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|01-29-2011, 12:26 PM||#1|
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LaMarr Woodley peaks in the postseason
By James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- Of all the great pass-rushers in NFL history, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley stands alone in one important category.
In the AFC Championship Game victory over the New York Jets, Woodley became the first player to record at least one sack in his first six playoff games. It's a feat even Lawrence Taylor would envy. Woodley also holds the NFL record with 10 sacks over that same postseason span.
On Feb. 6 Woodley will try to extend his historic streak in Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers. Pressuring Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be vital, and based on Woodley's postseason track record, he will be a disruptive force.
"If you compare his first eight games to his second eight, that's usually when he explodes. ... and I think that just rolls over to the playoffs," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "He's a big-game player."
"It's just a habit and it comes second nature to him," teammate Ziggy Hood said of Woodley's postseason play. "He's a relentless player and he deserves everything that he gets."
This will be Woodley's second Super Bowl appearance. In Super Bowl XLIII, he sacked quarterback Kurt Warner twice in a 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers are 5-1 in postseason games when Woodley records a sack.
Consistency has been the key to Woodley's success. This season he joined fellow outside linebacker James Harrison as the only two Steelers to record double-digit sacks in three consecutive seasons.
In the AFC title game, Woodley sacked Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in Pittsburgh's 24-19 win, despite being shut out in the first meeting between the teams in Week 15.
"It's either win or go home," Woodley said of his playoff mentality. "If they thought their tackles did a great job [in the regular season], well, let's see if your tackles do a great job when it really counts. And it seems like when it really counts, we’re going to show up."
It's been an interesting year for Woodley, who didn't get a contract extension with the Steelers this past offseason and is due to become one of the league's prized free agents after the Super Bowl.
The 26-year-old was one of the NFL's best bargains, making just $550,000 in the final year of his rookie deal. Woodley filled up the stat sheet and started all 18 games, including playoffs, and recorded 57 tackles, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and one pick returned for a touchdown. The Steelers also led the league in run defense and sacks and were second in total yards allowed.
The Steelers are expected to make re-signing Woodley their biggest priority. He's said and done all the right things by not holding out, never complaining about his contract and performing well on the field.
"If I'm going into this season worried about my contract, I'm not focusing on going to the Super Bowl and I'm not focused on this team," Woodley explained. "I would be selfish to think about myself and this contract situation and not focus on this team. I got guys on this team counting on me to play my best, and I'm not going to let them down."
Woodley is from Detroit but wasn't a Lions fan. The linebacker said he grew up rooting for the Dallas Cowboys -- often regarded as America's Team -- until he was 11 or 12 years old.
After that Woodley became a fan of fellow Detroit native Jerome Bettis and the Steelers, which later drafted Woodley in 2007 out of the University of Michigan. Woodley said he even wore a No. 36 jersey and played some fullback while in middle school. He missed being Bettis' teammate by two years -- the Hall of Fame finalist retired after Super Bowl XL at Ford Field.
Next week Woodley can write his own Super Bowl script wearing the jersey of one of his childhood teams (Steelers) and playing in the stadium of another (Cowboys). Woodley has a chance to extend his sack record to seven consecutive playoff games while going for his second championship in three seasons.
"It would be nice," Woodley said. "But if my streak stops, as long as we win, that's what it's all about at the end of the day."
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