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Old 01-12-2009, 10:00 AM   #1
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Default Offensive line opened the way

Offensive line opened the way
Monday, January 12, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Being called a part of the worst offensive line in the NFL stung Steelers tackle Willie Colon, all of the big fellas up front, really. Getting the hate mail telling him that he and they stink, turning on "SportsCenter" and seeing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger getting sacked time after time, being reminded constantly that the team can't make a Super Bowl run because they aren't good enough as a unit ...

But it was a guy in a Wal-Mart parking lot who really got to Colon.

"He rolls down his window and says, 'You guys had better bleepin' protect,' " Colon recalled. "I was like, 'Dude, I'm just here to get a loaf of bread.' "

You might guess the punch line.

"Man, we've been through a lot this season," Colon said.

Came out the other side, too.

It's fair to say nobody enjoyed the Steelers' 35-24 divisional win against the San Diego Chargers yesterday more than the big guys. Rolling into the AFC championship against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at Heinz Field is reward enough. But the way the team did it doubled, maybe even tripled, the pleasure. Running back Willie Parker ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Roethlisberger was sacked just once and didn't have a turnover. The offense had the ball for a stunning 36 minutes, 30 seconds, including all but one play in the decisive third quarter, and -- quoting Roethlisberger -- "kind of took their heart."

Said a very satisfied Colon, "The line showed up today."

Here's the best part:

If it shows up again next week against the much tougher Ravens defense, the Steelers will be off to Tampa, Fla., for Super Bowl XLIII.

Who knew the O-linemen had this kind of game in them?

Coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians challenged Colon and tackle Max Starks, guards Darnell Stapleton and Chris Kemoeatu and center Justin Hartwig last week. Arians told them he was "giving them the hat." Allow Colon to decipher the coach-speak: "It's like we were supposed to lead the ship. We were kind of like the captain."

Arians then took it one step further. The first three plays he scripted were running plays to Parker behind Stapleton and Colon on the right side. "A B.A. first," Roethlisberger called it.

Parker gained 12, 2 and 8 yards.

The Steelers were off and running.

"Willie told us all week, 'It starts with you guys,' " Starks said. " 'You push 'em forward and I'll ride behind you.' "

So Parker did.

At the same time Tomlin and Arians were doing their psychological work on the big men, Roethlisberger was working on Parker.

"I just told him to trust himself and believe in himself," Big Ben said. "He's too good of a running back to question himself."

Then, there was a brief conversation Parker had right before kickoff with his mentor, former Steelers great Jerome Bettis, who did the ceremonial coin toss.

"I just told him to take care of the football, have fun and be patient," The Bus said.

I repeat: So Parker did.

"You saw him with a bounce," Bettis said. "It was like he was the same old Willie Parker."

The 146 yards were the most in a postseason game by a Steelers running back in 33 years, going back to when Franco Harris was toting the ball. Parker's 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter gave the team a 14-10 lead and his 16-yard scoring sprint in the fourth quarter pushed the score to 35-17, ending all doubts about the outcome.

It was a matter of finally being healthy, Parker said.

That and the superb work done by the big boys in front of him.

"Those guys did a great job in every facet," Roethlisberger said.

Those fears about the quarterback going into the game off of a concussion? Much ado about nothing. "The line did an extra good job of protecting me so I didn't get hit," Roethlisberger said. The Chargers' only sack came when running back Mewelde Moore failed to pick up blitzing safety Eric Weddle.

Now, here come the Ravens.

Linebacker Ray Lewis leads a nasty bunch.

"It's going to be one for the ages, I believe," Roethlisberger said of the game.

"Real football, the way it's supposed to be played," Steelers defensive lineman Aaron Smith called it. "It sure won't be basketball on grass."

Colon, for one, didn't sound intimidated or afraid.

Not of the great Lewis, certainly.

And not of going to Wal-Mart this week.

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Old 01-12-2009, 10:08 AM   #2
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Default Re: Offensive line opened the way

By far their best performance of the year.
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