The Pittsburgh Steelers had not been to the AFC Championship game since 2010 before they finally made it back there during the 2016 season. Their opponents, the New England Patriots, had been in that game every single year since the year after the Steelers were last in the game.
The disparity of experience was palpable and undeniable. Even the players knew it. And one group of players played like they had been there before, while the other did not. That is motivation for the latter group, those being the Steelers’ players, including cornerback Ross Cockrell, who talked about that subject and others recent with the team’s website.
“When you have never been there before”, he told the website, “it’s hard to treat it like you have been”, a simple enough statement that never the less makes an important point. There is no substitute for having experienced something yourself. But the good news is that they have now.
“It’s also knowing that that moment is the same moment as every other game”, he said. “It’s no different, whether it’s opening night, the AFC Championship Game, or whatever, we have to go out there and make plays and we didn’t do that last year. I think you realize we are one step away from the Super Bowl”.
“You understand now what it takes. There was something more we had to give to win that game. For some reason, we didn’t achieve it. We will go in next year smarter, more experienced to get to the next level”, he said.
The Patriots clearly had the advantage in their previous meeting by having been on that stage several times before and knowing how to handle it, but for Cockrell, he understands that it’s only an advantage if you make it one.
“It’s only an advantage if we take the knowledge and use it and work and grow and continue the progress we made. We can’t take any steps back. We have to continue to make progress and know it’s not going to be easy to get back there, but we can get to the Super Bowl”.
There appear to be many who believe that the Steelers can’t actually get to the Super Bowl with a player like Cockrell in the lineup. I would tend to disagree. They can win with Cockrell and he will only continue to get better.
He has everything that you could want in a football player from a mental standpoint, and he is just coming off his first full season of playing time in which he generally handled himself well. If Artie Burns’ talent can take him to the role of their top cornerback, then Cockrell can be a very good complement.