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Old 12-04-2011, 09:22 PM   #1
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Default Bires: Steelers just heating up

Bires: Steelers just heating up
By Mike Bires mbires@timesonline.com | Posted: Sunday, December 4, 2011 7:05 pm

PITTSBURGH -- Just before the Steelers took the field, Ben Roethlisberger delivered a simple pre-game message: "This is our time."

As an eighth-year pro, Roethlisberger has been around long enough to know that "our time" translates to meaningful regular-season games in December and January.

That's not to downplay the importance of games during the first three months of the season. But when the calendar flips to December, true championship contenders make their move.

"That was my message to the team," Roethlisberger said. "There is no time for should haves, would haves and could haves. We have to get it done."

Roethlisberger knows first-hand about the magnitude of finishing the regular season with authority. It means more when you impose your will on an opponent and win as playoff pressure mounts. In 2005, 2008 and 2010 before reaching the Super Bowl, the Steelers went 11-3 in their regular-season games in December and January.

It's a bit premature to pencil in the Steelers as AFC representatives in this season's Super Bowl, but they surely looked super in routing the Bengals 35-7 on Sunday.

What an impressive and significant December victory it was.

It improved the Steelers' record to 9-3 and allowed them to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. And it all but ended the Bengals' chances of winning the division.

"These are the games that count," veteran linebacker James Farrior said of late season football. "These are the games that are going to put you in a place to make your run."

While the Bengals proved that they aren't quite ready for elite status, the Steelers proved that they are every bit the Super Bowl contender as anyone else in the AFC. On the day the Ravens, Patriots and Texans also improved to 9-3, while the Steelers played their best and most complete game of the season.

They made plays on offense. They made plays on defense. And they certainly made plays on special teams.

More than anything, it was three special teams plays that turned Sunday's game into a rout.

The first was Cameron Heyward's block of a 33-yard field goal try on the Bengals' first possession.

The second was linebacker Stevenson Sylvester dislodging the ball from Bengals kickoff returner Brandon Tate in the second quarter. The Steelers recovered at the Cincinnati 23-yard line, and three plays later, Mike Wallace caught a TD pass to make it 21-0.

The third special teams gem was Antonio Brown's 60-yard touchdown on a punt return.

"We can't pat ourselves on the back yet," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "But if we play well in all three phases like we did today, we will be a tough team to beat down the homestretch."

Already, the Steelers are 1-0 in December and should be 2-0 late Thursday night. The Browns (4-8) come to town in three days and it's hard to imagine them pulling an upset after the way they were blown out Sunday night by the Ravens.

The Steelers do have a tough Monday night game at San Francisco (10-2) on Dec. 19. But they finish out the month at home against St. Louis (2-10) on Christmas Eve and then finish the regular season with a New Year's Day game in Cleveland.

If the Steelers are just starting to peak as Roethlisberger suggests, they are going to be tough to beat in the next few weeks. And if they do have another strong December/January finish, there's no telling how far they can go once the playoffs begin
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