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Packers, Steelers both ready for pressure
SUPER BOWL XLV
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Pittsburgh has every single advantage you could want in this category. Mike Tomlin piloted the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XLIII in a very competitive game against Arizona two years ago. Hines Ward is a big-game receiver. James Harrison had an interception and a run back for the ages in that Super Bowl win. Troy Polamalu has the rings. Dick LeBeau coaches defenses into world champions.
And Ben Roethlisberger has the knack of playing his best when it matters the most. As Tomlin told us this week, “I thought the stat sheet was wrong when I looked at it after the Jets game. Ben just made so many big plays for us.” That’s what he does. Roethlisberger’s genius goes way beyond a stats page. He made every single big throw and big run on third down against the Jets, including the game-clinching strike on third and 6 after the two minute warning. In theory, that was a terrible play call. You run the ball, let the clock run and put your shut-down defense on the field. Tomlin said he never considered that. Why? He employs a quarterback with a 10-2 playoff record. Ben’s been there and won that. It most certainly counts.
But it was interesting talking to Tomlin about “big game” and “championship” experience. He thinks it is a factor in preparation leading up to the game. It could be a factor in dealing with the extra time on Super Bowl Sunday (FOX pregame at 2 p.m. ET, kickoff at 6:29) after an extended pregame or during a prolonged halftime. You don’t need to worry about how Pittsburgh handles the week of insanity and then the game. The Steelers have been there. But Tomlin did confess that while his guys have played in the Super Bowl, and won the Super Bowl, it really isn’t that big of a factor once the ball is kicked. And I totally agree.
I also think that the Packers, despite the lack of “rings” on the roster, have a ton of experience in a pressure cooker. The Packers have just played five consecutive do-or-die games and handled them with aplomb. This achievement is nothing to sneeze at.
It feels like a lifetime ago, but the Packers were involved in a must-win game in Week 16, facing a Giants team that would clinch a spot in the playoffs with a victory. Remember that the Giants and Packers were tied at 14-14 in the second quarter before the Packers kept forcing New York turnovers, Aaron Rodgers kept throwing for touchdowns and the Pack pulled away to win big. The Packers then had to beat the rival Bears in Week 17 and did so in Chicago with the Bears playing their starters the entire game.
Green Bay then shut down the hot Mike Vick, received a game for the ages from Rodgers while the defense embarrassed Matt Ryan and culminated the run by beating the Bears on Championship Sunday. This is impressive stuff. And let’s not forget that before Week 16, Green Bay had lost two straight games to Detroit and New England, with Rodgers suffering a concussion at the midway point in Motown.
"We've been in playoff mode since the Giants game. Confidence comes from how we got here," Packers coach Mike McCarthy told me Friday in an interview on Sirius.
I also think it is worth citing the incredible adversity the Packers have had to deal with all season long. The Packers lost in back-to-back weeks in overtime to the Redskins and Dolphins. It was during the stretch when the club was trying to learn how to win without the likes of Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Nick Barnett and many others. Green Bay put 17 guys on IR this year! As B.J. Raji told us on Sirius NFL Radio, “That stretch earlier this year, the losses in overtime, the injured players, made us stronger.”
If the Packers can overcome all of these hardships through the course of 20 weeks, the moment won’t be too big for them on Feb. 6.