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mesaSteeler
12-05-2010, 08:45 AM
Collier: Steelers still have at least one good foot
Sunday, December 05, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10339/1108119-66.stm

As this ferociously compelling Steelers season thunders to the top of the stretch tonight, December and Baltimore are hardly the time and place to be putting your worst foot forward.

Not that there's much choice.

The Steelers' worst foot, the one at the end of Ben Roethlisberger's right leg, is merely the one appendage the entire season pivots upon as prime time arrives on NBC, but as we've come to learn, sometimes our focus in the ramp-up to these weekly cataclysms isn't where it ought to be.

So let's instead talk for a minute about Pittsburgh's best foot, the one that launched a certifiable UFO, that unforgettable flying object, into the skies over western New York a week ago today.

"It's certainly a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business," Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda was saying as the Steelers wrapped up their Ravens prep Friday. "So yeah, it's been a nice week."

If Roethlisberger's damaged foot limits either his mobility or his very presence tonight, Sepulveda's role in determining which way the AFC balance of power shifts will only increase, particularly if there unfolds a windy field-position argument astride the Inner Harbor.

No one ever said the Texas-born punter with the linebacker's body couldn't make a clutch punt, but the closing argument on the other side came in overtime at Buffalo, just as the moment the then 7-3 Steelers were falling hard toward 7-4 (and perhaps 7-5, considering tonight's predicament).

Standing under his own goalpost looking at long snapper Greg Warren lean over the football at the 1, Sepulveda could have been considering any number of difficulties. He was standing only 11 yards behind Warren instead of the customary 15, the rush angles were sharpened, the wind was capricious, and anything he did that was in any way substandard might set the Bills up at a place where they could end the game with a field goal, practically without having to run another play.

So what was he thinking?

"Catch the ball and kick it as far as you can," he said. "That's why I hit it so well -- I wasn't thinking about anything. You don't want to be thinking about mechanics at a time like that. You don't want to be thinking, 'remember to extend your leg' or something about the drop. I stopped thinking about it on the sideline before I went out. I was just like, 'Let's go, let's do this.'

"That's the kind of thinking that gives you freedom, the freedom and the ability to just be you."

A moment later, the ball was in the air on a trajectory that would take it all the way to the other half of the football field.

"We were running under it," marveled Warren, "and it was like, 'Holy cow!' "

Yeah, and he actually said "cow."

The flight path measured 55 yards to the Buffalo 44, where Leodis McKelvin accepted it on re-entry and returned it to the near 49, where his collision with Keenan Lewis dislodged it. Special team aces Ryan Mundy and Anthony Madison converged on it and, according to Mundy, succeeded only in knocking each other away from it.

"That was a crazy play," Sepulveda said. "Ryan Mundy's helmet flew off, his face was cut; I was running down the right side when it came loose. If it had popped out toward me, it could have been a scoop and score. Don't think I hadn't thought about how cool that would have been."

Drayton Florence fell on it for the Bills back at the 34, or about 73 yards from the spot Sepulveda struck it, about seven yards deep in Pittsburgh's endzone.

Had Sepulveda hit merely his typically superior punt -- he's third in the AFC with a net average of 39.9 yards -- the Bills would have started just outside the Steelers' 40. The fact that Buffalo made two first downs on the next three plays pretty much explains what would have happened. Because of Sepulveda, it didn't.

Which brings us to the kind of matchup that rarely gets discussed in the pregame, so don't feel like you have attention deficit disorder just because a Steelers-Raiders matchup is momentarily framed as a confrontation between people who aren't banging their heads together.

This urgent Week 13 appointment matches two of the conference's top five punters, Sepulveda and Baltimore's Sam Koch, who just happens to have dropped an NFL best 26 punts inside the opposition 20 this fall.

"I've been pretty happy with what our numbers have been as a punt team," Sepulveda said, "but this is when it really matters. Reality is going to hit. It's going to be cold. Guys are hurting. Guys are tired. But the concentration still has to be there. You have to be able to deliver some big kicks at some big moments."

Even if it often doesn't seem so, they don't call it football for nothing.
Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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