Steelers are looking to get hot in December
Don't dare to be average. Don't dare to be good. Be great. Go 4-0. Remind the NFL that the Steelers are going to be the Steelers in January.
Obviously, quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger's impending return from his shoulder-related injuries is exciting his teammates — especially the wide receivers — and making them eager to build off the surprise win in Baltimore.
So enthused, in fact, that they're thinking out loud about what this up-and-down team is capable of doing during a closing stretch that offers three home games, plus the opportunity for the Steelers to win their way into the playoffs for the ninth time since 2001.
“These next four weeks are going to write this story,” receiver Mike Wallace said Thursday as the Steelers looked ahead to their Sunday home game against the Chargers (4-8) — and beyond.
The Steelers (7-5) play at the Cowboys the following week before they finish at Heinz Field against the Bengals (7-5) — perhaps their biggest game of the season — and the Browns (4-8).
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are tied for the second AFC wild-card slot. Unless AFC north leader Baltimore (9-3) and wild-card leader Indianapolis (8-4) fall apart, that No. 6 seed might be the best the Steelers can achieve.
Not that finishing so low would doom their playoff chances; two No. 6 teams (the Packers and 2005 Steelers) and a No. 5 team (the Giants) won the Super Bowl in the past seven seasons.
“We've got four crucial games in which we've got to go out and make plays for us to go to the playoffs,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.
So, Wallace asked, why not win them all?
“You can't go into playoffs lollygagging. You can't go dragging into playoffs,” Wallace said. “You have to be on your game, and you have to pack that punch that you need in the playoffs. It's not going to be an average team that wins in the playoffs. You have to be a great team in the playoffs. Even though we haven't been great the whole year, if we get great now, that's all that really matters.
“We need to make this run. You don't want to lag into the playoffs, go 2-2 or 1-3 and hope to get in. We need to hit a streak now, get rolling and head into the playoffs with some momentum, where we have that power and feel good about ourselves.”
Having the offense intact — with Roethlisberger in charge — is providing hope that the offense might develop some of that late-season consistency in December, when the Steelers are 9-2 since 2010. The last two times the Steelers won the Super Bowl, they went 4-1 in December and January regular-season games in 2005 and 3-1 in 2008.
That offense, with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch in charge, managed only four touchdowns in the three games Roethlisberger was out. It's expecting more now.
“If we want to make a run and get into the playoffs, we want (Roethlisberger) with us, and we look forward to having him with us,” said receiver Antonio Brown, who returned against Baltimore after missing three games with a high ankle sprain. “Every week is going to be a key to the journey. Every game from here on out is going to be exciting and interesting and give us the opportunity to make the playoffs, and it's great three of the four are at Heinz Field.
“We've got a quarter of the season left, and we need to finish strong because it will pay dividends to get us to where want to go.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.