PITTSBURGH (AP) — Rashard Mendenhall watched from afar during his team’s run to the Super Bowl two years ago, sidelined by an injured shoulder his rookie season. Then, he watched the playoffs from home last year, like the rest of his Steelers teammates.
Mendenhall is healthy now, and one game from reaching the Super Bowl. To do that, of course, Pittsburgh (13-4) must beat the New York Jets (13-5) and their stout run defense Sunday.
“Just trying to keep everything as normal as possible,” he said Wednesday after practice. “That’s how I am with everything. Just preparing for what you can control.”
The Jets have shown a few leaks against the run in the playoffs, allowing more than 100 yards each game — after allowing a 91-yard average in the regular season. And on top of that, Mendenhall rambled for 99 yards and a score last month against the Jets.
That’s giving fans on the banks of the Three Rivers reason to be optimistic.
“The first part is clearing (defenders) out,” said rookie center Mike Pouncey, whose job it will be to pave a path for the former University of Illinois star. “The second part is moving those guys out of there and giving (the Steelers backs) lanes to run in.”
The Steelers know that Jets coach Rex Ryan, the son of one of the game’s greatest defensive minds, will have something worked up for them. They know it won’t be Mendenhall, especially if cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie take away the passing game.
“That makes you think about things,” said wide receiver Hines Ward said. “For us, we have to pay attention to detail, really, with what we do, not with what they do.”
Mendenhall has run for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, and had 46 yards and two scores last week against the Ravens. He only carried 17 times in the Steelers’ 22-17 loss to the Jets earlier this season, though, and could be leaned on even more heavily Sunday.
The weather forecast appears suited for a grind-it-out affair on Heinz Field’s frozen turf. Highs are expected in the low 20s, with winds at more than 20 miles per hour.
That’s typical Pittsburgh weather for mid-January, when guys like Franco Harris (1974-75, 1978-79), Jerome Bettis (2005) and Willie Parker (2008) earned their places in Steelers’ lore by powering Pittsburgh to Super Bowl titles.
Could someone else be adding his name to the list?
“He had a little bit of success against them last time. I’m sure that they’re working to rectify that,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “But it’s not about Rashard vs. the Jets run defense, it’s about winning the football game. I know that he’s willing and capable of doing anything that we ask him to do to help us in that effort. And for that I’m excited.”
So is Mendenhall.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.