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Old 12-24-2006, 05:03 AM   #1
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Default Motivation: Steelers play for playoff hopes, Ravens play for a first-round bye

December 24, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Today, the hunted turns hunter in Heinz Field. The Steelers have mentioned all season how they took other team's best shots because they were Super Bowl champs. Today, they play the newest champs, the Baltimore Ravens, who clinched the AFC North Division title last week, and the Steelers need a victory to keep their own faint playoff hopes alive.

"I don't know if we'll give them their best shot, but, in order to win this game, we need to give it our best shot and our best effort," Steelers end Brett Keisel said.

It's another desperate game for a team whose playoff hopes seem desperate at best at 7-7 and two games left. On the other hand, the Ravens (11-3) are competing for one of the top two seeds in the AFC and a playoff bye that goes with it.

That bye has been considered an important tool to launch a team to a Super Bowl victory. Not only does it pass the top two seeds into the next round, the players have a week to heal without getting knocked around in a first-round game.

"It is huge," Baltimore coach Brian Billick said. "Everybody always talks about how important that is -- all you have to do is look at the players' eyes when you show a schedule with the potential of having a bye week the first week. That means as much to them as anybody, believe me."

Six of the past eight Super Bowl winners had byes through the first round of the playoffs. The only two that did not? The Steelers last season and the Ravens in 2000. Each made it as wild-card playoff teams, the Steelers as the only sixth seed to win and do so by playing all its playoff games on the road.

The Steelers had byes in 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2004 and did not win a Super Bowl in those seasons.

"I don't like the bye, honestly," Keisel said. "We've had the bye here a few times, and it hasn't worked out. The bye can go bye as far as I'm concerned.

"I'd rather just play. I felt like we had our bye after the Thursday game, we had some time off, and it helped us recuperate and things like that."

Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis tended to agree with Keisel's view.

"I haven't had it. The only thing I know is you play football one week and keep playing and keep playing and keep playing ... Then you get momentum. I've heard a lot of people say the bye week hurts people because you take that week off and you kind of get out of it and the team that comes in is coming in on that same beat from the season."

The Steelers, of course, don't have to worry about that this season. They're trying to squeak into the playoffs any way they can and, if they do, they'll have the same scenario as last season -- hit the road, jack.

"We're trying to do our part," linebacker Joey Porter said. "We know it's far-fetched but, at the same time, until they tell us we're out of it, we'll keep playing like we know how to play. Right now, we have the biggest game of the year, Baltimore's coming to our stadium."

Steelers out if ...
The Steelers will be eliminated from playoff contention if any of the following happens this weekend, according to the NFL:

1. The Steelers lose.
2. Jacksonville wins, Cincinnati wins and Tennessee loses.
3. Jacksonville wins, Denver wins, Tennessee losses and Kansas City loses.
4. Jacksonville wins, Cincinnati wins, the Jets win, and Tennessee clinches strength of victory over the Steelers.
5. Jacksonville wins, Denver wins, the Jets win, Kansas City loses and Tennessee clinches strength of victory over the Steelers.

What the Ravens did Nov. 26 was unsightly for Steelers fans, not to mention the Steelers themselves. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked nine times, tying an official club record. He was intercepted twice. Willie Parker, who has 1,331 yards rushing, who has the top two rushing games in the NFL this season at 223 and 213 yards and who made the Pro Bowl this week, had 22 yards on 10 carries against the Ravens.

Things were so bad that 10 of the Steelers' 12 third downs on offense were at least 10 yards long and four were at least 15 yards.

"That's not a good thing, especially against a defense like that that's moving around with good athleticism," said Roethlisberger, who has been sacked 40 times this season.

"If we can get positive yards on first and second downs to keep ourselves in third and short and medium, I think that will be a success."

Third-and-long feeds into a Ravens defense that blitzes more often than any other team -- 271 times, according to STATS LLC. (The Steelers are third at 227).

By playing for a first-round playoff bye, the Ravens won't likely rest any of their players today, even though they've clinched the division title. That's a good thing, according to Porter.

"I don't want it to be one of those games where they set down certain people because they feel they've made it. That would make me mad more than anything. If we go out and win the game, I don't want to hear 'Oh, we didn't have so and so in the game.'

"I want you to put your best people on the field and let's go. We're trying to get some revenge, there's no time for excuses. We have everything to gain out of this and we're going to go out there and play like it."


Climbing out of The Hole

Regardless of how their last two games go, the Steelers have already accomplished something no team in club history has done -- reach .500 after being four games below (3-7) at any point in the season. The closest they came prior to pulling even at 7-7 last week:

1952: Joe Bach's club opened with four consecutive losses, righted the ship and, by the last game of the season, was 5-6 with the chance to even its record on the road against the Rams in Los Angeles. But Norm Van Brocklin denied them .500, throwing three touchdown passes in a 28-14 Rams win.
Final record: 5-7.

1960: A 2-5-1 record is close, but doesn't quite count. Buddy Parker's Steelers beat the Browns, Redskins and Eagles to pull to 5-5-1 -- John Henry Johnson's club-record 182-yard rushing performance in the snow at Forbes Field helping beat the Eagles -- before they lost in St. Louis, 38-7, in the season finale.
Final record: 5-6-1.
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Old 12-24-2006, 08:12 AM   #2
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Default Re: Motivation: Steelers play for playoff hopes, Ravens play for a first-round bye

Pound'em into da ground, Joey!!!!!!!
"We're not going to turn our backs on him," Ward said. "We're going to treat him like our brother. We're going to accept him back and be very supportive of him and help him get through this. In this locker room, he's still our quarterback."
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