Rashard The Reluctant MVP

Dale Lolley checks in with a spectacular array of news, notes and insights after the Steelers' win in the AFC title game

If you'd have put together a list of players expected to be the MVP for the Pittsburgh Steelers' 24-19 AFC Championship game win over the New York Jets, it's a pretty safe bet that running back Rashard Mendenhall would have been down that list.

But when the Lamar Hunt Trophy was being presented following the game, it was Mendenhall who was called up to the podium to help accept it.

"I'm looking around saying, ‘Why not Troy (Polamalu) or Hines (Ward)? Why are you asking me?'" said the soft-spoken Mendenhall.

Why not?

All Mendenhall had done was gain 121 yards on 27 carries, adding another 32 yards on 2 receptions while scoring a touchdown on which he dragged big mouth Bart Scott into the end zone. His 153 yards from scrimmage were more than half of Pittsburgh's 287 in the game.

"He did a great job of reading gaps the way the play was designed," said guard Ramon Foster. "And when things didn't quite go as we planned, he still made things happen."

The Steelers came into this game with the mentality that they were going to run the ball. And there was no doubt that Mendenhall was a big part of that plan.

For a player who is not looked upon by most as being a premiere running back, despite rushing for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, it showed a lot of faith. But the Steelers have faith in Mendenhall.

"They are going to say good things about you, bad things about you all the time," Mendenhall said. "I just try to keep everything as normal and steady as possible and continue to learn and grow as much as I can."

Part of the reason for some of the lack of faith in the former first-round draft pick was the way his rookie season started and ended.

First, Mendenhall had fumble problems in training camp and the preseason. Then, Baltimore's Ray Lewis broke his shoulder just four games into the regular season, ending his 2008 campaign prematurely.

All the Steelers did that season was go on to win the Super Bowl. Mendenhall was a part of that team, but he wasn't.

He took part in the Super Bowl activities, but didn't get to play on the game's biggest stage.

"It means a lot to me to have this opportunity, not being able to do anything the first time around," said Mendenhall. "To be around at this level, at this time, for this city, means a lot."

© Ben Roethlisberger played perhaps the sloppiest playoff game of his career finishing with a 35.5 passer rating after completing 10 of 19 passes for 133 yards and 2 interceptions.

But with the game on the line, the Steelers put the ball in his hands and he delivered, first with a 14-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller, then another 14-yard strike to rookie Antonio Brown that allowed them to run out the clock.

"It was kind of intended for Hines," Roethlisberger said of the pass to Brown. "We expected them to bring the house. They dropped everybody, so as soon as I saw them leave, it was a really, really tight window in order to get it to Hines.

"I started running to the sideline and the next thing you know, AB comes flying across the field. He beat them with speed. I just threw it and he made a heck of a catch."

© The Steelers might need to come up with a better nickname for Brown than AB after making big catches in both of their postseason victories.

© The Packers have already been installed as 1 1/2-point favorites in the Super Bowl over the Steelers.

It's hard to argue that after watching the Steelers get picked apart by Mark Sanchez in the second half of this game.

Green Bay, like everybody else, will struggle to run the ball against the Steelers. Unlike most teams, that won't bother the Packers much because they haven't really run the ball well all season.

© Special teams was a winning formula for the Steelers against the Jets in that it did not beat them.

The Steelers were obviously worried about New York return man Brad Smith and adjusted their kickoffs accordingly. Smith wasn't much of a factor. In fact, his stat-line was curious: He averaged 11 yards on 2 kickoff returns, with a long of 23.

© You have to feel pretty good for right tackle Flozell Adams.

Cast off by Dallas after 12 seasons, Adams gets to return there to play in a Super Bowl.

"I'm just ready to play in a Super Bowl, that's all that matters," said Adams, who had never experienced a playoff victory until last season.

"You envision it every year and you get let down when it doesn't happen. Fortunately, we got there this year and now we've just got to go on and win it."

Adams was being diplomatic. But his teammates know the true story.

"I know who is excited is Flozell," said Ward. "He left Dallas to come here. ... All Flo said is, ‘All I want is a chance.' You go throughout your full career, 13 years. Hopefully we can win this for Flo and some of the other guys (who haven't been there). It will be a great feeling for him to leave Dallas and now we're going to Dallas to play in the Super Bowl."

(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)


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