PITTSBURGH – Uh, oh, those king-of-the-road Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t going to like this, not at all.
They are four-point favorites to beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Detroit after being underdogs against Indianapolis and Denver in their last two playoff games.
That means the Steelers can no longer recite that nobody’s-picking-us theme that has carried them through seven consecutive victories, all but two away from home. They can no longer say that they’re flying under the radar and are being overlooked even as they take down one higher-seeded team after another.
No wonder linebacker Joey Porter, the demonstrative and very confident leader of Pittsburgh’s defense, was practically begging oddsmakers to make the NFC champion the favorite following the Steelers’ 34-17 AFC championship game victory over Denver on Sunday.
“Nobody’s been pickin’ us, don’t jump on the bandwagon now,” Porter said. “People are still crying about the Colts, and their stuff has been over for a week now. So pick them (the Seahawks) so we can keep our edge.”
Of course, Porter might not have felt that way if he knew the Steelers are 4-0 when favored to win the Super Bowl, as they were in the 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979 seasons, and 0-1 as underdogs, by 13 1/2 points before losing 10 years ago to the Cowboys 27-17.
If nothing else, the Steelers’ remarkable and unequaled playoff run also has quieted talk that they didn’t have enough quality receivers to give Ben Roethlisberger much help when opposing defenses stack the line of scrimmage to shut down the run — as the Colts and Broncos did the last two weeks.
Hines Ward’s credentials can’t be disputed as a four-time Pro Bowl receiver, but there were considerable doubts when the playoffs started about whether No. 2 receiver Antwaan Randle El (no touchdown catches since the first game of the season) and No. 3 receiver Cedrick Wilson (no TD catches all season) could be reliable and productive.
But with Roethlisberger coming out throwing in each of the last two games, look what those receivers have done.
Wilson, who questioned at midseason if he should have signed with a team that throws as little as the Steelers do, had five catches for 92 yards and a TD in Denver and has two scoring catches in the postseason. Randle El has nine catches and a touchdown. And rookie Nate Washington, an undrafted rookie from Tiffin University, made his first NFL catch Sunday to keep the Steelers’ first scoring drive going.
Apparently, it hasn’t been only Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis and a defense that has allowed 17, 18 and 17 points respectively against the high-scoring Bengals, Colts and Broncos that have gotten the Steelers to only their second Super Bowl in 26 years.
“I thought they had some great catches, some great-timed routes,” Denver coach Mike Shanahan said of the Steelers’ receivers. “You have to really take your hat off to their offense and their wide receivers. They made some big-time plays with some big pressure and kept drives going.”
Drive being the operative word for the NFL’s road warriors, who have spent most of the last month on what has become a Super highway.
“We thought we could take some shots in the air,” said Ward, who has 10 catches and two touchdowns in the playoffs. “We’re an experienced team and we took our chances.”
Even if that experience doesn’t factor in for the 23-year-old Roethlisberger, the only quarterback in NFL history to take a team to a conference championship game and the Super Bowl in his first two seasons.
“It’s amazing to have done it on the road,” Randle El said. “Amazing.”
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