Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spaeth makes key block in Steelers win over Ravens

By Mike Prisuta

January 18, 2011

In looking at the last game, Mike Prisuta learned that Matt Spaeth has taken a big step toward redeeming himself from the last Jets game.

When the Jets last visited Heinz Field back in December Matt Spaeth dropped a touchdown pass when he wasn’t even the intended target, then lamented afterward that he’d “let my teammates down and the team down and the city down.”

As devastated as he was back on Dec. 19, Spaeth vowed not to be deterred.

“I’ll be back,” he insisted. “I’ll bounce back from this and I’m gonna make plays for this team down the road.”

True to his word, Spaeth made one last Saturday against the Ravens.

He didn’t catch a touchdown pass, but for the Steelers the block Spaeth threw on Baltimore monster Haloti Ngata on third-and-goal from the Ravens’ 2-yard line with 1:39 remaining in regulation was the next best thing.

It allowed Rashard Mendenhall to cut back into the end zone and score the touchdown that got the Steelers into their fifth AFC Championship Game in the last 10 seasons.

“It was actually kind of an outside run to the left side and it kind of got turned back,” Spaeth explained. “I was on the back side of the play and I had to get Haloti Ngata cut off, which isn’t always an easy thing to do.”

The play got turned back because Chris Kemoeatu was thrown aside by Ravens defensive tackle Brandon McKinney, a development that rendered useless the blocks that had been thrown on the left side by fullback Doug Legursky (on safety Haruki Nakamura) and Heath Miller (who blasted linebacker Terrell Suggs off the TV screen).

A cutback lane was available for Mendenhall because Spaeth was able to get in front of Ngata – who was chipped initially by Trai Essex – and hold on.

“I got down inside of him and walled him off and (Mendenhall) kind of came back inside of me and was able to get in,” Spaeth said. “Haloti Ngata is just an unbelievable player and athlete. He’s a freak, he really is, to be as big as he is and move the way he does. Trai did a good job in giving me a little help and buying me just enough time to get inside of him.

“I had to kind of lose a little ground just to get in front of him. Then, as soon as you get in front of him you have to try to turn him back and keep him wide while he has all of his 350 pounds of momentum going forward.”

Mendenhall still had to fight his way through a muddle of bodies at the goal line (Essex helped there, too, pushing the pile). But had it not been for Spaeth’s block on Ngata the Steelers would have been kicking a field goal from the 4. And who knows what would have happened then?

Spaeth said he’s thinking more about what the Jets game means than his contribution toward helping to get them this far. But if he really believed that he had “let my teammates down and the team down and the city down,” the last time, he can at least enter the Jets rematch with a clean slate thanks to his block on Ngata, who -- this just in -- isn’t often blocked.

“It helps,” Spaeth said. “We’re in the playoffs. We won. We get to play the Jets in a game to go to the Super Bowl. I’m not really thinking about that (last) game.

“Looking back and looking at the film and meeting with the coaches, I played really well; I just kinda came up short in the end for my team. I’m not going to let that weigh me down. We get another shot at them this weekend.”

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