IRVING, Texas – The last two times the Steelers visited Dallas, the trips have been memorable.
In 2004, then-rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers from a 20-10 fourth-quarter deficit for a 24-20 victory. Pittsburgh scored the game-winning touchdown on a Jerome Bettis touchdown run with 30 seconds remaining at old Cowboys Stadium.
In 2011, Roethlisberger failed with his last-minute heroics, as the Steelers were defeated 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV by the Green Bay Packers at the new palatial Cowboys Stadium.
Today, the Steelers hope to create some more memories when they make their first regular season trip to the new Cowboys Stadium in a crucial game for the playoff hopes of both teams.
Roethlisberger can’t wait for a shot at what football fans call “America’s Team.”
“I think the Steelers are the world’s team,” said Roethlisberger, his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. “We just want to go beat them.”
America’s Team or not, the Cowboys are fighting for a playoff spot, as are the Steelers.
“Any time we step on the field, until the clock strikes zero, I feel like we’re going to win the game, and I’m going to make a play to help my team win the game,” said Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. “We have a good challenge ahead of us, a very good team. We both are in a playoff race; we both want to get in the tournament.”
Both teams have 7-6 records, though the Steelers have more control over their fate than the Cowboys.
A victory today would allow the Steelers to keep pace with Cincinnati (8-6) – a winner Thursday over Philadelphia – for the AFC’s final playoff spot. They already own a victory over the Bengals earlier in the season and host Cincinnati at Heinz Field next week.
But a loss to the Cowboys would ensure the Steelers would need to win their final two games – they host Cleveland in Week 17 – to earn a trip to the postseason.
Coming off last Sunday’s disappointing 34-24 loss at home to San Diego, the Steelers know time is running out.
“I feel like the last game was a must-win, but some things happened that we’re able to still keep the ball in our court,” said Steelers linebacker James Harrison. “These last three games are must-wins.”
The Cowboys feel the same way, though they need to win their final three games and get some help to reach the postseason.
Dallas has been dealing with some emotional issues. Prior to last Sunday’s 20-19 last-second win at Cincinnati, the Cowboys learned of the death of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown in an automobile accident. Brown was a passenger in a car driven by defensive tackle Josh Brent, who was charged with intoxication manslaughter.
“I thought our team handled the situation real well,” said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. “We found out about it on Saturday, and we had to get on a plane to go to Cincinnati. I think our guys just somehow and someway processed it well and found a way to go play a football game and figure out how to win it. The story doesn’t end there. We had a memorial service (Tuesday) for Jerry Brown. Josh Brent was there. Brown’s mom was absolutely incredible. It really was a really important day. I thought it was done really well, honoring Brown and being supportive of everyone after this loss.”
The Cowboys are not only hurting emotionally, they are banged up physically as well.
Dallas lost seven starters to injury this season. Others, such as wide receiver Dez Bryant, who plans to play today despite a broken index finger on his left hand, are playing hurt.
The Steelers can empathize. Pittsburgh has had injury problems and will be without cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen and offensive linemen Willie Colon and Mike Adams today.
That doesn’t change the urgency for either team.
“We need to win every game,” said Wallace. “We don’t have time to lose a game and look around. When you look at the reality of things and the stretch, there are teams with the same or better record than us, so we have to continue to handle what we can. As long as we handle our business, you don’t have to worry about what other teams do.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers have won the past two meetings with the Cowboys. ... Dallas ranks third in the NFL in passing, averaging 292.2 yards per game. The Steelers lead the NFL in pass defense, allowing 169.2 yards per game and have not allowed their past eight opponents to throw for more than 200 yards.