The Steelers took possession late in the third quarter and Duce Staley was given the ball for the first time. He gained seven yards. They gave it to him again and he gained four yards. After the play, guard Alan Faneca looked over at his coaches on the sideline and began pumping his arm.
"I was caught up in the moment of 'Let's go. Keep calling 'em,'" Faneca said.
He was in a run-blocking frenzy, and he knew Staley was there, too.
"We were getting into a rhythm and it felt good. We were feeling it," Faneca said. "I don't know how it looked on the sideline. Sometimes you just have to let them know."
And so the coaches kept calling the run. Even though the Jets clung to their 8-man fronts, they couldn't talk the Steelers into passing the ball as they had earlier in the game.
Reggie Tongue's interception return for a touchdown was the turning point. That play was the 20th pass play called by the Steelers against 20 running plays.
That's when the Steelers got down to business. From that point on, they called 23 running plays and 11 passes. It's how the Steelers played catch-up football against the Jets and their eight men in the box.
"There were so many people in the hole," Faneca said of the Jets' 3-5 front. "Their three D-linemen were trying to clog it up, create something and let their linebackers make the play because they had five of them in the game. They did a good job of it. We weren't blowing it open - three, four, five yarders here and there. That's how we were getting it done."
The Steelers feel they are balanced enough to take what defenses give them. And so the Jets gave them the pass. Will Bill Belichick, the mastermind of the New England Patriots, do the same Sunday in the AFC championship game?
"He's going to take something away," said Hines Ward. "I'm thinking they're going to come out and try to take away our run game. But at the same time, they gave up some big plays. Plax (Burress) had a huge bomb and you can't do that in the playoffs. You can't give up huge plays like that, so I'm pretty sure Belichick's going to see if we can take a drive 60-70 yards and put up some points and see if we can win that way. He's going to have something up his sleeve, trust me."
In the previous meeting between the teams, the Patriots held a 3-0 lead until Ty Law broke his foot while chucking Ward at the line. Belichick moved Asante Samuel onto Ward and undrafted rookie Randall Gay onto Burress with safety help over the top. But two plays later the safety blitzed and Burress beat Gay for a touchdown. Two big defensive plays later, the Steelers led 21-3 and the rout was on.
With Law on injured reserve, how does Ward see the Patriots defending him and Burress?
"I don't think they're going to play a lot of man to man to be honest with you," Ward said. "I think they're going to sit back in zone and see if we can methodically take a drive, see if we're patient enough on offense."
Ward believes Belichick will devise a plan for that methodical march that will put the pressure on the Steelers' rookie quarterback. It's what the Jets did. Will Faneca need to wave his arms at the coaches to run the ball against another 8-man front?
"We're not going to change our identity," Ward said. "The reason we're 16-1 is because we were able to run the ball well and mix it up with play action. I don't see us deviating from that, regardless whether they're trying to disguise
coverage's or trying to confuse Ben."
It's the beauty of the running game. While Belichick is considered a master at disguising
coverage's, no one can disguise a front that's being bludgeoned by a running game.
"As much as you want to disguise, that's our strength, running the ball," Ward said. "I figure there'll be eight guys in the box. That's how I think they're going to play it."
If the Steelers learned something from the second half of the Jets game, they won't surrender their identity in the biggest game of the season.
"Keep running," Ward said. "We're not going to deviate because they've got eight or nine people (in the box). I mean, we'll have to find a way to run against eight or nine people. That's where my job comes in. I'm responsible for the eighth defender. But at the same time, if you're going to single me and Plax up, we're going to take our shots. No question about it."
Steelers learned valuable lesson
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