PITTSBURGH — The third time has been a charm for Rashard Mendenhall.
The Pittsburgh Steelers leading rusher watched from afar during his team's run to the Super Bowl two years ago, sidelined by an injured shoulder his rookie season. Then, he watched the playoffs from home last year, like the rest of his Steelers teammates.
But now, Mendenhall is healthy and one game from reaching the Super Bowl. To do that, of course, the Steelers (13-4) must beat the New York Jets (13-5) and their stout run defense Sunday.
And there's good news on that front. The Jets have shown a few leaks against the run in the playoffs, allowing more than 100 yards a game. This after allowing a 91-yard average in the regular season.
And, keep in mind, Mendenhall ran for 99 and a score last month vs. the Jets.
A sign of things to come? Perhaps. But either way, Mendenhall, a cool, calm sort, is not fazed.
"Just trying to keep everything as normal as possible," he said Wednesday after practice. "That's how I am with everything. Just preparing for what you can control."
Mendenhall had 1,273 yards on 324 carries with 13 touchdowns this season. Against the Ravens last week, he had 46 yards and two more scores.
But what's important this week, is that he's had success before vs. New York. In the 22-17 loss to the Jets, Mendenhall registered 17 carries. Not bad in a pass-happy offense.
Of course, passing might be a problem vs. the Jets, what with corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie on watch. Let's face it. If Pittsburgh receivers Hines Ward and Mike Wallace are bottled up, Mendenhall could play an even more important role.
But that might not a problem. Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, after all, has it all figured out.
"The first part is clearing (defenders) out," Pouncey said. "The second part is moving those guys out of there and giving (the Steelers backs) lanes to run in."
And the lanes have been there vs. New York in the playoffs. New England ran for 113 yards last week. Indianapolis, the week before, had 93.
But the Steelers know Jets coach Rex Ryan will have something worked up for them. They know it won't be easy for Mendenhall. In fact, they expect a wrinkle or two.
"That makes you think about things," Ward said. "For us, we have to pay attention to detail, really, with what we do, not with what they do."
The weather forecast appears suited for a grind-it-out affair on Heinz Field's frozen turf. Highs are expected in the low 20s, with winds at more than 20 miles per hour. Of course, that's typical Pittsburgh weather for mid-January, a time when Jerome Bettis (2005) and Willie Parker (2008) set their places in Steelers' lore en route to Super Bowl titles.
Is Mendenhall next?
"He had a little bit of success against (the Jets) last time. I'm sure that they're working to rectify that," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "But it's not about Rashard vs. the Jets run defense, it's about winning the football game. I know that he's willing and capable of doing anything that we ask him to do to help us in that effort. And for that I'm excited."
So is Mendenhall.