Schedule has players pumped for season

The 2012 season will begin exactly where the 2011 season ended for the Steelers, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High against the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs last January, defeating the black and gold 29-23 in overtime in an AFC Wild Card game.

Thanks to the NFL schedule makers the Steelers have the opportunity to eradicate that loss when the two teams meet in the season-opener on Sept. 9.

"We want to get our season off to a strong start no matter who we play against," said safety Ryan Mundy. "The fact that we played Denver the last game of the season and we lost, if we go out there and get a win that will be a great start to our season. We can't change the past but that will give us a good start to our season and help us move forward to accomplish our goals."

The Broncos will have a new look this year with the offseason addition of quarterback Peyton Manning, but the memory of the playoff loss is the same.

"Any time you go in to a place where they delivered a loss to you, you want to go in there and get some payback," said guard Doug Legursky. "Especially in Denver when it was in the playoffs. We want to go back and prove we are out to win the Super Bowl."

When safety Ryan Clark first looked at the Steelers 2012 schedule he had mixed emotions. He loves the excitement of opening on Sunday Night Football, a nationally televised game. But for Clark, he will be a spectator, forced to watch from the sidelines because he has a sickle cell trait and playing football in the high altitude in Denver can lead to further complications.

"You see it two ways," said Clark. "You don't want to miss the opener, and you don't want to miss a prime time game. But at least for me it doesn't break my season up. I know I will miss the first one and then play the next 15 games God willing. I knew I would miss a game somewhere in there. It's kind of good to get it out of the way the first one and I can get in the groove for the rest of the season."

Clark's absence from that game could give Mundy a chance to move into his starting free safety spot for opening day.

"I am always excited for the start of the season," said Mundy. "I always try to do my best to make sure I am ready to play if Troy (Polamalu) or Ryan can't go and that game will be no different. This will be my fourth year on the active roster and I look forward to getting better every game, every year to make sure I can help the team win."

The Broncos game will be the first of five prime time games for the Steelers, and they look forward to being in that spotlight.

"It's exciting. It's something to look forward to," said running back Jonathan Dwyer. "Everybody wants to play in the prime time games. It's what you grew up seeing. Everybody is going to be watching. It starts off with a bang against Denver, against Peyton Manning. And we have other big games. We have a competitive schedule. I am excited about it and ready to get it going."

The maximum prime time games a team can play this year is five, and it comes as no surprise to the players that they are playing the max.

"You come to expect that when you play for this organization because of the fan base," said tight end Heath Miller. "That is always a good thing. When you are able to play in prime time, if you play well you know you will put it on display for everybody to see and hopefully we will do that."

The other four prime time games are Thursday, Oct. 11 at Tennessee; Sunday, Oct. 21 at Cincinnati; Monday, Nov. 12 vs. Kansas City; and Sunday, Nov. 18 vs. Baltimore.

"It definitely shows that Steelers Nation wants to see their team play," said Legursky. "The networks are going to put us on TV in those prime time spots and we are going to deliver for them."

The Steelers will face the Ravens twice in a three-game span, with the Nov. 18 game at Heinz Field and then head to Baltimore on Dec. 2.

"I think it's cool," said Clark. "You are used to them; you know what they are going to do. To get them out of the way in one block, you are going to just beat yourself up three weeks in a row and then get it out of the way."

An aspect of the schedule that really appeals to the players is three of the four final games of the season will be played at Heinz Field.

"That is good, especially if we are in a tight race and in a situation where we are trying to get playoff position or win the AFC North," said Clark. "To have three of those last four games at home is great. If you are already in the fight it's a lot better to have those games at home down the stretch than if you have to go to Cleveland the last game of the season like we have the last few years and be in those dog fights. To have the home crowd behind us is pretty cool."

The Steelers host the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 9, are on the road against Dallas Dec. 16, and return to Heinz Field for a Dec. 23 match-up against Cincinnati and Dec. 30 vs. Cleveland.

"We always do well at home and we love playing in front of our fans," said Mundy. "Hopefully we will be in a position to make a strong push at that point. We will definitely take three of the last four played at home. Hopefully that will send us into the playoffs right."

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