While Ben Roethlisberger focused on turning his life around since his messy sexual misconduct in March that prompted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend him for the first four games of the season, something else happened as well.
He's become more careful - with the football and with sacks.
Roethlisberger threw a season-low five interceptions and his 32 sacks were fewer than any season since 2005 when he was sacked 23 times. He also only played 12 games this season but it still was not close. In 15 games last season, he was sacked 50 times and intercepted 12.
He wasn't sacked fewer than 46 times in any of the previous four seasons and his fewest interceptions were nine, also in 12 games in 2005. Last season, they were minus-three in takeaway/giveaway totals. This season they are plus-17, which ranks second in the NFL.
Pittsburgh's defense swiped 21 passes, their highest total since they had 23 in 1996. Last season, they had only 12. Troy Polamalu led them with seven interceptions.
"That's huge," Roethlisberger said. "It's a big thing. I don't know what the percentages are of wins and losses compared to turnovers, but you're going to win more games when you get the ball. We kind of pride ourselves on that."
While Roethlisberger cut down on his interceptions and sacks, it did not affect his production. He threw for 3,200 yards, an average of 266.7 per game (career average of 221.8 entering the season). He had 17 touchdown passes in 12 games and his yards per attempt of 8.23 was higher than his career mark of 8.0 entering the season, as was his 97.0 passer rating compared to his career of 91.2.
--Pittsburgh likes its spot as the No. 2 seed as it enters the playoffs with a bye week, and quietly would love to have a return match against the New England Patriots, who embarrassed them in Heinz Field Nov. 14.
Tom Brady passed at will that day in a 39-26 victory that was not as close as the score makes it look.
They concede, however, that the Patriots are the team to beat to get to the Super Bowl from the AFC.
"They had the better record. I don't see why they shouldn't be," linebacker James Harrison said.
The Steelers won their past Super Bowl from the No. 2 seed in 2008. Top-seeded Tennessee lost its first game at home and the Steelers then beat Baltimore at home in the AFC title game.
They fell flat last season trying to defend that Super Bowl crown, losing five in a row after starting out 6-2 and did not make the playoffs. They started out 6-2 again this season and went through the second half of the season 6-2 to knock down another AFC North Division championship, their third in four seasons under coach Mike Tomlin.
They have won 20 division titles since the 1970 NFL merger, the most in the league, as are their six Lombardi Trophies.
"I like everything about our team," safety Ryan Clark said. "We're just playing hard, being focused. We went through a stretch with a lot of penalties. We kind of tried to calm that down and play a little smarter. We're playing well on all three phases of the game."
All four of their losses have come to playoff teams -- Baltimore, New England, New Orleans and the New York Jets. If the Steelers and Patriots each win their first playoff games, Pittsburgh will play in New England for the AFC championship game.
"I don't' care where we have to go," linebacker James Farrior said.
"They're a great team," defensive end Brett Keisel said of the Patriots. "They've got a lot of weapons. We'll see how it all pans out. They've worked hard to get that No. 1 seed and they'll be a tough team to beat."
Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.