Harris: Steelers veterans refuse to buckle
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins were spotted a 6-0 lead with less than two minutes elapsed on Sunday, courtesy of back-to-back Steelers fumbles to open the game.
A lesser team would have been on the verge of collapse at that point: on the road, costly early turnovers, playing without starting defensive end Brett Keisel.
To beat the Steelers, you have to stomp and kick them when they're down.
Miami let the Steelers off the hook.
Instead of breaking down, the Steelers knuckled down. Their defense held Miami to a pair of field goals despite the Dolphins taking over at the Steelers' 22 and 13, respectively. The Steelers then reeled off 10 consecutive points, and 17 of the next 20, in building a 17-9 lead.
The 23-22 final score at Sun Life Stadium was a formality for the likes of Hines Ward, James Farrior, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith (injured tricep and all), who have won so many games over the last decade, they've probably lost count.
"We've got a group of guys that have been doing it the Steeler way, the Rooney way, for a long time," said Farrior, the defensive captain, whose unit helped the Steelers improve to a 5-1 record this year and who improved his regular-season record with the Steelers to 86-47-1. "That's what's been getting us over the hump. That's what's getting us through these tough games. We've got a lot of confidence and a lot of resiliency."
This is Farrior's ninth season with the Steelers. He has started all but four regular season games during that span. Since joining the Steelers, Farrior, 35, has won two Super Bowls, appeared in three AFC championship games and advanced to the playoffs five times.
It's Year No. 10 for Hampton with the Steelers. Smith's in his 12th season.
For Ward, it's lucky No. 13.
Along with Keisel, who sat out with a hamstring injury, Farrior, Ward, Smith and Hampton are the longest-tenured players on the roster.
"It's a matter of the veteran guys leading by example. We've been there before," Ward said. "The Steelers have always used that combination. That's the reason why they continue to have success over the years. No panicking and blowing up the whole thing and getting rid of all the veterans. But keeping the veterans that are still productive, regardless of what people may say."
Ward was targeted a game-high 10 times. He had seven receptions for a season-high 131 yards and a nifty 21-yard touchdown catch from Ben Roethlisberger that made it 10-6 in the second quarter.
Not bad for a 34-year old wideout who was supposed to be over the hill.
"I was supposed to fall off three or four years ago, and I'm still being productive," said Ward, the longest-tenured wide receiver in the league with the same team. "The Steelers signing me to an extension, it's great the way they do it — keeping the nucleus of veterans and mix in rising stars like LT (Lawrence Timmons), (LaMarr) Woodley, and now add in youth with Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall and Emmanuel Sanders.
"Myself, Potsie (Farrior), Aaron Smith, Hampton, Keisel. It's great to see guys in their 30s still being productive and helping this team win."
Hampton, who turned 33 last month, said he isn't ready to think about the Steelers' remarkable run since he joined the team in 2001. Looking back, he said, prevents him from looking toward a winning future.
"We know we've been good for a while, and we take pride in that," said Hampton, who anchored a defensive line that, despite not having Keisel before the game and losing Smith during the contest, held Miami to 64 yards rushing. "But that's for people to look at when we're done and say, 'Yeah, they were really good.' Right now, we're out there still trying to get it."
The Steeler way.
Steelers vs. Dolphins 10/24
The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium Oct. 24, 2010.