Three days after the Steelers lost in Baltimore to extend their mid-season losing streak to three games, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tried to calm the waters with some reassuring words.
“Follow me,” he said, his team the definition of mediocrity with a 4-4 record. “Guys that have been here know this is not time to panic.”
Since uttering those two simple words, the Steelers are 7-1 with the only loss coming in the final seconds to Dallas after Roethlisberger rallied the offense down the field in the final minute and put his team ahead with 42 seconds remaining.
Roethlisberger couldn’t have known then he would be guiding the NFL’s hottest team entering the playoffs. But that’s who the Steelers are as they get set to play host to Miami in an AFC wild-card game Sunday at Heinz Field. Only the Patriots, also winners of seven in a row, have as much momentum entering the postseason.
So how did Roethlisberger know exactly when to speak up?
“Just understanding your team and trying to be a leader and being a guy you know everyone is looking up to,” he said. “And just feel it.”
Hot and healthy: Not only are the Steelers hot, they are healthy. That hasn’t been the case the past two seasons when the Steelers entered the playoffs. In 2014, the Steelers lost running back Le’Veon Bell in the regular-season finale and lost their first playoff game against the Ravens. Last season, after beating Cincinnati in a wild-card game, they had to play without Bell and All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown in the division-round game in Denver. They lost after leading for three-plus quarters.
“This game is about when you can get hot and when you can play your best football, and it’s important to play your best football late in the season when it matters the most,” Roethlisberger said. “Obviously, staying healthy is such a key component to that. We’ve had so many injuries in years past. It’s hard to play your best football when you have guys down. To go into the postseason as healthy as I can remember — me feeling that way and the guys around me — I think that’s really important and huge for us.”
Grizzled playoff vet: Roethlisberger is a grizzled playoff veteran, but 18 other Steelers, including several of his young receivers, will be playing in a playoff game for the first time. Roethlisberger said it’s important the young players don’t get too excited for the moment, and it’s the job of veterans like him to make sure the normal routine remains intact.
“If you’re not excited to be in the playoffs there’s something wrong with you,” he said. “You have to take a lot of the same approach. Today is a Wednesday ‘Let’s go about our business.’ I think the attention to detail has to be a little more intense.”