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Steelers struggling recently against defending champions

| Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 8:28 p.m.
The Steelers Ryan Clark leaves the field during the Redskins game at Heinz Field Oct. 28, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Something super this way comes for the Steelers.

They're the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants, and according to Steelers safety Ryan Clark, they're better than they were last season. Their Eli Manning-led offense is humming, they've pulled out their last two games late in the fourth quarter, and they're setting up for another playoff run.

So wouldn't it mean something for the Steelers to go on the road and beat the champs before a national audience Sunday afternoon?

Wouldn't it provide a motivational and confidence lift heading into the second half of the season?

Multiple players — and history — say no.

“There's a new Super Bowl champ every year,” nose tackle Casey Hampton said Thursday. “They won it last year, but I don't get into that. Maybe for some guys that's motivation, but for me it's not.”

The NFL is so balanced, Clark said, that any team can beat any other team. To him, teams that walk emotional tightropes by drawing motivation only from marquee teams won't survive long.

“If your determination to win the game or if your effort to win the game changes depending on the team that you play, I don't want you on my team,” Clark said. “I play every game hard, and I prepare for every game hard. That's what this is about. That's what this league is about. You play the best every week, whether you're the defending champ or not. It doesn't matter that they won the Super Bowl last year.”

Still, in 2006 and '09, the Steelers talked about catching teams at their best because they were playing the best, the Super Bowl champs from the season before.

But beating the defending champion during the regular season hasn't spurred a team to go on and win the Super Bowl in 18 years, or since the 49ers defeated the Cowboys en route to a Super Bowl win during the 1994 season.

The 1997 Broncos also beat the reigning champ, Green Bay, but that was in the Super Bowl itself. The Broncos got there by winning the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh.

Losing to the defending champion hasn't proven to be detrimental to winning the Super Bowl, either — especially for the Steelers.

The Giants a season ago (Packers), the 2008 Steelers (Giants), the '05 Steelers (Patriots), the 1996 Packers (Cowboys) and the '95 Cowboys (49ers) all lost to the reigning champion but went on to win the Super Bowl.

“I'm playing the 2012 version. If you look at the 2012 version, they're a better football team than the 2011 version,” Clark said of the Giants, who have won six of seven. “So that's who we're playing and how I'm focusing.”

What they're focusing on is attempting to keep their revived running game going against a defense that is 24th overall and allowing 4.6 yards per carry and preventing the Eli Manning-to-Victor Cruz combination from making big plays. They also want to keep the Giants' front four — specially Jason Pierre-Paul — away from Ben Roethlisberger in an effort to extend the Steelers' season-long success in controlling the time of possession.

“I think if we go out there and handle our business and win that game, we'll have beat a good football team, and that only helps us out,” cornerback Keenan Lewis said. “We need this win real bad. We'll be ready to play.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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