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News » Steelers back on track for 'January' football

Steelers back on track for 'January' football

Steelers back on track for 'January' football

Wild-card round matchups in the AFC and NFC:


Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers, 8 p.m., Saturday.

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. Sunday.


Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals, 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings, 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Note: The Steelers first game is 4:45 p.m. Jan. 11 at Heinz Field.

Although the Steelers had a serious disagreement about the quality of opposition that the miserable Cleveland Browns provided yesterday at Heinz Field, they were fairly unanimous about the most important point after their ridiculously easy 31-0 victory.

"We're definitely on the right track for January Football," defensive end Brett Keisel said.

There will be a home playoff game at 4:45 p.m. Jan. 11. The opponent will be the Miami Dolphins, the Indianapolis Colts or the San Diego Chargers. The opposition doesn't matter, the Steelers said. What's important is how they're playing.

"I like exactly where we are right now," linebacker James Farrior said.

"We just beat up on the Cleveland Browns," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We did what we wanted to do going into the playoffs."

"We're a very confident team," linebacker Larry Foote said. "We just went through a monstrous schedule and came out 12-4."

Ordinarily, it would be hard to imagine the Steelers heading into the postseason on a higher note. Their defense -- best in the NFL -- pitched its first shutout of the season, holding the Browns to 126 yards, including 20 passing. Their offense got Willie Parker and the running game going a bit; Parker had 116 yards on 23 carries, including a 34-yard touchdown run. The only downer was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's concussion late in the second quarter, although everyone in the locker room talked as if he will be ready for the first playoff game. "Thank goodness for the bye week," offensive tackle Max Starks said. "Two weeks is a lifetime in this business."

Still, it's awfully hard to get too excited about this win because the Browns really stink and they played as if they couldn't wait to get to the offseason. Can you blame them? Their boss, Romeo Crennel -- Dead Coach Walking -- probably will be fired today.

Here's a good nominee for the NFL season's most amazing statistic: The Browns went the final six games without scoring an offensive touchdown. Foote acknowledged it wasn't much of a challenge playing against their fourth-string quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, whose numbers -- 5 of 16 for 18 yards with 3 sacks, 2 interceptions and a microscopic 1.0 passer rating -- don't begin to reflect just how bad he was. "If you grab a guy off the street to be your quarterback, even a college defense could beat you," Foote said.


That was harder than any hit on the field, including the one that took out Big Ben.

But Parker didn't want to hear any talk about how the Browns are patsies, at least not their defense. "They're professionals just like we're professionals. It wasn't like we were playing some college team."

I'm not so sure. I'm thinking right along with Foote, I guess.

But, hey, there's no point in trying to curb Parker's enthusiasm. He's not going to give back this performance just because the Browns are lame, not after he ran for 29, 47 and 25 yards in the three previous games. His long touchdown run felt so good that he fired the Football into the stands.

"We had the mind-set going into this game that we were going to get the running game going," Parker said. "We consider this a get-right game."

That was the best part of the game, no question.

"It was a productive effort," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I thought that we controlled the line of scrimmage."

Give Tomlin credit for the way he approached the game. He was wise to sit out team MVP James Harrison because of a minor hip problem and absolutely right to play his other starters into the fourth quarter even though the Steelers were locked into the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs a week earlier. The reward of finding his running game -- even against weak competition -- was worth the risk of injury. I'll say the same thing even if, by some chance, Roethlisberger isn't ready to go for the first game. Three weeks is just too long for the starters to sit.

"It's important to keep a little bit of an edge," defensive end Aaron Smith said.

Now it's on to the playoffs. If the Dolphins beat the Baltimore Ravens this weekend, they will be the opponent. If the Ravens win, the Steelers will play the winner of the game between the Colts and the Chargers.

It's not exactly a state secret that the Steelers' season will be measured by how they do in January and maybe even February. That 12-4 record, the No. 1-ranked defense, Harrison's team sack record, Ward's 1,000-yard receiving season ... none of it will mean much if the team doesn't get to Super Bowl XLIII.

Actually, even that might not be enough.

Said the wise Foote, "You've got to win the Super Bowl if you want to be remembered."

Don't you just love the way that man thinks?

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 29, 2008

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