For a variety of reasons, these Pittsburgh Steelers are united in their quest for redemption against the New England Patriots.
It’s a tough time to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.
The proud franchise is stuck in the muck of a three-game losing streak, and now finds itself in real danger of missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The Baltimore Ravens are just a half-game out of first place in the division, and the schedule isn’t getting any easier for Pittsburgh: they finish with difficult games against New England, New Orleans, and Cincinnati to close out the season.
Pittsburgh is still the favorite to represent the AFC North in the playoffs, almost surely as the No. 4 seed. To get there, the Steelers will need to finally remove that perennial thorn from their side by beating the hated Patriots.
This Sunday’s game means a lot for both teams because of the obvious playoff implications, but it means even more to certain jilted members of the Steelers who feel they have an extra axe to grind with New England.
Le’Veon Bell’s absence, coupled with James Conner’s ankle injury, has opened up the door for ex-Patriot Stevan Ridley to log some serious snaps at running back. And according to the Boston Herald, nothing would make him happier than to have a career day against his former team.
"“I was trashed after an injury,” Ridley said. “I’m just going to put it that way. I’m not going to say specifically, but to be a starter for (the Patriots) for four years, to tear my ACL and never get a call back, that’s a tough pill to swallow.”"
NFL graveyards are littered with the discarded remains of once-promising players Bill Belichick later deemed expendable, some far more notable (Richard Seymour, Wes Welker) than others (Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen). Ridley belongs firmly in the latter category as a 29-year-old journeyman who has tried unsuccessfully to find traction as a starter on several NFL teams.
Still, this Sunday’s high-profile matchup against the team that unceremoniously cut him loose provides plenty of intrigue, and if Ridley proves he can put his muscle where his mouth is, the Pats’ run defense just might be in for a long day.
As of now, tight end Jesse James is known for two things: sharing a name with the famed American outlaw, and making a game-winning touchdown catch against the Patriots last year that somehow wasn’t ruled a touchdown catch.
Whether or not James fully controlled the ball throughout the process of the catch was long a matter of debate. The moment immediately joined the ranks of other pivotal “catch or no catch?” NFL conundrums, like the Calvin Johnson score against the Bears in Week 1 of 2010 and the Dez Bryant grab against the Packers in the 2014 Divisional Round.
The past is the past, and while Steelers fans have a right to still be salty, James is taking the high road when it comes to reflecting on the controversial reception.
"“To be honest with you, if we would’ve been Super Bowl champions we would’ve been Super Bowl champions after that game,” James told Penn Live. “We just didn’t have what it takes to make a playoff run. We got beat at our house versus Jacksonville.”"
Like his teammate Stevan Ridley, James now has added motivation to show up big this weekend.
Ben Roethlisberger & Mike Tomlin
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin are indisputably the two most prominent Steelers searching for redemption against New England this Sunday.
Tomlin is 2-7 against the Patriots since being hired as head coach in 2007. Roethlisberger is 3-8 since being drafted in 2004.
At least Big Ben had a sense of humor – and a legitimate point – when asked about his team’s dismal record against New England.
So much is at stake on Sunday evening at Heinz Field. Division championships, playoff seeding, bragging rights… those are all excellent reasons to win the game.
But the Steelers listed above just might be bringing a bit more to the table come opening kickoff.
Look out, New England.