PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison isn't showing any signs of slowing down, even as a 38 year-old in the latter stretch of his 14th NFL season.
As seen in Sunday night's win over the Ravens, Harrison's age is really just a number at this point. With a playoff berth on the line, the veteran OLB led the Steelers with 11 tackles, nine of which were solo.
"With how he’s playing now, we don’t even know if he’s going to retire next year or not," Bud Dupree said. "The way he works and the way he carries himself with the things he does, he probably could play another three years if he really wanted to."
Harrison ranks sixth on the team with 53 tackles, albeit he was only averaging roughly 50 percent of the defensive snaps for the first half of the season while in a four-man rotation. That could have been a blessing in disguise. OLB coach Joey Porter did a good job of limiting Harrison's workload in September and October in order to get the best of him in November and December. He's first on the team with five sacks, and tied for second with two forced fumbles.
Harrison's 20 tackles in the last two games is tied for the most he's ever had over a two-game span, with the previous mark coming in 2008.
While playing alongside Dupree, Harrison has helped the 2015 first-round pick's development. Dupree has 17 tackles and 3.5 sacks in five games since his return from injured reserve as a key piece in the Steelers' front seven. Often, he's communicating with Harrison in between plays in regards to what's going on at the line of scrimmage.
"We’ll ask each other what we’re getting since we rush on both sides," Dupree said. "And just other things, like the run plays. It’s always good to know what he saw and what I saw, and communicate it to each other.
"He knows a lot more than I do. Just simple stuff. He can be looking at the line of scrimmage and already see that it’s a run, where I’m focused on just getting off the ball and beating my man. He slows it down. He sees the game a lot slower than me."
In a defense with five starters age 23 or younger, three of which are rookies, Harrison's veteran presence during the Steelers' upcoming playoff run can't be taken for granted.
"He keeps us grinding," Dupree said. "Sometimes we’ll be too hype or overexcited, and he’ll come out and say things like, 'We don’t need no pep rally.' He keeps us grounded and on the right track."
Eli Rogers didn't realize how impressive his 20-yard reception on the Steelers' game-winning drive against the Ravens was until he came in and watched it again Monday morning. Rogers, who said after the game that he knew wholeheartedly he would make the catch, was surprised when saw the film. "I didn’t feel like I really stretched out and looked the ball in and everything on the instant replay," he said. "But when it was live, I was just like ‘Oh yeah, it’s up, I got it.’” Rogers saw something else when he watched the film. The play was nearly identical to one that occurred Week 10 against the Cowboys. "The same catch I caught, I dropped it," said Rogers. "Same play, same type of catch. Just from then to now, you can see the growth." Rogers finished with four catches for 89 yards to aid Antonio Brown in the receiving game as Ladarius Green and Sammie Coates were both out due to injury.
In addition to Rogers, Cobi Hamilton made contributions on the final drive as well. Hamilton's 6-yard catch with :46 left gave the Steelers a short down-and-distance situation on third down. Ben Roethlisberger then connected with Jesse James twice before finding Brown for the game-winning touchdown. For someone who spent the first half of the year on the practice squad, Sunday night was a foreign feeling to Hamilton that he couldn't have expected at the season's beginning. "To tell you the truth, not being in that position before, you don’t really know how big a game it really is," he said. "People that have been around here obviously know, but for some of the guys who have been jumping on the wagon, it’s just fun to be a part of. You can tell the happiness and the emotion throughout the locker room after the win."
Stephon Tuitt was present at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex walking gingerly from the locker room into the trainers room. He did not speak formally to reporters, but did say in passing that he, "was feeling great." Tuitt missed Sunday's game against the Ravens with a knee sprain.
BY THE NUMBERS
6: The Steelers have won six consecutive regular season games for the first time since 2004.
"That’s been the story of our season; not to blink." -- RT Marcus Gilbert, on the Steelers' not panicking during Sunday night's win over the Ravens