Saturday, January 22, 2011

And here it comes

By Mike Batista

Considering the AFC championship game is being played at a field named for a ketchup company, it's not surprising that it took so long for the Jets' trash talk to come out this week.

The Jets were very civil in their comments to the press before Friday. I was almost expecting the teams to share a tea interval in lieu of halftime during Sunday's game.

We knew the trash talk was in there, but getting it out was like hitting the bottom of a Heinz ketchup bottle until the stuff finally oozes out.

Heinz is on the Jets' mind, but not the ketchup.

The Jets are saying Hines Ward is a dirty player, that most of his blocks come with no one looking.

Good. Let the Jets worry about Ward while Mike Wallace goes deep on them and Emmanuel Sanders catches those balls over the middle. And the Jets didn't even have to deal with Heath Miller when they came to Pittsburgh in December.

I also doubt that Rex Ryan is serious when he says that Darrelle Revis will cover Ward. No. 86 just isn't as much of a factor in the Steelers' offense anymore. I'd love to see the Jets waste their best cornerback on him.

I don't think Ryan is that stupid.

Why I'm worried

Immediately after the Jets upset the Patriots last Sunday, I thought about the 2005 Steelers, the first No. 6 seed to win the Super Bowl, and also the first team to win three playoff games on the road before winning the Super Bowl.

After stunning the Colts 21-18 in the 2005 AFC divisional playoffs, there was no way in hell the Steelers were going to lose in Denver the following week. They won easily 34-17 and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Will the Jets carry that same momentum into Pittsburgh?

With the Super Bowl in Jerome Bettis' hometown of Detroit that year, the 2005 Steelers wanted to get their future Hall of Famer home and have him ride into the sunset with a Super Bowl ring.

The Jets' 42-year Super Bowl drought is a driving force equal to that of The Bus.

It's just a little bit longer than the time the Steelers had to wait for their first championship.

Why I'm not worried

The buildup to the Steelers' playoff game against the Colts in 2005 wasn't nearly as vicious as the war of words between the Jets and Patriots this year.

the Colts were the favorites to reach the Super Bowl in 2005 and beat the Steelers 26-7 during the regular season, the Steelers didn't think about the Colts 24/7/365 the way the Jets did with the Patriots. The 2005 Steelers still had plenty left in the tank when they went to Denver.

Do the Jets have anything left?

Their Team of Destiny momentum will be running into a much thicker wall than the one the 2005 Steelers faced. They'll be going against Ben Roethlisberger, who is 9-2 in the playoffs, and a team with a core that has won two Super Bowls.

The 2005 Steelers went up against Jake Plummer, who was 2-4 in the playoffs, and a Broncos team that to this day has won just one playoff game since John Elway retired.

I think the Steelers need one more AFC championship game win at Heinz Field to fully wash away the stink of their four home losses in AFC title games between 1994 and 2004. Even in the most one-sided of those losses, a 41-27 decision against the Patriots in 2004, the Steelers put up a fight in the second half.

The Jets better be ready for a fight Sunday.

History lesson

Who says the Jets and Steelers don't have baggage?

Sure the Packers and Bears, who are playing for the NFC championship, are natural rivals and have played each other more than any other two teams in the NFL.

But the Jets and Steelers have a little bit of a past.

  • Let's start with the Jets' 22-17 win over the Steelers last month at Heinz Field. I know as Steelers fans we're hanging our hat on the fact that Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller didn't play in that game. But the fact is the Jets won, which gives them a mental edge heading into Sunday's game.
  • The Jets' previous trip to Heinz Field came in the 2004 AFC divisional playoffs, which the Steelers won 20-17 in overtime. Let's face it, the Steelers got lucky in that game. Doug Brien missed two field goals in the final two minutes of regulation before Jeff Reed won it with a field goal in overtime.
  • Hopefully the Steelers paid back all that karma three years later, when they were upset 19-16 in OT by the Jets at the Meadowlands. The Eric Mangini-led Jets, who were 1-8, tripped up the Steelers after their 7-2 start, and it was the beginning of the end for the '07 Steelers. They finished the season 3-4, and lost to the Jaguars at home in a wild-card playoff game.
  • Perhaps the biggest skeleton in the closet between these two teams is Joe Walton. After seven years as the Jets' head coach, Walton became the Steelers' offensive coordinator in 1990 and 1991, the last two years of Chuck Noll's tenure as head coach. The Steelers seemed to be an up-and-coming team in 1989. They went 9-7 but came within a point of the AFC championship game. Along comes Walton to run the offense, and the Steelers go 9-7 in 1990 and 7-9 in 1991, missing the playoffs both years. Walton made the Steelers more boring than "The Waltons" TV show. Then Bill Cowher and his staff take over, and the Steelers go 11-5 and make the playoffs. Since then the Steelers have missed the playoffs just six times. If Mike Tomlin needs ideas for a Saturday-night motivational video, he can show highlights of the 1990 and 1991 Steelers. If it doesn't put the current Steelers to sleep, it should motivate them to repay the Jets franchise for the mediocrity they sullied the Steelers with two decades ago.
  • Terry Bradshaw's last touchdown pass came against the Jets on Dec. 10, 1983. In the Jets' last game at Shea Stadium, Bradshaw threw an 18-yard TD pass to Calvin Sweeney to complete the scoring in a 34-7 win. Roethlisberger has a chance to come within one ring of Bradshaw.

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