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Old 01-13-2009, 06:14 AM   #1
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Default Steelers used bye week wisely

Steelers used bye week wisely
by Alex Marvez
Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He's covered the NFL for 14 seasons as a beat writer and is the president of the Pro Football Writers of America.
Updated: January 12, 2009, 3:55 PM EST 350 comments

This is how to perform like a top-two playoff seed.

Pittsburgh's 35-24 pasting of San Diego in Sunday's second-round AFC game represents what should happen when a team enjoys home-field advantage and the luxury of a first-round bye. The blowout featured elements sorely lacked by the Titans, Panthers and Giants as they were upset in the weekend's postseason games.

There wasn't the rust that coated shell-shocked Carolina in Saturday night's 33-13 disaster against Arizona, nor the multitude of wasted scoring opportunities that doomed Tennessee in Baltimore's 13-10 upset. And unlike the Giants in Sunday's 23-11 loss to Philadelphia, the Steelers surged in the second half instead of collapsing.

"You look at all the commentators' shows," Steelers right tackle Willie Colon said. "Every team that was expected to win got mowed down. (Willie should spend more time cutting down on his penalties than in watching TV. - mesa)

"I wouldn't have guessed Baltimore to win, I wouldn't have guessed Carolina would get smacked like that and I wouldn't have guessed the Giants to lose."

But they did. That actually helped the Steelers beyond eliminating the top-seeded Titans and securing home-field advantage for next Sunday's AFC Championship game against Baltimore.

In the hours before Sunday's kickoff, Colon said Steelers players knew the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants were en route to becoming the fifth of eight home teams to fall this postseason. That realization generated an unspoken locker-room moment between Colon and his teammates.

"It was like, 'We know we're the top dogs. We'd better not be like the rest,'" Colon said. "That's the honest-to-god truth. We were kind of looking around like, 'Don't let that be us.' We were laughing and saying, 'We're not ready to go home.'"

Well, in some ways.

The Steelers didn't want their season to end but are quite content playing inside Heinz Field. That's where the Chargers lost for the second time this season in a much more lopsided fashion than in November's 11-10 Pittsburgh victory.

The outcome, though, might have been different were Sunday's game played last weekend.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger couldn't have played because of a concussion suffered in the regular-season finale against Cleveland. Free safety Ryan Clark said he and outside linebacker James Harrison the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year also would have been sidelined with injuries. Running back Willie Parker, who had struggled much of the season with leg and shoulder problems, joined the trio on the sideline during bye-week practices. Heck, even the team's punter (Mitch Berger) still wasn't completely recovered from a tight hamstring.

The added rest did all those players a world of good. Harrison (four tackles, one sack) and Clark (two tackles) were part of a defensive effort that limited Chargers running back Darren Sproles to just 15 rushing yards after a 105-yard effort last weekend against Indianapolis. Parker showcased the form that had made him one of the NFL's top rushers. He notched 146 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Roethlisberger was sharp, not committing a turnover and throwing one touchdown pass in a 181-yard passing effort. Roethlisberger even pinned San Diego deep in its own territory with a pooch punt but was out-kicked by Berger, who enjoyed season-highs in both gross and net average.

"The biggest thing for us was being able to get back healthy," Clark said.

But it wasn't the only thing.

Bye-week preparation laid the groundwork for Sunday's dominance. The Steelers practiced for only three days but put the time to good use. Rather than attempting to game-plan for a potential opponent, Steelers coaches stressed fundamentals that had slipped and challenged players through sessions that matched the first-team offense and defense.

"It made it a little competitive," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith said.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin gave his team the weekend off. But unlike the 2007 Dallas Cowboys, there were no sightings of Steelers players in Cabo San Lucas or any other off-field controversy.

"You've got a mature team that understands a week off isn't a vacation," said Smith, a 10-year NFL veteran. "You've got to keep that edge."

Pittsburgh's impressive outing against San Diego also reflects the stronger bond Tomlin has built with his players. During Tomlin's head-coaching debut in 2007, Pittsburgh had become a tired team by season's end. It was evident when the Steelers lost a first-round home playoff game to Jacksonville.

Tomlin has adjusted his practice schedule accordingly, resulting in a fresher team in January.

"Coach has done a good job taking care of us and being smarter with our bodies," Clark said. "He's not making us bang as much. He's learned we are professionals and will play hard no matter what."

Most importantly, the Steelers are still playing. The three other top seeds that couldn't handle the trappings of a bye?

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Old 01-13-2009, 06:57 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers used bye week wisely

We didnt need an article to know that. They rested and it was obvious.
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