Steelers take familiar path to playoffs
Those who believe in omens may have taken note of the Steelers' final touchdown in Sunday's 41-9 shellacking of the Browns.
Antwaan Randle El tossed a 3-yard scoring pass to Hines Ward, marking the first time that the wide receivers have hooked up for a touchdown since Super Bowl XL.
If it a stretch to call that a sign, that's only because the Steelers don't need to cling to such superstition as they embark on a possible run to Super Bowl XLV.
The Steelers closed the regular season with two wins by a combined score of 68-12.
And they were more businesslike as they filed into the visiting locker room at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday, precisely because they expected to lay waste to the Browns.
Those wins came shortly after inside linebacker and defensive captain James Farrior informed his teammates that the Steelers' postseason, contrary to what the NFL calendar says, started right before Christmas.
And they bode well for the Steelers as they try to extend their season through the first week of February.
The Steelers are 5-1 in regular-season finales in the years they have won the Super Bowl. In 2005 and 2008, they won their last regular-season game by an average of 22.5 points.
Coach Mike Tomlin shrugged off the importance of taking momentum into the playoffs after the Steelers punctuated a 12-4 regular season with a whipping of the Browns.
This came during yet another stone-faced, postgame address to the media -- and shortly after Steelers players heading into the locker room were greeted by Tomlin with shouts of "King of the North, baby!"
One thing that can't be dismissed or argued is that it certainly can't hurt to be playing well as December segues into January.
"You need to be peaking, playing your best football going into the playoffs, and I think we are," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. "I like everything about our team. We went through a stretch where were getting a lot of penalties, and we finally calmed that down and are playing smarter. We're playing well in all three phases."
The Steelers played their most complete game of the season in Cleveland, with the caveat being that it was, well, Cleveland.
But they enter the postseason on a track similar to 2008, when they also won six of their final seven games and claimed the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
"We've got a bye week, so things are in our favor right now," Farrior said. "We've got just as good a shot as anybody (to win the Super Bowl), and that's all you can ask for."
3 players to watch
Rashard Mendenhall, RB: Quietly had one of the better seasons by a running back in Steelers history, finishing seventh in the NFL in rushing yards (1,273) and tied for second in rushing touchdowns (13).
Mike Wallace, WR: He had three consecutive 100-yard receiving games to close the regular season and finished fifth in the NFL with 1,257 receiving yards.
LaMarr Woodley, OLB: Call him Mr. January. Or Mr. February. Woodley has notched two sacks in all four of the postseason games in which he has played.
3.0 - Yards per rush yielded by the Steelers, the lowest in team history dating to 1969
5 - Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's NFL regular-season rank in passing rating (97.0)
43 - Regular-season victories by coach Mike Tomlin, the same number his predecessor, Bill Cowher, had after four seasons
62.8 - Rushing yards per game allowed by the Steelers this season
90.1 - Rushing yards per game allowed by the Bears, who ranked second to the Steelers in the NFL this season
Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior, on the NFL fines that outside linebacker James Harrison incurred this season and how it brought the team closer together:
"We could have easily been distracted by that; James could have went in the tank. But he's such a good player, and he stayed focused and he stayed strong and resilient, and we fought through it. It seemed like things calmed down after a little while and that was just another thing that added to our character building."
Harrison, on the support he received when he got fined three times within roughly a six-week span:
"I won't say that's what led to this team doing what it has done, but my teammates were definitely behind me. We definitely stuck together."
Coach Mike Tomlin, on how the Steelers weathered ups and downs before and during the 2010 season
"It hasn't been an emotional roller-coaster. We knew what was in front of us, we knew the obstacles, we knew some of the adversity was created by us, but we'll meet it head on. We're still in the process of doing it."
3 questions with Steelers right tackle Flozell Adams:
Did you come close to retiring after the Cowboys released you last April?
"I wasn't thinking retirement at all. That wasn't an option for me. Whether I was going to be signed in May, June, July, August, September, I was willing to accept it."
How was it fitting in with this group of offensive linemen after spending your entire career in Dallas?
" Even though I'm a vet, I didn't know how to prepare myself to transition to another team. I'd never done that before, so it was kind of strange feeling. The first couple of days of (training) camp I didn't know anybody, but I have certainly been blessed that I've been a part of this group because it wasn't like, 'Who is this guy?' They welcomed me with open arms, and I totally appreciate that because I was nervous."
How meaningful would it be to return to Dallas and play in Super Bowl XLV?
"That's the ultimate goal to win the Super Bowl -- not just go; I want to win it. I don't care if it was in Europe, as long as I win the Super Bowl."
The Steelers' opponents for the 2011 regular season were announced Monday. Dates and times of the games will be determined later by the NFL. In addition to their division rivals, the Steelers play every team from the AFC South as well as the NFC West. By virtue of winning the AFC North this season, the Steelers also play the first-place finishers in the AFC East and AFC West.
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