FOXBORO - News for the Pittsburgh Steelers has not been good over the past month.
Ben Roethlisberger mangled his ankle December 8 against Cleveland, the Steelers lost the following week at San Francisco, blowing the No. 1 seed. The Steelers offense went in the tank (31 points in the last three games Roethlisberger started). Leading rusher Rashad Mendenhall tore his ACL last week ending his season. The Steelers and their 12-4 record have to go on the road to face the 8-8 Broncos in the Wild Card round and their free safety, Ryan Clark, won't be playing for health reasons.
On Wednesday, Roethlisberger said he aggravated his high ankle sprain in the season finale last week and his ankle is a "5" out of 10.
The last taste many the Patriots got from Pittsburgh wasn't a pleasant one - a 25-17 loss in Pittsburgh in which Roethlisberger threw a career-high 50 times on New England's beleaguered secondary.
But that game has been the exception for the Steelers this season rather than the rule.
Since beating the Patriots on October 30, these are their results.
Ravens 23, Steelers 20
Steelers 24, Bengals 17
Steelers 13, Chiefs 9
Steelers 35, Bengals 7
Steelers 14, Browns 3
49ers 20, Steelers 3
Steelers 27, Rams 0 (Charlie Batch at QB)
Steelers 13, Browns 9
On the year, Roethlisberger took 40 sacks and threw 21 touchdowns and 14 picks. Since beating the Patriots, he's thrown seven touchdowns and seven picks. Their leading outside receiver Mike Wallace hasn't had a 100-yard game since October 23 (he had four in the first seven weeks). Pittsburgh's usually demonic pass rush has been relatively quiet this year (35 sacks).
Fact is, despite leading the NFL in points allowed (227), Pittsburgh isn't scary. They - like the Patriots - faced a fleet of punchless offenses.
And while they will face another one this Sunday in Denver, the Broncos defense and the altitude could be real equalizers. Now, Denver is no juggernaut. But they can play enough defense against a limping Steelers offense to stay within striking distance all game.
Of the three possible opponents the Patriots could see January 14 - Denver, Pittsburgh or Houston - the Steelers are the most daunting because of experience and ability. But they are no team to fear regardless of what happened on Halloween Eve.