What a difference a year makes

A year ago a disappointing headline in a local newspaper read, "Here's why the Steelers failed."

One year later, those headlines are gone, the memories of a season without the playoffs is in the distant past.

The 2010 Steelers are AFC North Champions, earning a first-round playoff bye and awaiting their opponent for a divisional playoff game at Heinz Field.

Oh yes, what a difference a year makes.

"I remember everybody talking about how disappointed they were watching everybody else play and not being a participant in the post-season," said Hines Ward of last season. "It was a little embarrassing. It humbled a lot of guys, hungered a lot of guys when they came back."

When they came back, they did so with an attitude of not letting anything stand in their way and coming together as one to turn that failure into success.

"It's all about team – offense, defense and special teams," said Ben Roethlisberger of why this year's team has succeeded so far. "It's about how close this locker room is. Maybe a better word, team is a sub-word, family is better. You start with the coaches, owners, and the Rooney family. We are family. That is the better word"

It doesn't hurt when that "family" played better and eliminated the issues they had last year.

"We are a better team," said James Farrior. "We execute better, we don't beat ourselves and we keep the games close when you are at the end. We didn't finish the games off last year like we were supposed to and lost a lot of leads at the end of the games. We haven't been doing that this year."

The Steelers lost five games in a row last year and as Farrior said, gave up leads late in games, both things they definitely weren't used to, before winning the final three games of the season.

"You look at the games last year to this year we made plays in the fourth quarter. Last year we didn't, this year we did," said Chris Hoke. "I think it's a big difference. You look in the first three quarters we always play tight games, but in the fourth quarter last year we didn't make big plays and this year we did."

After missing out on the playoffs in 2009 the players have a greater appreciation for what it takes to get there.

"It definitely gives you a better appreciation when you go through a season like last year and see what the opportunities are this year," said Farrior. "You definitely appreciate it and don't take it for granted."

Hoke was one of those guys who last year ached watching other teams play, and is happy the tide has turned.

"You love going to the playoffs," said Hoke. "You want the chance to go back to the Super Bowl. We know what it takes to be there and we have a drive to get back there. Last year when we didn't make the playoffs it was tough to watch them and this year it's nice to be in it."

A scoring change from the Cleveland game gave LaMarr Woodley a full sack and took away a half sack from Larry Foote. Both players had received half a sack before the change was made by Elias Sports Bureau.

The Steelers offensive line received the "Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award" for their performance against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17.

The award is selected by Hall of Fame Coach John Madden and recognizes the role a team's offensive line plays.

"The Steelers offensive line has been banged up throughout the season and overcame the loss of two experienced offensive tackles in Willie Colon and Max Starks and still had an excellent season," said Madden. "Sunday afternoon the offensive line played smart, physical football and controlled the line of scrimmage allowing the offense to do what they wanted in the first-half."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.