Steelers-Ravens * Saturday, January 3 * Heinz Field
AFC Wild Card Round
Gates open at 6:15 pm * Kickoff at 8:15 pm
All season long Coach Mike Tomlin has been preaching the importance of the next man up. Players understand if a teammate is injured, they have to step in and not let the level of play suffer. It's what Tomlin expects, it's what the rest of the team expects and it's what they expect.
Cornerback Antwon Blake expects that from himself and more.
"It's very exciting to get out there, get a shot and make plays," said Blake, who has become a huge contributor on defense while holding down his role on special teams. "In the NFL, it's the next man up. Due to some injuries that's how I got my shot. I am just looking to continue to make plays every week and do what I can for this team."
With Ike Taylor battling injuries, and Cortez Allen placed on injured reserve earlier in the season, both Blake and Brice McCain have stepped to the plate and gone above the expectations for the next man up. Blake was a key factor in the Steelers win over the Cincinnati Bengals that secured the Steelers the AFC North title with his forced fumble and recovery a turning point in the game.
"I am just fortunate enough to make a play when my number is called," said Blake. "I was in the right place at the right time, the call was perfect so that's how that works."
Being in the right place, though, is about focus. It's about effort. And it's about wanting to make an impact.
"You have to be there, that contributes to effort, running to the ball, that type of thing," said Blake. "When I got there I wanted to make something happen.
The Steelers prepare for their Wild Card playoff against the Baltimore Ravens.
"When you run to the ball good things tend to happen. You see by the way we practice, we are always in pursuit mode, chasing down runners or whoever."
Blake is hoping to keep making those type of contributions as the Steelers playoff run begins on Saturday night against the Ravens at Heinz Field.
"This is my first time experiencing anything like this, first time in playoffs," said Blake. "Playing at home in front of the fans I know it's going to be electric out there. I know the atmosphere is going to be crazy. I am looking forward to being out there making plays."
Blake, like many of his teammates, said the players started to focus on getting back to the playoffs during the offseason and things intensified late in the season.
"I feel like our team has been playing lights out," said Blake. "I just feel like we are putting it together in all three phases. We are winning the battle in all three phases. Especially the turnover battle. When those things happen you get victories. We have been extra motivated because we knew if we won the games what was at stake.
"In the defensive back room we have a lot of veteran players, guys who have been in this situation a lot. They told us the importance of what was going on. They didn't need to tell us to be focused. They just harped on how important it is and the feeling of being in this type of situation. When you hear those types of things you want to go your hardest."