NFL Playoffs: Jets' road familiar to Faneca
Alan Faneca, lower right, knows all about protecting rookie quarterbacks: first, Ben Roethlisberger; now, Mark Sanchez.
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Forgive Alan Faneca if the flashbacks keep taking him to the 2005 season, back when Bill Cowher gathered his playoff team around him and told them the story of Christopher Columbus.
Like Columbus, Cowher told them, the Steelers were trying to do something that had never been accomplished. They had to win three playoff games on the road and then win the Super Bowl.
"Yeah, going on the road, trying to do it that way was unheard of before we did it," Faneca said in an interview from New York. "Now it seems in vogue."
The New York Giants did it in 2007 and now Faneca's New York Jets are trying to do it. And just like with the Steelers in 2005, the Jets' playoff run began with a victory in Cincinnati. That's one down, two more victories to reach Super Bowl XLIV. The Jets resume play Sunday in San Diego.
"I get lots of questions from the media about it," Faneca said of that 2005 season. "I hate to draw comparisons because every team is so different, especially that team. We started our run in November pretty much to get to the playoffs. There are similar comparisons, getting hot at the right time, coming together and playing good team ball at the right time. Definitely there are some similarities."
Faneca left the Steelers as a free agent before the 2008 season after 10 years as their starting left guard, seven of them in the Pro Bowl. He's up to nine Pro Bowls after making them each of the past two seasons with the Jets. The Hall of Fame appears to be a slam-dunk for the greatest guard to wear a Steelers uniform.
He remains uneasy talking about his sometimes bitter departure from the team he did not want to leave but is on good terms with his former teammates. He constantly wished many of them well on way to their Super Bowl victory last year, and he says he has received similar encouragement from them now.
Some strange, yet familiar twists have occurred while Faneca has played the past two years for the Jets. Rex Ryan, he noted, is his fourth head coach in the past four seasons.
"I had Bill Cowher nine years, one offense for 10 years and then all of a sudden I have four coaches in four years," Faneca said. "A little transition; I guess it teaches you to be flexible."
One more thing he has experienced in New York: being reminded about his memorable comment in 2004 when quarterback Tommy Maddox's right arm was injured and the Steelers turned to rookie Ben Roethlisberger.
Was he excited to see the Steelers' No. 1 draft pick at quarterback?
"Exciting?" Faneca replied then. "No, it's not exciting. Do you want to go work with some little young kid who's just out of college?"
Faneca, whose response came in part because the veteran Maddox was a friend and the two of them thought they could win a Super Bowl with Maddox, laughs at the memory. The added twist: The Jets are led by rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez after veteran Brett Favre "retired" from them after the 2008 season.
"You can believe I got that question a lot," Faneca said. "I had a guy ask me last week, 'What was Ben like the week before his first playoff game? Compare it to Mark.' I honestly can't remember."
Said Faneca, "It's different when you come from a guy who has control of everything, been-there-done-it, to 'finding a way.' Mark did a great job, coming in and putting in the hard work."
Faneca now works for the kind of old-school team he had become accustomed to with the Steelers. The Jets led the NFL in rushing offense and in total defense in 2009.
"We're doing a good job," said Faneca. "We've come together as a blocking unit -- the offensive line, tight end, fullback in sync with the running backs. The coaching staff does a good job every week putting us in new situations."
Ryan has been the talk of football much of the season with his brash statements and predictions. He did not pull out a Christopher Columbus tale, but he did issue his team an unusual itinerary as it prepared for the playoffs -- all the way through the Super Bowl parade in New York.
"At first, not everybody knew how to take him," Faneca said. "You have to learn and adjust. People call what he says outlandish or outspoken. We look at it as he's setting the bar and we have to go get it. He said we're going to win the Super Bowl. Know what? We have to go get it. He's done that throughout the season and we grew to accept the challenge."
Faneca and his wife, Julie, maintain their charitable work in Pittsburgh to support the fight against breast cancer.
Divisional Round weekend
Ravens at Colts, 8:15 p.m. Saturday. TV: KDKA.
Jets at Chargers, 4:40 p.m. Sunday. TV: KDKA.
Cardinals at Saints, 4:30 p.m. Saturday. TV: WPGH.
Cowboys at Vikings, 1 p.m. Sunday. TV: WPGH.
First Published January 14, 2010 12:00 am