On December 1st, 2008 I boldly proclaimed the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers as the team to beat in the AFC. My reasoning at the time was that Pittsburgh's best attribute - their defense - was better than any other team's best attribute. In a year where offensive juggernauts like New England and Indianapolis were not dominating like they had in years past, the door was wide open for a number of teams to break through and win the conference.
The other reason I felt we were the team to beat was the outcome of the two games leading up to my statement - the close bizarre win against San Diego, and the rout on the road of New England. We had proved our toughness in losses against New York and Indianapolis, but the win against San Diego proved we could win close games behind the late clutch play of our franchise QB. The thrashing of New England in Foxboro told me we had the talent necessary to handle good teams when we played up to our potential, no matter the venue.
Since that time, the stars began to align. It began with a bizarre win against Dallas in a game where our offense was as bad as it had been since the Philadelphia game up until the last half of the final quarter. The victory though certainly gave my statement the previous week some credence - the defense bailed us out yet again with multiple turnovers of Tony Romo late in the game, including the game clinching pick-6 by Deshea Townsend.
The Steelers followed that up with a gutty W against Baltimore - on the road - to clinch the division. It was yet another come-from-behind W for Ben Roethlisberger, this time a 90 yard march in the final two minutes to stab a dagger in the heart of Baltimore once more.
We all know how the regular season finished - the loss at Tennessee guaranteed us no better or worse than the #2 seed. It allowed us to rest players in the finale against the Browns, then rest up for another week before meeting the winner of the San Diego and Indianapolis game. The week off didn't do 3 of the 4 home teams good that weekend, but it doesn't mean the rest wasn't beneficial to our team. Guys like LaMarr Woodley sure looked energetic. Same with Brett Keisel, Willie Parker and others.
Rest or no rest, there was no stopping this Steelers team the past two weekends - at least not in my mind. The much maligned offense, which hadn't really held up its end of the bargain for much of the season, did its part against San Diego on a day where the defense was just so-so. And then the following week against Baltimore, our defense returned to form once more, holding Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense without a first down in the first quarter, then turning him over twice late in the 4th quarter to seal the deal and stamp the team's ticket to Tampa. Now Pittsburgh finds itself with just one obstacle left in its way as they try to win a sixth Lombardi Trophy for the storied franchise. The opponent? A 9-7 upstart group from the desert; one that's led by two men who were on our sidelines the last time the team's season ended in jubilant celebration. As I wrote in early December - may the team with the best attribute win, and while there's certainly no better individual playing football right now than Larry Fitzgerald, it's our collective defense that should shine brightest, much as it has done for almost all of the 2008 season.
This is the Steelers time and I've thought so for some weeks now. The breaks have all gone our way and up until this point, the team has more than capitalized. Can they take the final step and walk through the door to Super Bowl glory? We'll find out in just 6 short days.
Who's ready for some football?
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