The Steelers have a very big game coming up tomorrow with the New England Patriots. No, it's not do or die, and it wouldn't necessarily be the end of the world if Pittsburgh lost.
New England's offense is pretty potent, Tom Brady has owned the Steelers in his fine career (6-1 all-time), and Bill Belichick is a genius and has had two weeks to prepare for this game.
Yes, the Patriots have a lot going for them, and they probably have a bit of a psychological edge as they march into Heinz Field. About a year ago at this time, Brady never looked better than he did in a Sunday night match-up at Heinz, almost effortlessly passing the Patriots to a 39-26 victory that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated.
But last I checked, the Steelers are the defending AFC Champions, Troy Polamalu is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Roethlisberger is a pretty elite quarterback in his own right, and Mike Tomlin isn't exactly chopped-liver in the coaching department.
After a shaky start, the Steelers have righted the ship and now sit at 5-2. A win tomorrow would surely set the team up for a very exciting second-half of the season.
However, I don't get the sense that many fans feel very confident about the Steelers' chances vs. the Pats.
As some of you may know, I listen to my share of talk radio, and the general sentiment I'm hearing from most Steelers fans this week is that they'd be satisfied if Pittsburgh can just hang in there with the Patriots and not get embarrassed too much.
It's no secret that the Steelers simply do not match up well with the Patriots. Tom Brady's quick-release and precision passing has always been the Achilles heel of Dick Lebeau and the vaunted Steelers' defense.
Okay, so the Patriots are good, and the Steelers are going to have their hands full on Sunday. The same holds true for every team that faces the Patriots, or any elite team in the NFL.
Sunday is going to be a challenge, but a victory over a Tom Brady-led Patriots team wouldn't be unprecedented.
On Halloween of 2004, the Patriots came into Heinz Field on a record 21-game winning streak and were winners of two of the previous three Super Bowls. In Pittsburgh's previous two meetings with the Patriots, New England knocked off the Steelers at Heinz Field in the 2001 AFC Championship game, and then opened the 2002 season by laying another beatdown on Pittsburgh in Foxboro. You talk about a psychological edge?
How did Pittsburgh respond to the challenge of the Patriots' recent dominance and apparent psychological advantage over them? They jumped out to a 21-3 first quarter lead and went on to win, 34-20.
"But that was seven seasons ago, Tony. What does that matter now?" Well, because the match up problems that exist today, existed back then. Heck, this game was played smack-dab in the middle of the Spygate era and everything.
And who were the Pittsburgh Steelers at that point in 2004? Sure, they were 5-1 going into that game, but they were coming off of a 6-10 season, and Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie starting quarterback.
The Patriots were the unchallenged class of the NFL, and Pittsburgh certainly wasn't the team they are today. This was before Super Bowls XL and XLIII. This was before the three Super Bowl appearances in six seasons.
Yet, the Steelers found a way to stand toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and dominate them for 60 minutes.
If that Steelers' team could do it, these Pittsburgh Steelers can do it tomorrow. Like Maryrose said in his fabulous piece the other day, Steelers' games are like Super Bowls to a lot of their opponents. And I know for the Steelers and us fans, the actual Super Bowl is our Super Bowl. It's the most important thing. It's the standard of excellence by which we judge most seasons.
However, if there was ever a time that our Pittsburgh Steelers had a right to treat a regular season game like their Super Bowl, it's tomorrow's showdown with the Patriots.
The Steelers have been a bona fide juggernaut in recent seasons. They've been right up there with the Patriots in terms of consistency and accomplishments, and they're every bit as elite.
The Pittsburgh Steelers don't have to bow-down to anyone.
I know a lot of fans and media are in awe of the Patriots' mystique, but to sort of steal a quote from Rex Ryan: the Steelers aren't going to kiss Bill Belichick's rings tomorrow, and neither should we.
Let's not forget, the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl in almost a decade. They're a very good football team, but they're not unbeatable.
We have a pretty damn good football team in Pittsburgh, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be confident that our Steelers will get the job done against the New England Patriots.