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News » Steelers' season has plenty of ups, downs

Steelers' season has plenty of ups, downs

Steelers' season has plenty of ups, downs
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is approaching today's regular-season finale against the Browns as if it is anything but an exhibition contest.

All of the key starters that are healthy will play in the 1 p.m. game at Heinz Field as the Steelers try to finish on a winning note and take momentum into the playoffs.

The Steelers have already wrapped up the AFC North title as well as the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. If that doesn't diminish the importance of today's game for the Steelers it almost certainly does for the fans.

With the Steelers (11-4) looking ahead to the playoffs after today, here is a look back at the season and how it has unfolded.

Offensive MVP: Hines Ward

So much for talk that Santonio Holmes would supplant Ward as the No. 1 option in the passing game. The 10th-year veteran is closing in on his first 1,000-yard receiving season ? he has 973 ? since 2004 and few if any receivers in the NFL work the middle of the field better than Ward.

He is also without peer as a blocker as Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers, among others, can attest.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger merits consideration but he has been too turnover-prone in Steelers losses this season, and his touchdown to interception ratio is a pedestrian 17/14.

Defensive MVP: James Harrison

The former undrafted free agent has already set a Steelers single-season with 16 sacks, eclipsing the mark Mike Merriweather set in 1984. Harrison has also forced seven fumbles, and he kept the Steelers in the Chargers game last month with a sack that resulted in a safety and an interception return that set up a field goal.

Harrison, who was named the Steelers' MVP last week, plays special teams and there is not much he does not do well this side of long snapping. He has been the best player on the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

Unsung player: Mewelde Moore

His signing last March slipped under the radar but Moore has been one of the top free agent acquisitions in the NFL. He kept the running game afloat when starting running back Willie Parker was sidelined with knee and shoulder injuries, and he has arguably been more effective in the Steelers' offense than Parker.

Moore is averaging 4.2 yards per carry ? the Steelers are averaging 3.6 yards per carry ? and his six touchdowns are second only to Ward.

Special-teams aces Anthony Madison and Keyaron Fox also warrant mention as they have stabilized the kick coverage units that were veritable disasters last season.

Biggest win: Steelers 13, Ravens 9

The Steelers had not beaten the Ravens on the road since 2002. They looked like they were headed to another loss in Baltimore two weeks ago when Roethlisberger and the offense trotted onto the field with three minutes and 36 seconds left in the game.

Twelve plays and 92 yards later the Steelers had scored the only touchdown in the hard-hitting game, and they needed less than three minutes to essentially go the length of the field against a defense that is widely considered on par with their own.

The win clinched the AFC North title for the Steelers and assured them of at least the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs as well as a first-round bye. It also marked the third time during a five-week span that the Steelers had rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit.

Worst loss: Titans 31, Steelers 14

A Roethlisberger fumble on the Titans' 1-yard line in the first quarter portended the kind of game it would be for the Steelers with pole position in the AFC playoffs on the line.

Roethlisberger committed four turnovers, overshadowing the season-high 331 passing yards he produced. The defense looked surprisingly vulnerable as the Steelers lost for the eighth time in nine road games against the Titans.

Several Titans players stomped on a Terrible Towel near the end of Tennessee's win but that did not bother the Steelers nearly as much as the way they played in the game between the AFC's top two teams.

They could get a chance to redeem themselves.

Wins by the Steelers and Titans in the second round of the playoffs ? both teams have first-round byes ? sets up a rematch at LP Field in the AFC Championship game.

Most pleasant surprise: Depth

The Steelers have bought into Tomlin's concept that players fall into two categories: starters and starters in waiting. And the supporting cast has loomed as large as the stars in the Steelers successfully navigating the toughest schedule in the NFL.

What is remarkable about the Steelers' ability to weather a rash of injuries is they have gotten virtually nothing from their 2008 draft class.

First-round pick Rashard Mendenhall went down in September with a season-ending shoulder injury and second-round pick Limas Sweed has caught six passes for 64 yards. Third-round pick Bruce Davis has played in five games and his next tackle will be his first one while fourth-round pick Tony Hills has yet to suit up for a game.

Biggest disappointment: Running game

The Steelers are 24th in the NFL in rushing (100.9 yards per game) and they haven't been able to establish any consistency or an identity in this phase of the game.

Their ground game hasn't been in this much disrepair since 2003 ? the Steelers averaged less than 100 rushing yards per game ? and there are plenty of reasons why.

The offensive line has been anything but overpowering, Parker has been plagued by injuries and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians seems to have an aversion to using a fullback.

The timing of Parker's recent criticism of the approach the Steelers have taken to running the ball was off but his point may well have been on the mark.

Biggest play: Cornerback Deshea Townsend's interception return for a touchdown

The one-handed scoop of an interception Troy Polamalu made against the San Diego Chargers is one of the plays of the year in the NFL.

The only think it lacked was the impact of Townsend's 25-yard interception return against the Dallas Cowboys.

Townsend's touchdown capped the Steelers' comeback from a 13-3 fourth-quarter deficit. It was set up by the enormous faith Tomlin has in his defense.

After the Steelers tied the game at 13-13 late in the fourth quarter, they used a timeout on the Cowboys' ensuing possession to preserve time on the clock.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo didn't hide his surprise at the Steelers' strategy. He didn't do any better disguising his intentions on the next play as he threw a pass right to Townsend, whose interception and return delivered the most improbable victory of the season.


"It's just loses so much of its essence when it becomes like a pansy game. When you see guys like Dick Butkus and these really raw, old-school, pound-it-out type of players, they could never survive in a game like this. They wouldn't have enough money. They'd be paying fines all the time and they'd be suspended for a year after they do it two games in a row. It's kind of ridiculous." ? Strong safety Troy Polamalu on the NFL levying fines in the name of player safety.

"The issue for us has been, is and hopefully will continue to be winning. That's my interpretation of Steelers Football. Every morning I came to work I walk past five Lombardis (trophies), not five rushing titles." ? Coach Mike Tomlin in response to comments by Parker about the Steelers' approach to running the Football.

By the numbers

Here is a look at the season the Steelers have had with only game left in it.

1 ? Steelers' NFL rank in passing defense and total defense.

2 ? 100-yard rushing games by running back Willie Parker this season.

3 ? Steelers that made the Pro Bowl.

4 ? Misses by kicker Jeff Reed in 30 field-goal attempts.

5 ? Games that the Steelers won this season in which they either trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter.

6 ? Games in which outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley each had at least one sack.

7 ? Combined interceptions quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown in both of the Steelers' losses at Heinz Field.

8 ? Games (out of nine) the Steelers have won in which they have scored at least 20 points.

9 ? Sacks the Steelers gave up in a 15-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

10 ? Steelers that have at least 50 tackles this season.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 29, 2008

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LenDale White Name: LenDale White
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