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Old 12-28-2009, 05:48 PM   #1
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Default Bires: Woodley saves season ... for now

Bires: Woodley saves season ... for now
Beaver County Times

Monday December 28, 2009 12:10 AM

Usually in this setting, it’s James Harrison who shines.

The hated Baltimore Ravens were in the building, and the Steelers had donned their throwback uniforms again.

In the last two years, that was enough to motivate Harrison to wondrous deeds. Harrison owned the Ravens with six sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception the past two times Baltimore visited Heinz Field.

Sunday, however, it was the Steelers’ other outside linebacker who put on a highlight reel performance.

On this day, LaMarr Woodley stole the show.

And according to Woodley, his performance had nothing to do with Harrison reporting for duty with a strained biceps that had his playing status listed as questionable right up until kickoff.

“I’m always looking to be the guy,” Woodley said.

Woodley certainly was that in the Steelers’ 23-20 squeaker over the Ravens. He was easily the game’s No. 1 star.

Woodley, a second-round pick in the 2007 draft, was at his best in the fourth quarter. He was a beast who spearheaded the defense’s best performance since a Nov. 9 win in Denver.

In the first quarter against the mistake-prone Ravens, James Farrior intercepted a pass, the Steelers’ first pick since their 28-10 win against the Broncos. But it was Woodley who created the opportunity by charging past tackle Oniel Cousins and drilling Joe Flacco as he threw.

Then in the fourth quarter, when the Steelers defense has self-destructed so often this year, Woodley took control.

He was determined to do his part for a defense that has let the team down so many times in this struggle of a Super Bowl defense. He was also determined to pay back Cousins.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, a Woodley bull-rush was hindered when Cousins grabbed his face mask. Then just as Flacco threw incomplete, Cousins popped Woodley after the whistle.

The referee didn’t flag Cousins for yanking Woodley’s face mask, but he did flag Cousins for a 15-yard personal foul penalty for a late hit. That infraction did more than just take Baltimore out of field goal range. It fired up Woodley even more.

“He just blasted me in the face, but I took one for the team,” Woodley said. “I’m not going to react to it — just take the 15 yards they were going to give us.

“But his quarterback paid at the end,” Woodley added. “I told my teammates on the sideline that Flacco was going to have to pay for (Cousins’) mistake.”

Woodley got his revenge when it mattered most, on the Ravens’ last possession.

On third-and-7 from the Steelers’ 35 and 2:39 left to play, Woodley blew past Cousins and sacked Flacco.

On fourth-and-10, Woodley blew by Cousins again, sacking Flacco again with a tackle that separated the ball from the fallen quarterback’s grasp.

As the ball floated in the air, rookie defensive end Ziggy Hood grabbed it.

Game over.

Woodley saved the day.

By doing so, Woodley took over the team’s sack lead with 11.5.

Harrison, who played well against the Ravens despite his arm injury, didn’t have a sack for a fifth straight game and is still stuck on 10.

“He’s a guy that’s on the rise,” coach Mike Tomlin said of Woodley.

Indeed, Woodley is on the rise.

As a rookie, he had 4.0 sacks during the regular season. He then had two in a playoff loss to Jacksonville.

Last year, Woodley was second on the team with 11.5 sacks. He then had six more in the playoffs, including one to close out the Super Bowl win over Arizona.

On Sunday, he starred in a game the 8-7 Steelers needed to win in order to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

“LaMarr did a great job,” Harrison said. “He did what we expected him to do.”

Woodley did what every great Steelers linebacker is supposed to do, and that’s to make plays that win games.

Mike Bires can be reached at mbies@timesonline.com
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