´ Steel Curtain Rising: December 2008

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Watch Tower: Plain Dealer Provides Excellent Coverage on Bill Cowher, Chuck Noll

It would be an exaggeration and an overly harsh to suggest that the Post-Gazette might want to discontinue cross linking to the home town papers of Steeler opponents, but the truth is that this practice treats Steelers fans to some very interesting reading.

This past week against Cleveland provides the perfect example.

The Post-Gazette linked to several stories from the Cleveland Plain Dealer that should have left more deliberate readers of the PG’s Steeler coverage scratching their heads. The out of town paper quite simply provided superior coverage in the lead up to the Browns game when it came to reporting on how the Steelers-Browns rivalry related to former Steelers coaches: Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll.

The Bill Cowher Chronicles

Its been little secret that the Browns ownership was going to clean house at the seasons end, and its even clearer that the Browns wanted Bill Cowher to return to the place where he first cut his teeth in the NFL.

Cowher coaching in Cleveland is every Steelers fans worst nightmare, and its been the subject of numerous fan questions in polls and on-line Q&A's run by the Post-Gazette.

Yet, the Post-Gazette did not actually run any stories on the subject, at least until Cowher officially asked not to be considered for the Cleveland coaching positions.

  • The Plain Dealer ran multiple stories on the subject.

That fact is not eye catching in-and-of-itself as the issue had more pure news value in Cleveland than it did in Pittsburgh.

But it’s the angle that the Cleveland stories took that made them significant.

One story quoted Dan Rooney at length, with Rooney expressing his admiration for Cowher, acceptance that Cowher might coach again, while sharing his doubt that Cowher would coach for Cleveland.

All very interesting, interesting enough to make you wonder why didn’t this make news in Pittsburgh? Its not front page material, but Dan Rooney does not give interviews every day of the week, and he was talking directly about the possibility his former coach of 15 years going to the Steeler's historic rival. That qualifies as news to me.

  • The Plain Dealer’s coverage didn't stop there.

They also ran another article where several members of the Steelers locker room were interviewed, and several of them went on the record explaining that they simply couldn’t see Cowher coaching for the Browns. Again, not front page material, but one has to wonder why the Post-Gazette never reported on this.

In fairness, these reports were written by the AP’s Alan Robinson, who is based in Pittsburgh, and not someone from the Plain Dealer’s staff, although that also drives home the point that the Post-Gazette could have ran these articles themselves. (Which they didn’t, at least not on line.)

Plain Dealer Publishes Must Read Article on Chuck Noll

Both the Post Gazette and the Plain Dealer ran stories about the Steelers Browns Rivalry, but here the Plain Dealer simply cleaned the Post-Gazette’s clock.

The Plain Dealer’s Jodie Valade wrote an in depth article on Chuck Noll’s role in stoking the flames of the Steelers-Browns rivalry. I will not do Valdade the disservice of recounting the entire article here, but the writer is a serious journalist who really did a lot of homework.

I’ve been voraciously following the Steelers for 21 years, yet Valadade's article taught me things about Noll that I never knew. Valade beat the bushes not only securing interviews with from former Steelers such as Lynn Swann, Mike Wagner, and Joe Greene as well as his mentor, Don Shula, but he also shares insights garnered from conversations with Noll’s former college roommates, relatives, and even people connected with his high school team.

In addition to being deeply sourced, the article features spectacular writing – you can imagine a Cleveland Browns fan reading it and developing sympathy for Chuck Noll, as outlandish as that sounds.

Valade’s piece is captivating and a must read for any serious Steelers fan.

All of this rasies a very important question, however. Why did devotees of the Black and Gold have to learn this from the Cleveland's Plain-Dealer?


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Wrap Up of Steelers Victory Over Browns

With Ben Roethlisberger apparently on the mend the Steelers 31-0 victory over the Cleveland Browns will soon fade from memory and into the history books. Nonetheless, before turning to AFC Divisional playoff game the let’s take a look at some of the game’s highlights.

Hines Ward Breaks the 1000 Yard Barrier

What else can you say about Hines Ward?

Although he was a third round pick in 1998 after having played three positions at Georgia, the man began his career with the Steelers as an afterthought. He Lead the team in receptions his second season only of find himself opening his third season on bench behind Tory Edwards and Plaxico Burress.

The man simply gets it done. The Steelers rewarded him with a lucrative, long term contact extension in 2005 and Ward returned the favor with his Super Bowl MVP performance. He did, however, fail to reach the 1,000 yard mark in each of the past three years, each season saw him play one fewer game, and his yards per catch average appeared headed for single digits….

…Going into 2008 the word was "Hines Ward is losing a step..."

  • Except someone forgot to tell Hines Ward.

Actually, someone did tell him, and he uses that motivate himself. All Ward did was what he has done throughout career: Come up with big catches at key moments during big games. Along the way he hauled in 81 catches for 1,043 yards and increased his yards per catch average to 12.9.

And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, he also caught his 800th pass.

Dennis Dixon Sees Some Time

And speaking of Ward’s 800th catch, it was thrown to him by none other than rookie Dennis Dixon. The choice of Dixon in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft raised eye brows here and elsewhere, but consensus was that he was a steal so late in the draft.

During training camp speculation was rampat that Dixon would take on a Kordell Stewart “Slash” like role, and the team even prepared a package with that in mind. That role never emerged, and Dixon saw his first action in the 4th quarter against Cleveland, going 1-1 for three yards.

Fast Willie Parker Finishes the Way He Starts

Its been a long, tough year for Willie Parker. Parker was injured last year against St. Louis, but showed no signs of slowing in the first two games of the year as he ran for well over 100 yards in both. He got hurt against Philly, and missed several games due to injury.

Since his return he has not been nearly as effective. He seemed to miss the burst and the ability to get the tough yards that he once got, and Willie Parker’s role as a starter began to be questioned by the fans and the media.

Willie Parker lit up Cleveland running 23 times for 116 yards – giving him five yards per carry. Steelers fans must consider the context – a weak Cleveland run defense that had nothing to play for – but Paker’s strong performance was nonetheless encouraging.

Arians Gets a Clue?

Bruce Arians has found himself in Steelers Nation’s bulls eye for much of the year, and for good reason. His commitment to the run has been questionable, as has his insistence on attempting to run through a two tight end formation. Journalist Jim Wexell has repeatedly hammered Arians on the later point, filling his "Just My Opnion" columns in the Steelers Digest with example after example of how the Steelers simply run better out of other formations.

For large portions of the Browns game, however, Arians deployed the power I formation, featuring Parker and H Back Sean McHugh at the full back position. The result was five rushers who totaled 176 yards. Hardly Franco Harris and Rocky Bleir like production, but impressive even when you account for the competition.

One can only hope that Arians, or at the very least, Mike Tomlin learned something from the experience.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Steelers Shut Out Cleveland 31-0; Lose Ben to Concussion

Citing a need to go into the playoffs on a positive note, Mike Tomlin rolled the dice by playing most of his starters in a meaningless game against the 4-11 Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.

By the time the first rays of sun begin hitting the waters that surround the Golden Triangle, the Pittsburgh press corps will undoubtedly be reminding Tomlin of that old credo:

  • Careful for what you wish for, for you may get it

The Steelers hammered the Cleveland Browns, notching their first shut out of the season and closing the season with a clean sweep of the AFC North and improving their final record to 12-4.

They also saw Ben Roethlisberger carted off of the field after taking a vicious hit late in the second quarter.

The good news is that Ben's injury was only a concussion, and with an extra week off he should be ready to return to the starting line up in two weeks. But there is little doubt that time between now and then will be filled as the pundits second guess Tomlin's move.

No Buyers Remorse Here

For the record, Steel Curtain Rising fully endorsed Tomlin's decision to play to win. While the Steelers could not improve their playoff position today, they were a team in the need of a shot in the arm. While the Steelers 12-4 record does include impressive wins over teams such as The New England Patriots, The Dallas Cowboys, the San Diego Chargers, and the Baltimore Ravens, both of their wins over the Cincinnati Bengals were criticized as lackluster.

One week after seeing their beloved Terrible Towel stomped on in Nashville after they self destructed against the Tennessee Titans, the last thing the Steelers did was another slid-shod performance against one of the league's bottom feeders.

This victory had a price, and if Ben struggles in the playoffs, the din created by those calling for Tomlin's head will be deafening.

But football is a contact sport. You play, you risk injury. And, as they used to say on the playgrounds, if you can't take the pain, don't play the game.

Steel Curtain Rising was not happy to click the Post-Gazette's home page to learn that Ben was taken out on a stretcher. (Takes to Direct TV Argentina's "Pay full price but get half the Sunday ticket" policy, the game was not shown in Argentina.)

But Mike Tomlin knew the risks involved in playing his starters, and did not hesitate because he is a coach who plays to win instead of one that plays not to lose.

Thanks for visiting Steel Curtain Rising. Do you think Tomlin made the right move -- Sound off in our comment section. Also, take a moment to vote in our on-line poll.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tomlin is Right to Play to Win Against Cleveland

The Steelers have a 11-3 record, a lock on the second seed in the AFC Playoffs, and one meaningless game to play against the Cleveland Browns before moving on to their first round bye.

The conventional wisdom is simple: Rest your starters, play your backups, avoid injury.

Mike Tomlin intends to do the opposite.

Tomlin is making the right move.

Protecting Against Injury vs. Nurturing Killer Instinct

Mike Tomlin is taking a calculated risk. Football is after all a contact sport. Careers, let alone seasons, can end in single play.

An injury to a James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, to name a few, could devastate the Steelers playoff hopes. And if such a tragedy were to occur, the vultures will descend on Tomlin with dispatch, condemning him for playing PrimeTime players in a decidedly non-primetime situation.

  • So why take a risk?

Tomlin’s has talked a lot about the fact that this is a division rivalry. He’s talked about the desire to start the season 6-2 and finish it 6-2. Don’t buy into it.

That’s talk for the press and the fans.

In another context you can imagine Tomlin saying “you know, all of that is interesting for the fans, and it makes a good story, but the truth is we’re focused on winning simply because it’s a football game.”

Tomlin's real reason has little to do with division rivalries, and less to do with statistics.

Consider last year. The Steelers also finished against their division rival Baltimore Ravens. Like the Browns, the Ravens looked to become road kill. Tomlin rested his starters. And the Steelers got embarrassed.

It simply looked like the Raven’s wanted it more.

  • This year Tomlin is having none of that.

Mike Tomlin knows that winning is as much about attitude as it is ability, and 2008 the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to maintain their killer instinct on his watch.

When asked if he thought he could build momentum going into the playoffs from the Browns game, Tomlin was unequivocal.

Absolutely. There will be 12 team in the playoff field and there can only be one (to win the Super Bowl). I guarantee you that one will be one that is on the rise heading into January football…. We have been a team on the rise up until last weekend. Hopefully we can put that behind us with a solid performance this week….


Exorcising the Demons

Mike Tomlin’s sophomore year as Steelers coach has stood in sharp contrast to his first. Tomlin has repeatedly declined to reflect on the 2008 campaign, but he confesses to knowing the team better than he did in 2007 and understanding which buttons to push.

The Steelers are coming off a 31-14 loss to the Titans. The loss cost them a shot at home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Titans played a very solid game and executed extremely well, but the Steelers also did their part to self-destruct, coughing up the ball four times, allowing five sacks, and missing easy tackles.

The defeat left a bad taste in the mouths of the Steelers, just as it should have.

Staying on the Right Side of the Edge

Tomlin’s task is to ensure that this loss does not send the Steelers reeling. Throughout the 2008 season the Pittsburgh Steelers have so much as lived the edge, they've thrived on it. Most margins of victory and defeat have been slim. The outcome of many games has been in doubt up to the final snap.

Against horrendous odds, the Steelers have risen to the occasion time and time again.

But the Tennessee game left the Steelers on the wrong side of the edge. Mike Tomlin intends to rectify by heading into the playoffs with a victory over defeating the Browns.

He is tempting fate when it comes to injuries, but Tomlin has tempted fate at other moments in the 2008 season. On almost each occasion the fates have shined down upon him with their favor.

And they have done so for one reason:

When Mike Tomlin plays, he plays to win.

As fate would have it, the Steelers won big against the Browns, but Ben Roethlisberger got hurt in the process. Click here for Steel Curtain Rising's reaction.

Thanks for visiting Steel Curtain Rising. Take a moment to leave a comment.

Beware of Alamo Rent a Car: Road Warriors of Steelers Nation

I struggled over whether or not to include this, as Steel Curtain Rising’s has a hard and fast rule of focusing exclusively on Steelers football. But I found myself a loophole in the fact that Steelers Nation is by definition made up of a group of travelers.

So here goes our warning:

To all of you road warriors of Steelers Nation, be very wary of renting from Alamo/National Car Rental.

As regular readers of this site know, yours truly is located in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My folks were in town for Christmas, and we needed transport to get us to where we’d be celebrating on the 24th and 25th.

No problem. We reserved a car with Alamo one month in advance.

Everything was in order.

We had our reservation for 4:30 on the 23rd. Now, did they tell you when you reserved that you had a 1 hour time limit to pick up your car? Did they mention that once that hour was up you lost your reservation?

Well, if they told you they didn’t tell us.

In fact, they didn’t even mention that we were ½ hour into this mystical one hour grace period when my wife called at 5:00 pm to mention that we were running late. In fact, they told us not to worry.

So when we got there, our car was gone. Not only did we lose the reservation, but the person there made it quite clear that he was not going to lift a finger to help us. There was another couple there that also was having problems getting their car, even though they’d prepaid and were on time.

It was clear that Alamo had overbooked, and had no compunction about screwing their customers.

So fellow members of Steelers Nation, if you’re traveling and need to rent a car, be careful with Alamo; or better yet, just rent a car from one of Alamo’s competitors.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Steelers Place OT Marvel Smith on IR

The Pittsburgh Steelers placed offensive tackle Marvel Smith on injured reserve, and signed tackle Jason Capizzi from the Rams practice squad to replace him.

The Steelers had signed Capizzi as rookie free agent in 2007, and he spent time on their practice squad in 2007, as well as the practice squads of numerous other teams. Pittsburgh signed him to their active roster prior to the Jacksonville playoff game last January, but he did not play. Capizzi has been on the St. Louis Rams practice squad for much of the 2008 season.

End of the Line for Marvel Smith?

The speculation here and in other quarters is that Marvel Smith could have played his last game for the Steelers.

Smith was drafted in 2000 and quickly became a starter at right tackle. Within a short time he moved to left tackle, and became a Pro Bowler there in 2004.

However, back issues have bedeviled Smith for the last two years, and injuries also ruined a good portion of his 2003 season. Smith also finished the 2007 season on IR and underwent back surgery during the off season.

Smith left in the fourth quarter of this year's game against Jacksonville with what was described at the time was "cramps." It was soon determined that it was the back that was ailing Smith again, although the Steelers were adamant in insisting that this injury was distinct from the one that he suffered in 2007.

The Grass Isn't Always Greener on the Other Side (of free agency)

Despite the injury history, Smith entered the 2008 season as the Steelers only Pro Bowl caliber offensive lineman, and the Steelers reportedly did attempt to sign him to a long-term deal prior to the 2008 season as he is in the last year of his contract. Smith chose not to resign, opting to test the free agent waters in 2009.

Smith will still get the chance to test those waters next March, but it remains to be seen if the Steelers, or anyone else will have any interest.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans -- The Anatomy of a Rivalry

The Steelers and the Titans clash in Nashville this week, and spoils of victory will likely be home field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Although Pittsburgh and Tennessee have not played since 2005, Tennessee is a familiar foe because they were regulars on the schedule until realignment following the 2001 season abolished the old AFC Central division and moved the Titans to the new AFC South.

Regardless of the division, games against the Titans are always hard hitting affairs.

This is an old school rivalry whose roots extend directly back to the Titan’s days as the Houston Oilers. You could fill a small book with anecdotes from Steelers-Oilers rivalry; suffice to say, Bud Adam’s decision to move his team to Tennessee only intensified the tension between these the tension between these two teams.

While the Steelers may lead the series 41 to 29, the naked truth is that the Titans have dominated since arriving in the Volunteer State, to the tune of 10-4.

This once and future rivalry has created some glory, but a lot more pain for the Steelers, and here is a look at some of the highlights from the series.

1996 at Pittsburgh - The Punter Mixes it Up

This was the last time the Houston Oilers visited Three Rivers Stadium and the contest was billed by then NBC studio commentator Joe Gibbs as the game that was to preface the changing of the guard in the AFC Central. The teams played as if division supremacy was indeed at stake. Steelers win, 30-16.

  • Substitute punter Shane Edge gets throw out of the game for fighting – you know there is bad blood when your punter gets ejected.

1997 at Pittsburgh – Tennessee’s First Visit to Three Rivers Stadium

This was Tennessee’s first trip to Three Rivers, although as the “Tennessee Oilers” Steelers win 37-24.

  • Greg Lloyd makes his first splash play of the 1997 season, with a long fumble return.

1997 at Tennessee – Bettis Puts Team First

This was a meaningless game, as the Steelers had all but locked up the AFC Central crown. The Steelers lose 16-6.

  • With 1,665 yards rushing Jerome Bettis could have easily taken a shot at Barry Foster’s single season Steelers rushing record of 1,690. The Bus instead puts prudence over pride and decides to rest for the game.

1998 at Pittsburgh – Is the Giant is Slipping….?

The Steelers bring a 5-2 record into this game, fresh off an impressive 20-13 win over Kansas City on Monday Night Football. But the Steelers performance has been inconsistent thus far, as Kordell Stewart looks lost under center, and all but refuses to throw the long ball. The Steelers come out sleep walking, and Eddie George shreds the Steelers run defense. Tennessee wins 41-31.

  • Kordell Stewart flaunts his immaturity, claiming that he played a good game, his three interceptions not withstanding.

1998 at Tennessee – ...Yes the Giant has Slipped

For all intents and purposes, this game comes down to a missed field goal by replacement kicker Matt George that would have put the Steelers within six to win. But the simple fact is that the Steelers did not get it done. Tennessee wins 23-14.

  • The Steelers almost always found a way to win the close ones under Bill Cowher. Although the Steelers rebound to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars in the succeeding week, the fact is that the losses to the Tennessee signal that the Steelers are no longer contenders.

1999 at Tennessee – Mayhem in the Secondary

Titans win 16-10. The four point difference in this game should fool no one. If you want to know how this game went consider this:

  • Safeties Scott Shields and Travis Davis have a Tennessee receiver (Chris Sanders?) in double coverage deep downfield. Both of them either have a chance to make a play on the ball or land a hellacious hit. Neither player does either. Instead, they more or less freeze as Sanders gets a 46 yard reception to set up a score.

1999 at Pittsburgh – Steelers Become a Side Show

This game was actually played on January 2nd, 2000. If the Steelers had looked lackluster since losing to the expansion Browns at mid-season, they play a spirited game. And that is the problem. The team is horrendously undisciplined and unsettlingly soft at the core. Consider:

  • Bobby Shaw catches a garbage time touchdown and celebrates by lifting his jersey to show off a Superman shirt.
  • Levon Kirkland, all 280 plus pounds of him, intercepts a Neil O’Donnell pass inside the 20, and lets the former Steelers quarterback muscle him out of bounds.

2000 at Pittsburgh – From Glee to Grief in Two or Three Throws

The Steelers have started the 2000 0-2 getting defeated by the to-be champion Baltimore Ravens and upset by the Browns in Cleveland. They have been left for dead by most of the NFL, and many in the Pittsburgh media have started a deathwatch vigil on Bill Cowher’s job. Tennessee arrives for this final game at Three Rivers stadium as defending AFC Champions, and the Steelers fight tooth and nail, only to be heart broken, 20-23

  • Steelers Nation rejoices as Jason Gildon slams Neil O’Donnell to the turf, drawing blood...
  • ...Celebration turns to agony when O’Donnell’s injury brings Steve McNair onto the field. McNair only needs only five throws to take the Titans to the end zone and put them on top for good.

2000 at Tennessee – The Virtue of Disappointment

After losing in the final moment of week three to the Titans, the Steelers show their tenacity in that game, loss notwithstanding, was no fluke. They arrive in Nashville with a five game winning streak only to lose 9 to 7.

  • Bill Cowher states that after the game his team is more disappointed than it was during previous losses – and this is a good thing, because it reveals that the Steelers are once again accustomed to winning.

2001 at Pittsburgh – A Corner of Steelers Nation Goes Global

Plaxico Burress, of modern day “shoot thyself with an unlicensed hand gun in a night club” fame has done everything thing possible to earn the “bust” label that has followed him since he was drafted… Until today. Burress has a breakout game as the Steelers win 34-7.

  • Most will either remember the game as the day Dennis Miller got the key to the city of Pittsburgh, or the first Monday Night Football game at Heniz Field. But it marks another milestone. It is the first game that yours truly watches the Steelers from Buenos Aires. An ESPNDeportes tape delay means that game is shown at 2:00 am locally, but we dutifully rise to watch and the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires is born!

2002 at Tennessee – Tommy Gun Caught in the Crossfire

Tommy Maddox, of XFL Fame, has come off the bench to rescue a season that appeared doomed after the Steelers opened the season with to back losses to the Patriots and Radiers.

In fact, Maddox takes the league by storm lighting up opposing offenses, to the point where commentators begin to suggest that perhaps the Steelers are scoring too quickly with him under center. Unfortunately, Maddox takes a vicious hit that leaves him momentarily paralyzed on the field. Titans win in 31-23.

  • Although Maddox is not permanently injured, and does return to lead the Steelers to the playoffs, he is never quite the same.
  • Also, coming off the bench, Kordell Stewart almost brings the team back. In fact, he’ll play his best two games as a professional in relief of Maddox.

2002 playoffs, at Tennessee – And the Oscar Goes to…. Joe Nedely

The Steelers fall behind early, but claw their way back in a pure dog fight that sees James Farrior land straight on his head, and Hines Ward throw a two point conversion pass. The game goes into overtime as the Titans win, 34-31.

  • The Steelers make a clean block attempt on Joe Needley as he misses his first attempt at a game winning field goal. Needley takes soccer player like dive, drawing a penalty. Given a second chance, he makes it sealing the game for Tennessee.

2003 at Pittsburgh – Its Going to Be a Long Season….

The Steelers jump out to an early 10-0 lead, only to implode on two Tommy Maddox interceptions, a safety, and a blocked field goal, as the Titans win 30-13.

  • The combination of poor pass protection and poor decision making by Maddox is to become one of the common threads in what will ultimately become a 5 game losing streak for the Steelers.

2005 at Pittsburgh – The Bus Begins its Final Rounds

The Steelers open the season by dominating the Titans 34 to 7. Bill Cowher had concluded the preseason by admonishing that “the passing game isn’t where it needs to be,” but Ben Roethlisberger completes 9 of 11 for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Willie Parker also runs for 162 yards.

  • While the road would get far rockier further on, this will always be remembered as the Steelers first victory on the Bus’ final stop at the Lombardi Trophy presentation at Super Bowl XL.

2008 At Tennessee -- The First of Two Meetings?

This will be Mike Tomlin’s first trip to Tennessee, and his first game against the Titans. Regardless of who wins Sunday, these two teams could easily see each other again in January.

Game 15, 2008 at Tennessee -- The Titans Continue to Torrment

Entering the game the Titans appeared to be a team on the decline, while the Steelers appeared to be a team on the rise. All of the pundits were picking Pittsbrugh.

They should have known better.

The Steelers defense has spentthe 2008 season stuffing opposing offenses, and humbeling Pro Bowl quarterbacks like Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. Even in victory Peyton and Eli Manaings have looked like mere mortals in front of the Steelers defense...

...So it would only go to figure that the Titan's would be the first defense to net more than 300 yards and journeyman Kerry Collins would be the first quaterback to finish a game with a passer rating over 100.

Credit the Titans for play a well hard fought and well executed game. They deserved to win.

But its also true that the Steelers simply left a lot of plays out on the field, on both offense, defense and special teams.

Thanks for visiting Steel Curtain Rising. Take time to leave a comment reministing about your favorite moments from games against the Oilers and/or Titans, and make sure to take a second to vote in our on-line poll (upper right hand corner.)

Steelers-Oilers Bad Blood Fuels Current Rivalry with Titans

The Steelers vs. the Titans is the focus this week, but that has stirred up a ton of memories from the elder days of the Steelers and Oilers rivalry. You could fill a small book with anecdotes from Steelers-Oilers games:

  • Joe Greene’s five sack, one fumble recovery and blocked field goal to make the difference in a must-win situation in December 1972,
  • The two AFC Championship victories at Three Rivers Stadium,
  • Chuck Noll calling out Jerry Glanville,
  • Rod Woodson forced fumble on Lorenzo White in overtime to set up Gary Anderson’s upright splitting field goal in the playoffs in 1989
  • That same victory that cost Jerry Glanville his job,
  • Mark Royals to Warren Williams in the Astrodome on opening day 1992,
  • Al Del Greco going wide right at Three Rivers Stadium in 1992 to give the Steelers undisputed control of the AFC Central in 1992,
  • Gary Brown sucking off one of Greg Lloyd’s full speed, full contact hits to gain 5 or six yards in 1993,
  • Michael Barrow ripping off Mike Tomzack’s helmet so as to hit him better in 1993,
  • Rod Woodson causing another fumble to set up another game winning Gary Anderson field goal in 1994

Free free to take a moment to share your memories from the Steelers-Oilers rivalry.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pittsburgh Chapter of PFWA Honors Bailey, Clark

Steelers linebacker Patrick Bailey was honored by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association as the team's 2008 rookie of the year.

While Bailey's certainly distinguished himself on special teams, his selection underlies the fact that thus far the Steelers 2008 draft class has been very, very short on results. Rashard was lost for the season in the four game of the season, Limas Sweed only has six catches, and the rest of the picks have played little, are on IR, or the practice squad.

The association also honored Ryan Clark with its "Cheif Award," which they present to the member of the Steelers organization who best embodies the spirit of cooperation with the media as established by Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Harrison, Farrior, and Polamalu Selected to 2008 Pro Bowl Squad

The NFL announced its 2008 Pro Bowl selections today, and despite the fact that they have the number one defense and the second best record in the AFC, only three Steelers made the final selection.

James Harrison, James Farrior, and Troy Polamalu were selected, all three from the Steelers number one defense. No player from the Steelers offense was selected?

Were Steelers Snubbed?

The question of course is, were more Steelers snubbed? As much as you'd like to see someone from the offense, such as Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers offensive struggles have probably headlined the too much coverage to merit consideration.

While Ben Roethlisberger's play, topped by no fewer than four fourth quarter come from behind saves, certainly merits consideration, the fact is that his numbers are down, and that undoubtedly hurt his cause, if if it shouldn't.

Beyond that, its hard to make a case for someone else on the offense. Willie Parker? Not even close. Mewelede Moore? A great pick up and a truly underrated and perhaps under utilized player, but he has not had a Pro Bowl year.

Hines Ward? Well, you'd like to think that, and his production early in the year, plus his ability to make clutch catches certainly fall in his favor, but he has had a lot of drops this year. Heath Miller certainly is an other who should be given a long long, but his mid-season injury probably limited his chances.

What About the Defense?

The real surprise comes on defense. Harrison, Farrior, and Polamalu clearly belong? But what about LaMarr Woodley? Woodley should be a candidate, but players usually frequently make it a year or so after they really deserve it.

Ike Taylor is another strong candidate, as he was matched against some of the league's top receivers and did an excellent job for the most part. But he also dropped many interceptions. And that hurts him.

Aaron Smith most certainly should be in the Pro Bowl, as his value to the team is beyond question, but again, as an end in a 3-4 he simply does not put up the numbers that you need. That isn't the way it should be, but it is the way it is.

Selections Show Just How Much of a Team Effort This Is

If nothing else, the Pro Bowl selections show that the 2008 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers' success is firmly based on the concept of team.

Go to an average NFL fan an start spouting off names like Larry Foote, William Gay, Desha Townshend, Ryan Clark, Lawrence Timmons, and Brett Keisel and the likely response you'd get is, "who?"

But each of these players has come, and come up big. Not only when other players have been injured, but in key moments of big games. They may not generate a lot of ink as individuals, but their collective effort speaks for itself.

And Then There's Jeff Reed

Jeff Reed has not only shown himself to be one of the league consistent kickers, he has done it in the NFL's most difficult venues for kickers (don't believe me, ask Kris Brown.)

But that does not do him justice.

The ability to kick under pressure, is what separates the good kickers from the great ones.

And Reed been tested under high pressure situations time and time again.

If there is any one Steeler who has been snubbed by the Pro Bowl voters, it is Jeff Reed

Thanks for visiting Steel Curtain Rising. What do you think? Do you think Steelers have been snubbed by the NFL voters. Take a moment to leave a comment sharing who you think should have made and why. Also take a moment to vote in our poll on the Steelers touchdown against the Ravens.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shanghai Kelly’s: The Place to See the Steelers Play in San Francisco

I've now seen two Steelers games on US soil in one season, a feat I have not matched in 8 years. And the irony of the fact is that both of them involved the Ravens.

I watched the first Ravens game with friends of mine (Ravens fans) back in Maryland. I'd been longing to see a game at my beloved Purple Goose, but that was not to be, as the Goose is no longer the Goose -- its now a Raven's roost.

The return bout against the Ravens saw me in San Francisco. Thank God for the Internet, as finding a place to see the game was not hard. The Post-Gazette's website listed a number of places in San Francisco, and three within walking distance. I cannot say anything about the others, but for those who find themselves in a similar situation, I whole heartedly recommend Shanghai Kelly's.

Shanghai Kelly's is a small corner bar on Polk and Broadway in San Francisco's Nob Hill. If you go purely on image, San Francisco and Steelers fans would not seem to mix, so I must admit I was a tad bit skeptical as to what I would find.

I must admit, that I am pleased to announce that my skepticism was missed placed.

"Release the Hounds! Release the Hounds!"

The place is small, but its packed. When I found it, I saw a crowd overflowing out the door. Although part of that was because people were indulging their nicotine habits, the simple fact is that the place was packed.

I arrived just in time to see the Raven's final field goal, and stayed through the entire second half.

The place is adorned with all kinds of Steelers and Pittsburgh memorabilia, from Iron City bottles, to a Blitzbergh sign.

Most importantly, the fans were first class. As you'd expect, they were friendly, totally were totally committed the the Black and Gold, and understood the game and the team (which is to say, Bruce Arians is not popular in that bar.)

They didn't play the Western Pennsylvania polka, which my soul longed to hear, and I failed to the "Chew tobacco, Chew tobacco, spit, spit, spit, if you ain't a Steelers fan you and sh_t" going.

But let me tell you, these people have come up with something new, at least for me.

As soon as the defense got into position, a cry would sally forth from the bar, and resonate back through the rest of the place. Its quite simple:

"Release the Hounds! Release the Hounds."

It was infectious. I loved it.

It perfectly describes what the the Steelers defense does to opposing quarterbacks. Its seeks them, it finds, them, it destroys them.

So if you find yourselves in San Francisco and need to see the Steelers game. Shanghai Kelly's is the place to go. One bit of advice.

Get there early.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Paying Tribute to Purple Goose: A Pioneer Outpost of Steelers Nation

“We're from the town with that great football team,
We cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Chuck Noll and all his friends are all on the field.
Go out and get them Steelers.

Bradshaw, and Rocky, and Franco and Lynn,
We love you Pittsburgh Steelers.
It's been many years in coming,
just keep that Steelers machinery humming…”

It was the first time I’d heard the song, it was the first time I’d been the place, and I was hooked on both.

The date was December 19th, 1993. The song is of course the Western Pennsylvania Polka, and the place was the Purple Goose Saloon, then home of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore. In Spanish they say, Me encontre con mi lugar en el mundo, -- roughly translated, I’ve found my place in the world. That was how I felt.

Life can be ironic sometimes. I’d spent my college years in Baltimore, only to learn in the last week of the fall semester of my senior year that there was indeed a place where I could see Steelers games every Sunday.

Fast forward to 2008. I am about to witness my first Steelers game on US soil in five and a half years…. I eagerly anticipated going up to the Goose….

….Only to get Steelers Fan Club of Maryland newsletter and learn that the Purple Goose is now a Ravens Roost!

This is of course not news to the faithful of Steelers Nation in Maryland. The Goose apparently got bought out a year ago, its new owners changed the name immediately, but waited a year to kick out the Steelers fans. For me, if the news wasn’t entirely unanticipated, but it surely was disappointing.

“Chew tobacco, Chew tobacco, spit, spit, spit, if you ain’t a Steelers fan you ain’t sh-t, Go Steelers!”

If you never experienced a Steelers game that Purple Goose, you missed something special.

In the early 1990’s, long before the advent of the Direct TV’s Sunday Ticket, a Pittsburgh transplant by the name of Jim D. (I’ll avoid last names for the sake of preserving privacy) decided he wanted to see Steelers games. There was no web in those days, so Jim starting putting up little three by five cards in super market bulletin boards and spreading the news by word of mouth.

Perfect Home Away from Home

The Colts had long ago left Baltimore, and the Ravens arrival was still years off. There as many Pittsburgh expats in Baltimore as there are anywhere else, and the Purple Goose was the perfect location.

The Goose was a medium sized shot-and-a-beer joint down tucked off of Caton avenue in one of South Baltimore’s last working-class enclaves. I never made it into one of those bars that used to sit across from J&L’s on Carson street, but I’ll wager that this place could have held its own against any one of them.

The Goose was dark, it was rough-edged, and there was always a haze, at least in those days.

  • You couldn’t ask for a better environment.

Fans from all over the region, and from all walks of life flocked to the Goose on Steelers Sunday. Plumbers, hair stylists, people who worked for the NSA, nutritionists, private investigators, school teachers, you name it and you could find it at the Goose. Steelers garb adorned the walls, waitresses wore Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore t-shirts, special black and gold colored menus featuring pastrami brothers sandwiches were on every table.

And perhaps most importantly, Iron City and IC Light was available, and always freely flowing.

Sundays at the Goose

The routine was pretty simple, starting with – Get There Early. If you had any hope of getting a seat, at least when the Steelers were playing well, you had to get their 2 hours or so before game time. There was plenty to do, tailgates in the parking lot were a common occurrence, and it all revolved around the Steelers.

As game time approached, Steve would take the podium, announce the weeks raffle prices, say a few words to get the fans fired up (as if we needed it) and we’d lead into kick off with the Western Pennsylvania Polka, followed of course by Steelers Nation’s rallying cry: “Chew tobacco, Chew tobacco, spit, spit, spit, if you ain’t a Steelers fan you ain’t sh-t, Go Steelers!”

Luck of the Draw

Volunteers would circulate at half time selling raffle tickets, “1 for a dollar, 6 for five, 12 for ten, and you do the math after that.” I always bought a raffle ticket. One raffle ticket. No more, no less. I have NEVER had any luck at winning raffles or drawings, but I won the raffle at the Goose at least a half dozen times…..

The Steelers lost my first game at the Goose, getting smashed 26-17 (don’t be deceived by the score) by the then Houston Oilers. In fact they’d lose their next game 16-6 to Seattle, but it didn’t take long to understand that this place was something out of the ordinary.

I remember the final game of the 1993 season vividly. I showed up an hour early, thinking I was going to find a place to sit, only to discover that I was very, very wrong. The Steelers had an 8-7 record, and needed a win plus help to make the playoffs. This day marked one the times that Greg Lloyd altered the course of a game with the sheer force of his will. While I cherish that memory, what happened after the game sticks out.

With a victory in the bag, the Steelers playoff spot depended on the outcomes of several other games. The bar immediately switched to those games, and 90% of the fans stuck around. If memory serves, the easiest route to the playoffs would be for the New England Patriots to beat the Miami Dolphins, which would put Pittsburgh in the playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs.

I can remember one fan speaking out against this. He wanted things to break another way, a way that would allow us to play Houston in the playoffs again – “I want one more shot at Buddy Ryan,” he declared. You gotta love the attitude.

The Steelers did not get one more shot at Buddy Ryan. Drew Bledsoe led the Patriots from behind to beat the Dolphins, and at Western Pennsylvania Polka played at the Purple Goose again.

Following the 1993 season, life would take me to Boston and then Cincinnati, but when ever I was home during the Steelers season, I always made my pilgrimage to the Goose. Between 1997 and 2000 I was back in Maryland, and I only missed two games.

The Josh Miller Fan Club

That stretch included the dark days of the 1998 and 1999 seasons, where the Goose served as a refuge. Numbers might have been down, but the spirit was still the same. Ray Sherman’s offense was so bad, a group of buddies would sit there, call the play before the snap, and usually get it right. And usually it meant that the Steelers offense got stuffed. After a time, first downs were punctuated with the caveat, “Josh Miller is warming up to kick!”

Awards, Honors, Accolades, and Memorable Games at the Goose

The Goose was bar none, one of the best places to see a game. Iron City beer honored the Bar naming it one of the top ten out of town Steelers bars. KDKA sent a television crew to do a story on the bar and its fans back in 2001 – I was already living in Argentina then, but one of my friends was featured.

The game time environment at the Goose was something special. The January 1995 playoff victory over the Browns? – Time Square in New York on V-E day could not have been more festive. I missed Super Bowl XXX at the Goose, but the T-shirts said it all “I survived Super Bowl XXX at the Purple Goose.”

“Life is a journey in which you never arrive.” – Chuck Noll.

After the 2000 season, my journey would again take away, this time outside of the United States. I made my travel plans so that I’d be back in time for the 2001 playoffs, and got to see the Steelers playoff games against the Ravens and Patriots.

I am glad that one of my last games at the Goose featured Amos Zereoue running over Rod Woodson to score a touchdown. I really wish that I could have been there for Super Bowl XL. My first thought when the Steelers finally got One for the Thumb was “My God, the Goose must be crazy.”

While it is saddening to know that the Goose is no more, change is simply a part of life. And change is not always for the bad.

The Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore has grown. In fact, it has grown so much that its now the Steelers Fan Club of Maryland. And while the Goose is no longer on their roster of Sunday Watering holes, the club counts four or five other locations. I have never been to any of them, but I can imagine that they will be the place to watch the Steelers play the Ravens this coming Sunday.

Win or lose, a good time will be had by all. But as good as those places might be, however much the might thrive, they’ll never be another Purple Goose.

Thanks for reading Steel Curtain Rising. Take time to leave one of your memories of the Goose, comment about the Baltimore game, and vote in our poll (upper, right hand corner.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Parker's Comments on Steelers Football Accurate, but Inapproprate

Willie Parker said what every Black and Gold blooded Steelers fan has been thinking all year long:


  • The Steelers have gotten away from Steelers smash mouth football under Bruce Arians.

Regular readers of this blog know that Steel Curtain Rising is no fan of Bruce Arians. Parker is absoutely right.

But he was wrong to open his mouth.

The Steelers are going to travel to play the Baltimore Ravens this week. The Ravens are every bit as tough as the Steelers. The Steelers have not won in Baltimore in five years. This game is going to be a street fight. Let's put this into prespective:

  • After beating the Patriots much of the press talked about Pittsburgh closing in on the second seed in the AFC...
  • If the Steelers lose to Baltimore, the press will be asking if the Steelers can simply make the playoffs

That's how big this game is.

Therefore, now is not the time to be airing gripes publically. (Leave that to the press and the fans.)

Instead of focusing on the Raven's, Mike Tomlin is now forced to respond to Parker.

The Steeler do not need these distractions. Willie Parker is not Anthony Smith. He should know better. He should keep his mouth shut, at least in public.

Want to Understand the Meaning of Cowboys Game? Look Back to the Browns Game

The Steelers victory over the Dallas Cowboys is perplexing to much of Steelers Nation, and for good reason. Against New England, the Steelers prevailed in what was supposedly a “statement game” and they did it by going back Steelers Football. Once you get beyond the “win is a win” credo, and set aside the phenomenal performance of the defense, it is hard not to view the Dallas game as somewhat of a step back.

  • But was it a step back?

Who knows?

At this point in the season Steelers Nation has little choice to accept the good with the bad. This team has a dominating defense of the likes that has been seldom seen. Its special teams are no longer a liability, and in fact have provided sparks at key moments in big games. But the offense can be generously described as “inconsistent.”

So be it.

Steelers fans who want to make sense of the Dallas game need look back no further than the lessons we learned in week 2 against the Cleveland Browns.

Season Previewed in Week 2

Week two might seem like a long time ago, but the game against the Browns gave Steelers Nation a good snapshot of what was to be for the rest of the season.

The Steelers defense dominated. It stifled drive after drive, and each time the Browns got some semblance of momentum going, the defense stepped up to stop them with a big play.

The offense of course struggled. At the time we thought, “Oh, it’s the rain and gail force winds….¨ Or, its only week two. Willie got his hundred, and Ben was able to rocket passes downfield…. But the offense never could establish a rhythm. In a game where they could have doubled or tripled the score on Cleveland, the Steelers had to settle for winning 10 to 6.

The Commitment that Mike Tomlin Established Against Cleveland

If there is one thing that shown in the Cleveland game, its that Mike Tomlin is a coach committed to letting games be determined by the players on the field of play. At the time Steel Curtain Rising observed:

When 2008 chapter on the Pittsburgh Steelers is written, game two will likely be cast simply as the night the Steelers went 2-0 by the ho-hum score of 10-6.

Fair enough, none of the key plays were outstandingly spectacular, nor will they be long remembered. But they nonetheless reveal something important. Mike Tomlin is a coach who is ready to put the game in the hands of his players, and when he does that the players will respond with poise.


Against the Browns, Tomlin had chance after chance to play it safe. He declined each time, instead opting to play to win.

He did much the same against the Cowboys

Playing to Win

The Steelers offense played losing football for the vast majority of the game against the Cowboys. Anytime you defense secures four turnovers in a game of this level and your offense only converts them into 3 points, you know something is not going well.

Tomlin continued to put his trust in his players. His players persevered, and ultimately preformed. The Steelers of late have had trouble converting goal line situations. They found themselves in another to open the 4th quarter. They were down 13 to 3 and needed two scores.

  • Mike Tomlin went for the touchdown anyway.

Gary Russell of course failed to convert (or more aptly stated, the line failed to block for Gary Russell).

  • Dallas’ defense celebrated as if the game was over.

Tomlin’s defense simply delivered.

Six plays later Dallas was punting, and three more plays after that Jeff Reed was making it a seven point game.

The Steelers defense came back and forced another three and out, and this time Ben Roethlisberger and Nate Washington delivered, leading the team on an eight play 67 yard drive that ended with Health Miller’s touchdown pass. That score tied the game, but Tomlin wasn’t done.

Perhaps We Should Call it the Black and Bold

Dallas got the ball back with 1:58 yet. The conventional wisdom when you're playing defense in this case is you prevent the big play and hope to be on the right side of the coin toss in over time.

Dallas ran Choice for two yards…

  • And then Tomlin called a time out.

Not content to play for the stalemate for the sake of reaching overtime, Tomlin played to win.

  • Press reports reveal that Romo was incredulous...
  • ...And flustered.

On the next play Dick LeBeau called what looked like Cover-2. Except it wasn’t. Thinking he was going to hook up with All Pro Jamie Witten, Romo fired pass that Desha Townsend came out of no where to intercept, and return 25 yards for a touchdown.

Where to Go From Here?

At this point the adulation at the dramatic come from behind victory against the Cowboys has faded to the reality that the Steelers must travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens. Baltimore where they have not won in five years. Baltimore where only the Titans have been victorious this year. Baltimore, the team with a defense every bit as physical as the Steelers.

Its impossible to know the outcome, although the smart money would have to favor the Ravens. But the smart money wouldn’t have favored the Steelers comebacks against the Jaguars, Chargers, or Cowboys.

A big part of the Steelers success in those endeavors lines in the fact that Mike Tomlin plays to win. Whatever the outcome of the Ravens game, you can rest assured that Tomlin and the Steelers will not attempt to play it safe.

Thanks for reading Steel Curtain Rising. Please take a moment to vote and/or leave a comment.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Steelers Prevail 20-13 in Nerve Wracking Victory Over Cowboys

The Pittsburgh Steeler defeated the Dallas Cowboys by 20-13 in one of their most nerve wracking games in a season filled with barn burners and nail biters.

Its ironic that in what the Post-Gazette had dubbed the "Latin America Bowl," referring to the fact that the Steelers and Cowboys are the two most popular teams in Mexico, the President of the Pittsburgh Steelers fan club of Buenos Aires, yours truly, down here in Argentina did not get to see the game until 24 hours after it was played.

Personal and professional commitments made this a tape delay affair, but I mustered my self discipline not to check the score, or any other NFL news, despite being connected to a computer all day.

Kudos go out to my wife, who despite my entreaties, went ahead and looked up the score this morning, but did not let off an inkling as to the fact that she'd done so, let alone give up the score. The Cancherita de Catamarca* earns a well deserved award for candor this week.

As for the game itself.... Wow. It is hard to know what to say.

The story has been much the same all season. The defense plays some dominating ball, and the offense finds a way to win. Special teams played their role too.

Suffice to say a more thorough post-game summary will be forthcoming in a day or so.

*No, my wife is not from Catamarca, but hey it sounds good.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Was the Victory Over The Patriots a Turning Point for the Steelers?

Sometimes, you love being wrong. Steel Curtain Rising suggested prior to the New England game that the milestone passed in 2007’s drubbing at the hands of the Patriots might have been the fact that the Steelers were forced to resort to gadget plays during a crucial goal-line situation.

The implications of this were as ominous as Bruce Arian’s decision to phase out Dan Krieder….

…Thankfully, the Steelers 33-10 victory against the Patriots suggests we may have been in err.

If we were, it could mean big things for the Steelers in the weeks to come, that go far beyond the fact that Pittsburgh netted its first victory in Foxboro in ten years and in doing so the Steelers played their first complete game of the 2008 season.

Steel Curtain Defense Dominates

The Black and Gold defense dominated to a degree that has perhaps not yet been seen. Matt Cassell’s development has been impressive. In the two weeks leading up to the game, Cassell became only the fifth NFL quarterback to post-back to back 400 yard games. In fact Cassell had been performing so well that some pundits suggested that New England might be better off trading Brady and naming Cassell as their standard bearer.

His meteoric rise to the top collided head on with the Steel Curtain last Sunday. The impact left Cassell dazed and confused.

Prior to playing the Steelers, the Patriots had no given up more than one turnover in a single game. The Steelers took the ball away from the Patriots five times, and four of them came at directly off of the hands of Matt Cassell. New England failed to convert a single third down until they were deep into garbage time. Remember, this came against a New England team that has the 10th ranked offense in the league, and that still ranks 13th in 3rd down conversions.

About the only facet of the game that was went well for New England was the running game, where they did get some yards in big chunks, but neither of those drives resulted in a score. But the running game on the other side of the ball was the story of the game.

Steelers Running Game Finds Its Legs

It will take the rest of the season to determine whether or not the Patriots game yielded yet another milestone for the Steelers, but if it does it can be summed up succinctly:

  • Steelers football has returned
Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell teamed up to masses 161 yards on the ground, averaging 4.5 yards a carry in the process. They did this against a New England team that ranks 15th in against the run and 13th overall. This becomes more impressive when you consider the fact that the Steelers rushing offense only ranks 24th.

None of this would have been possible had the offensive line not stepped up, and stepped up big. Not only did they open holes big enough that allowed Moore and Parker to rip off big runs, but the line kept Ben clean, as he was only sacked once.

More important than the statistics however, is the fact that for the first time in a long time, Bruce Arians showed a commitment to establishing the run. When Willie Parker started slowly, he not only did he substitute Moore, he unhesitatingly continued to run the ball.
  • They ran the ball to move downfield.
  • They ran the ball to score.
  • They ran the ball to kill the clock.
They ran the ball to win.

Bigger Tests on the Horizon

The Steelers should be proud that they earned Mike Tomlin his first win against a contender. But as Bill Cowher would have said, “this win only puts us in a position….” And he’d have been right.

With each passing week, the challenges get tougher and tougher, as the Steelers must play Dallas at home, Tennessee on the road, and then travel to Baltimore to play against the Ravens, in a game that will most likely determine the AFC North Conference championship.

The Steelers are going to need to move the ball on the ground to beat all of those teams.

If they can do that, then the game against the Patriots will have been the turning point of the 2008 season.

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