Steelers, Panthers have traveled well


Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Only two teams didn't lose on their home fields this season, and if they don't lose on them today, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will meet at Detroit's Ford Field in Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5.
Who said home-field advantage was dead? Then again, road teams have had plenty to say in these playoffs, winning five of the eight games leading up to today's conference finals. That's the most victories by visitors at this stage since the current playoff format took hold in 1990.
And that's why nobody's ruling out the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers as they fly west for their respective finals, the Panthers visiting Seattle's Qwest Field and the Steelers entering Denver's Invesco Field at Mile High.
The Panthers and Steelers can match the 1985 New England Patriots as the only teams to reach the Super Bowl by winning three road games. But noisy obstacles await them today in the spiffy stadiums the Seahawks and Broncos moved into in 2002 and 2001, respectively.
"When we go on the road, it's just us against the whole city," Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers said Wednesday.
Said Seahawks wide receiver Joe Jurevicius: "When you're down on the field and you hear that many people screaming their heads off, that's what home-field advantage is about. ... It does disrupt the opposing team a little bit because it is hard to hear and there are points in game where you realize how loud that stadium is."
While this is the Seahawks' second appearance in the conference final in their 30-year history, it's the Panthers' second NFC final in three years.
The Panthers are trying to become the first team in NFL history to win five consecutive road playoff games. They won the past two weekends against the New York Giants (23-0) and Chicago Bears (29-21), and their 2003 club won games at St. Louis and Philadelphia en route to Super Bowl XXXVIII, where it fell to New England 32-29 in Houston.
The Panthers are 8-2 on the road this season, as are the Steelers.
Expect at least one visitor to emerge victorious today, if a recent trend holds true. Not since 1996 have both home clubs won conference finals to reach the Super Bowl.
That includes one visitor winning each of the past seven seasons, and both visitors winning the 1997 season's conference finals (Green Bay over the 49ers, the Broncos over the Steelers).
The Steelers have won only one of five AFC finals at home under 14th-year coach Bill Cowher, whose only Super Bowl trip resulted in a 27-17 loss against Dallas in the 1995 season.
Asked if he feels the Broncos are unbeatable at home, Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said: "I definitely do. We're unbeatable anywhere. If we play our game and do what we're capable of doing, there's nobody that can beat us. ... (At home), when they are right behind you, pumping you up with everything they have got, it makes you want to play a little harder. When you feed off that, it definitely helps you win games."
Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said it will take an error-free effort to go in and beat the Broncos, who knocked off the Patriots, 27-13, on Saturday in Invesco Field's first-ever playoff game.
"If you look at the playoffs this year, whatever teams that don't turn the ball over and create opportunities win the ballgame," Ward said, "and that's what we're trying to do."
In all eight playoff games combined, the losers committed almost twice as many turnovers (seven fumbles, eight interceptions) as the winners (four fumbles, four interceptions). The Patriots committed five turnovers in their loss at Denver.
The Steelers overcame two turnovers to knock off the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, including a rare interception thrown by Ben Roethlisberger. In eight road starts this year, Roethlisberger has 12 touchdown passes, four interceptions, a 65.5 percent completion percentage and a 108.3 passer rating.
The Steelers aren't scheduled to arrive in Denver until Saturday afternoon, looking to limit their exposure to the mile-high altitude in hopes it won't affect the relentless on-field attitude. That style's paid off in a six-game win streak that began Dec. 11 against Chicago.
"We were playing with desperation," Ward said.
Come Sunday, the Steelers and the Panthers will be playing for one more road trip - to Detroit.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top