Friends or Foes?

Pittsburgh needs help from unexpected sources if it is to make the playoffs and get a chance to defend its Super Bowl championship.

First and foremost, the Steelers must win at Miami. They also need help from New England and Cincinnati. Few teams other than Baltimore have been bigger rivals for the Steelers over the past decade than the Patriots and Bengals. New England beat them in two AFC championship games in Pittsburgh and challenged their Super Bowl era of the 1970s by winning three in four years. The Bengals long have been rivals in the AFC North and old Central divisions, and were knocked out of the playoffs by the Steelers in the 2005 season. In 2006, Pittsburgh kept Cincinnati out of the playoffs with an overtime win in the 16th game.

For the Steelers to make the postseason, they must hope at least one of those teams and most likely both win on Sunday in meaningless games to each of them. New England closes at Houston and Cincinnati at the New York Jets.

There are three ways in which the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot Sunday if they win or tie Miami:

* Houston loss or tie and New York Jets loss or tie.

* Houston loss or tie and Baltimore loss or tie.

* New York Jets loss or tie, Baltimore loss or tie and Denver loss or tie.

The odds are against it, and if they do not make it the Steelers will know their run at the playoffs was not derailed on the final Sunday, but much earlier during a five-game losing streak that included upsets to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland.

"We have nobody to blame but ourselves," offensive tackle Willie Colon said after the Steelers won their second straight, 23-20, over Baltimore Sunday.

"We got ourselves into this hole and we're just trying to fight our way back out," said defensive end Brett Keisel.

The Steelers were riding a five-game winning streak at 6-2 when they lost a close one at home to Cincinnati. Then everything fell apart as they lost to double-digit underdogs the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns around an overtime loss at Baltimore that Ben Roethlisberger sat out with headaches.

Had any one of those been victories, they would clinch a playoff spot by beating the Dolphins.

"This is our bed ... We put ourselves into this position," coach Mike Tomlin said.


* The Steelers pulled off an historic franchise first by having a 4,000-yard passer in Ben Roethlisberger, two 1,000-yard receivers in Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward, and a 1,000-yard rusher in Rashard Mendenhall.

Also for the first time, the Steelers have three receivers with 70 receptions: Ward (87), Holmes (78) and TE Heath Miller (71).

* Although shown as a break for the Steelers on TV highlights, Ben Roethlisberger said he knew the Ravens were getting penalized when he threw deep to Mike Wallace with two minutes left, a pass that was intercepted but nullified by a penalty.

"I saw the ref throw the flag," Roethlisberger said. "I thought I might as well throw it deep."

* Mike Tomlin revealed an odd conversation he had with one of the officials over a disputed non-fumble by Baltimore's Derrick Mason.

"I was told that I could challenge it, but if I did, it would be ruled as an incomplete pass," Tomlin said. "That's what I was told. I'm still trying to figure that out."


* LB James Harrison played Sunday despite a badly bruised right biceps. He wore a wrap on it and basically played "one-armed" according to coach Mike Tomlin. He had no sacks for the fourth straight game but forced a fumble, his fifth of the season.

* DE Ziggy Hood had his first sack and his first fumble recovery as his rookie season comes to a close without a start.

* QB Ben Roethlisberger produced his third game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, making it 20 for his career in the regular season.

* CB Ike Taylor recovered a fumble, posted the first sack of his career but has yet to come up with an interception on the season.

* LB LaMarr Woodley set a team record by getting at least a partial sack in seven straight games. Greg Lloyd had six in 1994.


PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Ben Roethlisberger followed his 503-yard effort against the Packers, with a run-of-the-mill performance. He completed just 17 of 33 passes in good weather for 259 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked four times. Rashard Mendenhall dropped what would have been a second TD pass and a few other drops hurt the QB's bottom line.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The Steelers seem to have lost all faith in their ground game, maybe for good reason. As a team, they managed just 48 yards on 23 carries, for a 2.1-yard average. Rashard Mendenhall had 36 yards on 17 carries, but he did score on a 4-yard run, pulling the grade up from an F.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Joe Flacco completed 13 of 25 passes for just 166 yards and while he had two touchdowns, he was intercepted once and hit to cause a fumble just before he was to throw a pass. The Steelers sacked him four times in one of their better defensive performances in awhile.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The No. 1 rush defense suddenly cannot stop the run. Baltimore had 175 yards, including 141 on 30 carries by Ray Rice, the first back in two seasons to gain 100 against them, ending a 36-game streak (32 in the regular season) without one. The Ravens averaged 4.6 yards per rush although none of their 38 carries reached the end zone. This, after Cleveland gouged the Steelers for 171 two games previously.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- A bright spot for a change. Jeff Reed made all three of his field goal tries, including a 38-yarder for the only points in the fourth quarter in a 3-point win. Stephan Logan was put back on punt returns and took one 17 yards back. He also averaged 32.3 yards on four kickoff returns, one for 49 yards, while setting the team record with 1,383 kickoff return yards in 2009. Punter Daniel Sepulveda had a subpar game with 36.5 yards gross and 25.5 net on four punts, including one that went into the end zone. The Ravens did average 29.0 yards on five kickoff returns.

COACHING: C-plus -- There were not coaching gaffes, per se, and no controversial decisions. Steelers' offensive linemen, however, acknowledged they were confused by a shifting Baltimore defensive line they have not seen in the past. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians recognized an early ineffectiveness running against Baltimore and ditched it.

Steel City Insider Top Stories