STEELERS vs. RAVENS AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SUNDAY, JANUARY 18, 2009 KICKOFF IS AT 6:30 P.M. HEINZ FIELD
*STEELERS QUOTES- Wednesday, Jan. 14 *
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
* Can you talk about the confidence that builds with all of the fourth-quarter comebacks the team has made this year?*
We don't like to have to do it. Normally you have to do it when you are struggling early on in the games. It comes from the heart. A lot of guys have to step up and not make mistakes and do it when it counts.
Ravens WR Derrick Mason said this is the storybook match-up, that there is no team they would rather be playing than you in the AFC Championship game. What are your thoughts on that?
It's going to be a good game. It's always hard to play a team twice and beat them twice. We have to do it three times. They are a great football team. Offensively for us it's not going to be easy because of how good they are on defense.
You are division rivals. Is this perceived hate or do you two teams really not like each other?
It's the rivalry. It's two great football teams going at it and it's going to be a classic matchup.
Have they showed you a different wrinkle each time they played you on defense?
Every play. We are watching tape again and we are putting new things in for practice that we have never seen before. I really think that every week that they put not just one new thing in, they put a whole new package in, that's why it's such a big challenge playing these guys.
Is Terrell Suggs the key for their flexibility on defense?
Their whole defense is something you have to be alert for, from up front all the way to the secondary. You can't just key on one guy. You have so many guys to worry about. If you watch one guy another one is going to make a play. We are going to have to have good communication, identification, Justin (Hartwig) and myself and the rest of the line trying to figure out if it's three down, four down, five down, two down. Who knows?
Can you have success running the ball outside?
We are going to go into the game trying to pound the ball like we do and hopefully open up some of the passing game. You just have to be alert in the passing game because you have that secondary, Ed Reed always seems to be around the ball and the rest of their guys. We are going to put the game plan together. We are not done with it yet. Once we get it together we will have an idea of what we are going to do.
Coach (Tomlin) said your arm looked lively against San Diego. Did the week off help get your arm strength back?
I had the receivers tell me the same thing. I guess it did. It just felt good out there. We missed a couple of deep balls. We probably left about 150 yards of passing out there. We are close and hopefully it stays alive.
Do you have to be alert about Reed in the middle there?
You always have to know where he is at because he is never just in the middle. You watch some of the games that they played, especially in the post-season. There was one time he is a Cover-2 safety to the right side and he picks off an under route to the left. He is always all over the field. He is a ball hawk.
What kind of advantage is it playing in your third AFC Championship Game?
I just hope it's not as bad as the first one I had here. We just have to make sure we know we have to take care of the ball. That has been the key to everyone's success or failure in the post-season so far is if you can take care of the ball. For me I just need to make sure I take care of it and let our offense and defense take care of the rest.
What kind of impact does having a healthy Willie Parker have?
Anytime Willie is healthy it helps in the run game. We have a lot of great running backs and the line does a great job of opening it up for whoever is back there. Whatever running back is back there and healthy it's always good for us.
The late game pressure we talked about before, is that something that you like?
You either like having the ball in your hands at the end or you don't. I'm one that does. Usually it means that you struggled early, that you are behind. But if it's there, it's there.
Two teams so evenly matched, what is it going to come down to?
I honestly think it's going to come down to who scores more points.
How does the level of trash talking in this game compare to others?
I'm sure there will be a lot, there always is. Whether it's a preseason game or this game there is going to be a lot. You know what, talk is cheap.
Talking about turnovers, do they create them from being physical or force them in schemes?
Both. They are very opportunistic. If the ball is in there air where some DBs might drop it, they don't seem to drop very many. The linebackers as well. In that sense I think their players make plays. They also are so good, Coach (Rex) Ryan and the rest of that defensive staff are so good at making you make the mistakes of throwing it where you don't think a guy is, but he is there. You just have to be aware of all of them.
This time of year it usually comes down to the team that is playing the best football. Do you feel you are that team right now?
I feel like we are playing good football right now, as is Baltimore. That is why it is going to be such a great match-up, because both teams are playing very good football right now and that's what you want for a championship game.
Can you imagine not having had a week off since Week 2?
It'd be tough. It's a credit to them. It's very tough to deal with and to do. They've done it and done a great job with it.
There was a report you had a spinal concussion. Was it a spinal concussion?
I'm not going to comment on that.
*Do you notice a difference with the defenses when Willie is running the ball?
Willie is a great running back, a guy that deserves attention. When you've got a great running back that's running the way he's running, it does open up the passing game. It opens up the play-action passes. I think it's a big help when he's running the way he is.
Your offensive line has been a hot topic the last few weeks. Are they playing their best football now?
They're playing great football. You'd have to ask them what their best is. But I've had a lot of confidence in them from day one. I always will. They've done such a great job each week, even through the criticism and the sacks. That doesn't matter because it doesn't faze them. It's shouldn't. It's not all on them. They're playing great football and they've just got to keep it up.
Ed Reed gets a lot of attention, but Jim Leonhard has come on recently. What have you noticed about him on tape?
He's a phenomenal football player. He's always making plays. He's always around the ball. I think because of the way he plays and how good he is, it allows Ed to just do his thing. It's kind of the way it is when we joke with Troy (Polamalu) when he'll say, 'Cover me, I see something.' I'm sure it's kind of the same way they are.
So you think his play has allowed Reed to have the year he's had?
I think so, I really do.
*RE: Regarding the nature of the game
It's going to be an all out war. This game is definitely going to be a war. As a player these are the games that you appreciate and want to be a part.
There were a lot of fourth-quarter late-game comebacks this year. What have you learned about yourself?
We want to start off a little faster and not let it come down to the fourth quarter. This team showed a lot of resiliency as far as even though things may not have started off like we wanted, there is no quitting in this team. Until the final whistle is blown we are going to play it out, play our hearts out, and hope for the best. This year we had to come from behind a couple times. I think we have the guys confident enough to go out there and get the job done.
*How different is this offense with Willie (Parker) playing like he is right now?
It takes a lot of pressure off of everyone if we can establish our running game like we want to. I think if we can convert third downs and not turn the ball over then we like our chances of winning the ball game.
With that being said, Willie (Parker) has never had success against Baltimore. How have you found other ways to win?
They've done a great job playing defense. A lot of things help. All it takes is one game. We are going to go out there and try and establish our running game and hopefully run the ball. You know Willie (Parker) feels good. The offensive line played this team twice already this year. So, they understand what type of blitz and different problems they are going to present us. It's really going to come down to whatever team executes the game plan. If we can go out there and do that we'll be fine.
*Do you think the game will get any more intense in the playoffs? More physical?
Every game is physical and they're our rivals. They don't like us as much as we don't like them. I think it's always going to be an intense game.
You haven't been here that long. Do you have a genuine dislike for them already?
Oh yeah. It's Cleveland, Baltimore, everybody in our division. It's a natural dislike.
*Do these games ever get old, conference Championship games?
No, never get old. I'd play these every week if they'd let us. These are the games you work all season for, you know. You do 16 weeks to get to this point. We wanted the opportunity and this is what we have.
*Can you put it into words what the intensity level of this game is going to be like?
I think it's going to be the highest intensity level we've seen up to this point, this year, probably in my career. I think that two teams that know each other really well, played against each other twice a year, really want to beat each other. I think you get the magnitude of the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl. It's going to be an incredibly physical game.
Could it be bigger than the emotion you felt playing against Seattle because of the rivalry?
I mean, I don't know. I guess we'll have to see on Sunday. I know that both teams are going to be geared up to play.
How critical is it to be gap sound?
That's the most important thing. Guys sometimes, you want to try and do too much because you want to help the team, but you have to be disciplined and trust each other and do your job.
From what you've seen on film, how have you seen the maturity of (Joe) Flacco (Joe)?
He makes the throws right on point where the ball needs to be. He's playing real well. You know he's a big reason why they're in this situation.
As many fourth-quarter overtime wins as you guys have pulled out this season, how has that helped your confidence? *Well we have a lot of confidence in this locker room. Obviously when you get in those type of situations where the game comes down to the last couple minutes or a last drive and we've made those plays to win those games. You know, we can build off of that. When we get in a situation like that, hopefully not in this game, but if we do, we can always fall back on that and know that we can win this game.
*Is that an attitude thing? Is that a confidence? How do you explain that?
Yeah. It's just a belief. You know, we've been talking about finishing this whole year and that's what it's all about. When you get in a situation where Coach Tomlin would put it, "the rubber meets the rub" you gotta come through with a win. So, we've been in situations. We just have to finish.
RE: Regarding Joe Flacco not throwing the ball much
Not at all. They understand the type of defense they have. They are very conservative. They are going to run the ball on third downs. Even on third down and long they're going to run the ball. Flacco has done a nice job of putting the ball where it needs to be in the right situation. He's a big reason why they are competing in the game.
Talk about the challenge from one of your favorite division foes.
It's going to be a mighty challenge. The Ravens are playing well right now. Their defense is clicking and their offense is controlling the ball. It's going to be vital for us to make sure that we ship the time of possession battle on our side and pick up all the crazy blitz and such that they bring.
Should we forget about those two victories during the regular season?
You definitely have to throw those out the window. This is going to be a new ball game. This is for a different reason. The regular season we were competing for the Division Title. Now it's for the Conference Championship.
Is it nice to have a healthy Willie Parker to block for?
Always. Always. The more the merrier, to have a versatile backfield. I think having Willie (Parker) healthy, running 100 percent, is going to give us a great dimension and still having Garry Russel in there and Mewelde Moore to kind of change things up. All three of them have different styles of running.
*How much does that change what you do?
If definitely gives us new dimension in the offense. We not only have to worry about in between the tackles but you also have to worry about the outside edges. So I think it presents a challenge for the defense to have to prepare for an extra back, especially when he's healthy. I think in one of the games when we didn't have him, it kind of made us a little more one dimensional.
How much better does Willie Parker look running the ball?
He's definitely got his groove back at the right time. That's a definite plus for us. We've just got to do what we've got to do up front and he'll take care of the rest.
Chris Johnson of the Titans got outside last week on the Ravens, does that give you confidence this week?
They know Willie a little more than they did Chris Johnson. For whatever reason they couldn't get him (Johnson), but on thing about this team, they are a mentally tough team. They're the reason that everybody doesn't like them. They are a good defense and they are going to be ready to show up on Sunday and we have to be able to match their intensity. That's the bottom line.
With Willie Parker healthy, how much more of a challenge is it to slow down your offense?
I don't know if we've got everything, but we've got enough. Sometimes enough is good enough. For us we have to be on our screws. We have to understand where guys are at. We've got to be able to communicate out there. We've got to be able to take it to them, that's the bottom line.
Can this game take this rivalry to a new level?
No question. Somebody's going to be mad after this one. This one's going to sit a little bit longer than these other divisional games. It's going to be a big one. It's going to raise the level. I think Bart Scott said 'It's going to raise the level of hatred between the two teams,' and I believe that too.
What is your feeling about Ben Roethlisberger taking his team to three AFC Championship games in his first five years?
That's why they pay him the big bucks. The man's been here not too long and has hall of fame credentials right now. He's been amazing since he's been here. He's always been the guy that's had to go out and make plays to win the game for us in the end. He's come up with more wins than loses so you've got to give the guy a lot of credit. I know he takes a lot of heat when things don't go well, but he is the quarterback and that's just the natural position that comes with the job. He's handles everything as well as any quarterback in the NFL and I think he's going to do great this weekend. He's playing with confidence right now. The offense did really well last week and hopefully they can keep that momentum going this week.
Can you appreciate what Ray Lewis has done in Baltimore?
No doubt about it. He's kept that team in tact over the last number of years. He's always been the guy, he's always been the leader of that team, offensively, defensively, he's the guy. He's been a staple in that organization for a long time. The work that he's put in is pretty remarkable. He's a hall of fame player.
How much better do you feel physically?
I definitely feel real good. I'm back full speed, that's really all that counts.
Were you encouraged by what you saw from Tennessee's RB Chris Johnson from last week against Baltimore?
Always, he's a young guy. He's a guy that has a similar running style to what I have. I definitely was encouraged, but you know how Baltimore is with us, they are definitely going to be stingy.
Since you haven't had a lot of success against Baltimore, is this a game you don't expect to get a lot of yards?
I have to keep going out and do what I do. Sooner or later it will break. I have to just keep game planning and trying to help my offense out the best way possible.
Would you be satisfied with 55 or 60 yards rushing?
No, I don't go with the yards. I just want to help the offense out the best way I can. Regardless if it's making a big play or making a good catch or a good block, it's not about the yards.
When you were struggling, were you thinking too much?
I just wasn't all the way healthy. I wasn't all the way back. I wasn't full speed. When I'm struggling, I'm just struggling. I'm definitely feeling alright now.