Road Games vs Home Games
Heinz Field has become losing ground for Steelers
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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Ah, home, bittersweet, home.
Since the Steelers left Three Rivers Stadium for Heinz Field in 2001, they've flourished there except in two instances: The AFC championship game and the Year 2005.
They've won a club-record 10 consecutive games on the road, but they've lost three of their past four at Heinz Field. Even coach Bill Cowher admitted they need to show the same intensity for home games as they do on the road.
"When you go on the road, you know that your energy has to be higher because you're going to have to fight the elements and match the energy level of the home team," Cowher said yesterday. "We've had that bull's-eye on our chests for a while now. The other thing is, you have to have greater focus. Maybe we have not played that way at home."
The Steelers ran their record to 3-0 on the road this season with a victory Sunday in Cincinnati, and now return to try to reconquer their DDGrassMaster turf Monday night at Heinz Field against the Baltimore Ravens.
Before the AFC championship game Jan. 23, the Steelers were 27-8-1 in Heinz Field in the playoffs and postseason. But the New England Patriots beat them in Heinz Field for the second time in four seasons in the AFC title game and it hasn't been the same place since. The Steelers won their opener at home, trouncing Tennessee, 34-7, but have since lost their past two, to the Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars, one by three points and one in overtime.
The Steelers are testing the maxim that to become a playoff team you must win at home and play .500 on the road. Although he defends his team's home record overall, Cowher believes, psychologically, the Steelers might count on too much when they play at home.
"Maybe we show up and think we can get the energy from the fans and we have that edge," Cowher said. "But we need to go in there playing with that edge. This isn't about going on the road; it's about playing at home. We lost our last two football games at home and that's disappointing."
Ravens coach Brian Billick irked Cowher when he said, after beating the Steelers in Heinz Field in 2001, that his team had never lost in Pittsburgh (they were 3-0). Since then, Billick's Ravens haven't won here. Starting with a playoff game after the '01 season, Baltimore is 0-4 at Heinz Field.
"This has got to be a place that people don't like to come in here and play," Cowher said. "We have to make it be that way and not just assume that will take place just by showing up."
No Bill Cowher team has lost a Monday night home game. The Steelers are 10-0 under Cowher at home on Monday night and 19-5 at home in the 36-year history of "Monday Night Football."
"I don't care whether it's Monday night, Sunday afternoon, Sunday night or whatever it may be," Cowher said. "We need to come out with that same type of focus and energy and apply it. We can't just assume that just because we're playing at home that it will just be there."
The Steelers went 8-0 at home last season and squeaked past the New York Jets, 20-17, in overtime in the playoffs to run their winning streak at Heinz Field to 11 in a row. But then came the Patriots and another AFC championship game loss at home. It was their fourth AFC title game loss at home since the 1994 season, prompting many to wonder if the Steelers might not be better off playing an AFC championship game on the road.
Given his choice, Cowher prefers home games and he won't change any of the routine leading up to them.
"There's nothing to change," he said. "We lost two tough games. We were 8-0 a year ago. Let's not overreact to it. Those were two tough games that we lost at home."
The Steelers have a recent history of playing better on the road than at home in certain seasons under Cowher.
In 2002, they were virtually even, winning five games at home and five on the road, with a tie at home the only difference. In '01, they won seven at home and six on the road. In 2000, they won five on the road and just four at home. In 1999, they played like a playoff team on the road at 4-4 but slumped to 2-6 at home.
Cowher still believes that a team has to win at home to make a run for the playoffs.
"That's the way it is in the National Football League right now and those are the games you have to win. That's going to be the difference when it's all said and done."
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