NEW ORLEANS -- Brett Keisel likes the Baltimore Ravens.
"I'm not really pulling for them," the veteran Steelers defensive end explained, lest fans back in Pittsburgh get the wrong idea. "But I do feel like they're going to win. I just feel like they're fighting for a lot right now, to send Ray Lewis out on a championship like we did with the Bus."
Jerome Bettis went out on top in his hometown of Detroit seven years ago, and, while Lewis never called New Orleans home, it will do for him and the Ravens if they win in what the great linebacker has announced will be his final game.
"When teams get like that and you're fighting for something bigger, especially for how much all those guys respect and love Ray -- just like we did for Jerome -- there's something in that. Baltimore's hot. Even in games this year when it looked like there was no way they were going to win, they seemed to find ways to do it. That's why I feel they will."
Keisel is in New Orleans under the sponsorship of Head & Shoulders, making his rounds at radio row in the media center. He would prefer to be here under different circumstances, as he was two years ago in Texas, four years ago in Tampa, seven years ago in Detroit.
"It is so hard to get to this game. I'll never forget after we lost in Dallas, I was bummed out. My wife said, 'It's all right, you'll be back.' I told her, it's so hard to even just get to this game. When you get into the playoffs, the competition is so great and the pressure is so great. It really means a lot when you do make it and you do win it."
But can the Steelers make it back anytime soon after their 8-8 swoon? Keisel knows he will lose more longtime teammates to the castoff pile, and that some others may go elsewhere on their own. If, however, they are to reach another Super Bowl, he said their young players will have to do more than they did in 2012.
"We do have some really good young talent that needs to step up and start making more plays in order for us to win," Keisel said.
He was not pointing the finger at players who may have been blocked by some veterans playing well in 2012, such as Cam Heyward behind Keisel and Steve McLendon behind Casey Hampton.
"I'm talking about all the guys -- our young group of wideouts, our young offensive line, some young guys we have playing in the secondary. We need those guys to play 'A' ball, and, when they're out on the field, we need them to make plays in order to win.
"It can't just be the old dogs, if you will; we need some splash plays by those young guys."
And they need more young guys, more talent because of what he expects they will lose in the offseason, especially after hearing Kevin Colbert's tough talk about not being married to anyone after their 8-8 record.
"You have a year like we did, with expectations like we did, there has to be changes, it's the way the business is," Keisel said. "We'll see what happens. Obviously, I love being a Steeler, I love those guys in the locker room, but every year you lose some guys that you're brothers with. I'm sure this year will be no different.
"They have a tough job. Obviously, everyone knows we need to get some guys in to help us. That's a tough thing to do. You have a draft to do it in -- they pride themselves on building the team through the draft."
Keisel had one of his best seasons, leading the team with 40 quarterback pressures to go with 4 1/2 sacks, a good number for a 3-4 defensive end. He did all this at 34, playing in every game and staying injury free, and feels good about going into the next season.
"I feel like I can still get the job done. I feel like I have the front office's trust, I feel like I have my teammates' trust, I feel like I can lead this team out of this mediocre season."
As a senior leader on the team, he spoke the strongest words of that mediocre season after they lost Dec. 9 to a bad San Diego team, 34-24.
"I don't think guys were ready to play," Keisel said after that game.
And it wasn't the only time he felt that way.
"I felt strange in Cleveland last year, it just felt weird. Even with all the things that happened in that game, we still had chance to win at the end. It was like that in a lot of games this year -- Dallas, Cincinnati -- for one reason or another things just didn't go our way."
He still believes the Steelers have it in them, have the talent to get to his fourth Super Bowl, even though time is running out on him.
"I said it earlier in the year, I feel like we have as many weapons on the team as we ever have. We just have to come together. Hopefully, this year humbled some people and, really, maybe we can get re-focused and come back better."
First Published January 31, 2013 5:00 AM