Doster / USA TODAY Sports Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers learned to win with intensity and focus this year. It'll pay off next year.

The Steelers were excoriated nationally for their conduct in their playoff win at Cincinnati. But it was necessary.

"(Mike Tomlin) is not above reproach, his team and assistant coaches, out of control on Saturday, and then comes out after the game and says I thought we represented what AFC North football is all about. That's a joke. He's clueless and that's why his assistant coaches and players are clueless."
                                 -- Jason Whitlock following the Steelers' playoff win

After the Pittsburgh Steelers' 33-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 13, I wrote that Steelers fans should "praise their intensity and focus ... It's not easy to come into a 'blood game' with the requisite hostility and yet remain focused on the task at hand. It's something we haven't seen since the Hines Ward days."

It's nasty business, this standing up to bullies. No one likes how it looks, but it's something that has to be done. And on that day the Steelers stood up and punched the bully back in the nose.

And why not? The following aggression could not have been allowed to stand:

Reggie Nelson tore Heath Miller's ACL with a knee shot on Dec. 23, 2012.

* Nelson ended Le'Veon Bell's season with a knee shot on Dec. 28, 2014.

Vontaze Burfict ended Bell's season by pulling him down from behind and throwing himself into Bell's knee on Nov. 1, 2015.

* Burfict, according to Ben Roethlisberger (and anyone who looked at the video), intentionally tried to hurt Roethlisberger by diving low at his leg on Dec. 13, 2015.

The latter was the game in which the Steelers showed what they could accomplish with full intensity from start to finish. And it was no doubt a response to the cheap-shotting style of play by the Bengals.

Of course, Burfict continued his attempt to terrorize the Steelers in the playoffs with a knee to Roethlisberger's shoulder while the quarterback was on the ground and an open assault on Antonio Brown's head after an incompletion.

Were the Steelers just supposed to continue to take this stuff?

Of course, no one can prove an intentional cheap shot. But when they begin to add up, as they have, something must be done.

And when they did, in Bengals-Steelers II, we heard the first rumblings from the national media about the Steelers' politically incorrect game comportment.

In that game, the Steelers were flagged for four personal fouls. Not that any of them were dirty or over the top. In fact, I was impressed with what I felt was a controlled fury in that game.

"If they retain their championship-like combination of tenacity and focus," I wrote following Steelers-Bengals II, "the ball has a chance of bouncing their way again."

And I was talking about winning the Super Bowl.

The following week the Steelers beat the Denver Broncos, handily, but the inevitable flat spot -- at least to those who've watched these Steelers closely -- occurred the following week when the Steelers forgot all about "tenacity and focus" and lost to the sad sack Baltimore Ravens.

The intensity and focus was back for Steelers-Bengals III, and those who had watched this series digress into anarchy the last four years knew why what happened happened: It was necessary.

Why bring all of this up on the eve of the Super Bowl?

Because it could be the Steelers in this game. They're not an undisciplined group of thugs, as the politically correct would have us believe. Nope. They split two games against the Broncos, and the difference, in my opinion, was that the Broncos had a better pass rush at home, where they won. The Denver offense stinks, and its pass coverage seems to be overrated, but its pass rush makes the difference.

That brings me around to my purpose here today, the Super Bowl L prediction, and all I have is this:

I don't see that Denver pass rush affecting Cam Newton at a neutral site.

Out of all the analysis you're going to see about this game, that's the sentence that should stand out in bold face.

Of course, Las Vegas doesn't make a habit of losing games that appear to be this easy. But I'm going with the Panthers, 26-13, anyway as the countdown to Houston begins in Pittsburgh.

Steel City Insider Top Stories