Steelers seek to end title-game woes
Ben Roethlisberger suffered his first cut as an NFL quarterback the last time the Steelers hosted an AFC Championship Game, and he hasn't forgotten that it was self-inflicted.
"I didn't play so well," said Roethlisberger, who threw three interceptions in a 41-27 loss to the New England Patriots in January 2005. "So, I'll be looking for a little redemption."
So will the Steelers when they host the Ravens in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
They have lost four of the last five conference title games played in Pittsburgh and will try to reverse that trend when Baltimore visits for what should be the equivalent of a back-alley fight at Heinz Field.
When asked if the Steelers' past woes in AFC Championship Games have any relevancy when it comes to Sunday, right tackle Willie Colon said, "You mean like a curse?"
It sure probably feels that way to Steelers fans.
The Steelers have lost in all manner of ways when they have played at home with the Super Bowl on the line.
Breakdowns in the secondary, special teams blunders and error-prone quarterbacks have all contributed the Steelers losing four of the five AFC title games they have played at home since 1995.
Their lone win came only after a Hail Mary pass by Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh, the brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, fell incomplete by a couple of inches on the game's final play.
"You can't really get caught up in the past," Colon said. "One thing I know is you can't take any playoff situation for granted. That's the one thing I learned from Hines Ward."
Colon made his first postseason start last season, and before the Steelers' AFC wild-card game against Jacksonville he remembers Ward exhorting his teammates to seize the moment.
That is something they have rarely been able to do in recent AFC Championship games at home. If there is one reason to believe Sunday will be different, it is Roethlisberger.
He is a veteran of AFC Championship Games; this will be his third one in five NFL seasons. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, by comparison, is a rookie who will be playing in his third playoff game.
Roethlisberger showed his postseason seasoning in the Steelers' 35-24 win over San Diego last Sunday. He passed for 181 yards and a touchdown and impressed coach Mike Tomlin with the way he ran a Steelers offense that found the end zone four times.
Roethlisberger did not show any ill effects from the concussion that knocked him out of the Steelers' regular-season finale on Dec. 28. And the bye week that preceded the Steelers' AFC divisional playoff game didn't just help Roethlisberger clear his head, Tomlin said.
"I was impressed with how he threw the ball, the liveliness in his arm," Tomlin said. "He launched a couple of those deep balls."
The one thing Roethlisberger would like to heave is any lingering memories from the last time he played in an AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh. He threw more interceptions against the Patriots than he had during a seven-game stretch in the regular season, and the Steelers couldn't overcome the costly turnovers. The loss marked Roethlisberger's first one as an NFL starting quarterback.
One big diference between Roethlisberger then and the one that will be under center Sunday: this is now his offense, and Tomlin said Roethlisberger has acted accordingly.
"I just like the way he has been preparing," Tomlin said. "Last week he was extremely sharp, deep balls, play action, communication, just being a great leader and exuding the quiet confidence that comes with his job. I expect that to continue."
The Steelers will try to snap a three-game home losing streak in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday when they host the Ravens. Here is a look at how the Steelers have fared in recent AFC title games they have played in Pittsburgh.
Date — Opponent — Result
1⁄23⁄2005 — Patriots — L, 41-27
Patriots jump on Steelers early and never look back, as Ben Roethlisberger throws three interceptions and loses his first NFL game as a starter.
1⁄27⁄2002 — Patriots — L, 24-17
Drew Bledsoe plays well in relief of the injured Tom Brady, and New England scores a pair of special teams touchdowns in upset of Steelers.
1⁄11/1998 — Broncos — L, 24-21
Four Kordell Stewart turnovers doom Steelers, and Denver's John Elway goes on to win his first Super Bowl.
1⁄14/1996 — Colts — W, 20-16
Mere inches separate Steelers from another heartbreaking loss, as Colts nearly complete "Hail Mary" pass on final play of the game.
1⁄15/1995 — Chargers — L, 17-13
Chargers hit a couple of long pass plays and make late defensive stand to hand the Steelers one of the more stunning losses in franchise history.
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