice for a week, so I’d expect him to be ready to go.
Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau
How much will change on defense, considering the injuries to the defensive backs?
Hopefully, we have some quality depth. It’s a challenge for us. One thing is for sure, they aren’t going to cancel the game. We think we have a plan. We have some good people that will step in there and pick it up. The game is still about tackling, keying and knocking down passes. We are going to show up. We know we have a challenge but I feel these young guys are going to make something good out of it.
With this situation, does it give guys like Ryan Clark or Troy Polamalu more responsibility?
Only in a communicative sense, but they are great communicators. I don’t think it’s anything different for them. I will say from the coaching sessions, which began back in March, we tried to develop depth at every position, and we tried to teach these young players like they are going to be starting. We know someday they will be starting. This has happened before this year. Unfortunately, we got a couple hits at the same spot. Generally speaking, throughout the course of a season, this happens every year. It’s not a surprise that some of these guys are going to be starting and taking a significant amount of snaps. Hopefully they will be prepared and answer the challenge.
Do you ever scratch your head, thinking about all the injuries this season?
Not the injuries, but I do scratch my head every day [Laughs]. Injuries are a part of the game. If you look around the league, we are close here, because it’s our team. I think most teams go through an injury process throughout a 16-game season.
Re: Josh Victorian’s play last Sunday:
He made a play. I thought that he knew his assignments well. We have had him since training camp. He’s always impressed us as a playmaker. I think that he will make a good account of himself in there.
Re: Victorian said he thought he could have been more physical on the play he gave up a touchdown:
I thought he saw the ball well. He had his key well. Maybe he mistimed it a little bit. That’s the way I saw it. I didn’t see a lack of physicality in the play at all.
Do you see Curtis Brown factoring in this game?
We will need every one of them, without a doubt. They will all be playing.
Re: Getting back LaMarr Woodley:
For several years now, he has been one of the better pass rushers in the NFL. Whenever he is not in there, you are going to feel his loss with the pressure. When he is in there, you are going to pick up the rush. Add to that the fact that he’s so big, teams have a hard time blocking him to run the football. He has a lot of assets. We are happy to have him back.
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Steelers’ fans can celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception with several special events on Saturday, Dec. 22.
The activities will begin at 4:15 p.m. with the unveiling of a historical marker designating the spot where the play occurred at Three Rivers Stadium, which is now part of the Stage AE Complex.
Following the unveiling fans can attend a special Immaculate Reception event being held at Stage AE from 6-10 p.m.
The event, which is free and open to the public and sponsored by ATI, will kick off with a video history of the Steelers, focusing on the Immaculate Reception as well as other key dates in team history.
Franco Harris, who made the catch that was dubbed the Immaculate Reception, will be on hand along with some of his teammates and will participate in an hour-long Immaculate Reception special that will be broadcast on KDKA-TV, presented by Coors Light.
Following the taping of the show House of Soul will perform.
Throughout the night 40 prizes will be given away to honor the 40th anniversary, including items signed by Harris, and Harris medallions, holiday ornaments, pins and Steelers gift cards. In addition, five pairs of tickets to the Steelers-Bengals game on Sunday, Dec. 23, the actual date of the anniversary, will be given away.
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