It doesn't take much to sense the difference this week at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. The preseason is over, in the rearview mirror. Now, it's 16 games that count in the standings, 16 games to earn a right to be in the postseason and achieve the ultimate goal every team has – winning the Super Bowl.
It all kicks off for the Steelers on Sunday Night Football on the road against the New England Patriots – the only team that truly reached their goal last year as the defending Super Bowl champs.
Ben Roethlisberger knows there will be a lot of hype on Sunday night, a lot of excitement as they celebrate the championship. And it won't bother him, instead it will be something that can serve as a motivation to be that team next year.
"I think it's cool to be a part of," said Roethlisberger. "You go out there and watch it. You try and channel it to say that needs to be us next year. That's the way I look at it.
"It's the first game of the year. They are the world champs. We're just trying to get to where they have been. It will be exciting for all of us. I know the crowd will be excited. Sunday Night Football, it's not a one o'clock game. All those things add up to an exciting night."
This year will mark the fourth time the Steelers have opened the season against the Patriots, previously doing so in 1979, 2002 and 2015. It's the third time they are opening against them with the Patriots coming off a Super Bowl win, and Roethlisberger was at the helm when the Steelers opened against the Patriots in 2015, a 28-21 loss.
"They are the best for a reason, coaches and players," said Roethlisberger. "It's not like we have had a problem with them. The league has had a problem with them. They're that dominant. Like I have said before playing them at home is hard enough. To go to their place is almost impossible. I guess the only positive is it's not an AFC North team.
"No one's got a win, no one's got a loss. They are the world champs and we have to go to their place and do our best."
Roethlisberger, like probably every player in the locker room, will have those first-game butterflies when they take the field. But it's not nerves, it's just that energy of a new beginning.
"I think it's just as much excited nervous, as nervous," said Roethlisberger. "We are going up there. I am sure they are dropping a banner or whatever they are going to do. What an exciting and awesome opportunity for us all."
More from Ben:
On how the offense has grown in the preseason:
We feel good. A lot of familiar faces on offense. The work we got with new guys or younger guys was efficient.
On how James Washington has grown:
Everybody saw how much better shape he looked when he walked in. Not better shape, thinner, lighter. He was already strong. It's not like he was chubby, and he lost weight. He looked good. He lost weight because he wanted to be faster and I think we have all seen that. We have seen him continue to grow in terms of understanding the offense and making plays. He goes up and high points balls and makes those contested catches. That is all growth. That is positive in everybody's eyes.
On if he watched the Super Bowl and thinks they can spread the ball around like Tom Brady does:
He has been good at that for years. They have had one of the most dominant tight ends and some players. That's one of their MOs, just spread the ball around and let everyone get involved No one ever shines too much. You had Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) and (Julian) Edelman, and guys like that. But they spread it around and let everyone make plays. I think that is an awesome recipe for trying to be successful. They did it.
On if the Steelers offense will be more like that this year:
We'll see. We have a lot of guys that I think can be successful, can help us win football games. Kind of my style is spreading it around anyway. I am going to have to be good and get them the ball and the rest is up to those guys.