PITTSBURGH -- As the Steelers were coming off Heinz Field after celebrating their AFC Championship Game victory Sunday night against the New York Jets, one player was having a challenging time making it back to the locker room.
With a crutch under each arm, Pittsburgh Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was grimacing in pain trying to make it up the stairs and into the Steelers' locker room. While teammates were hugging and jumping up and down with excitement, Pouncey had the tough task of dragging his 304-pound frame to his locker stall where he put down his crutches and sat for an extended period.
After suffering a left high ankle sprain Sunday, Pouncey did not look like a player who will be back on the field in two weeks for Super Bowl XLV. But the rookie first-round pick was confident that he will not miss the biggest game of his career.
"I had the same injury before on my other ankle and I know how to attack it," Pouncey said. "I know how to approach things. I'm ready. I know in my heart that I'm playing in that game."
Is that prognosis accurate based on Pouncey knowing his body or is it just naïve enthusiasm?
High ankle sprains usually require three to four weeks to recover. But Pouncey, 21, seems virtually certain he can rehab it in half the time.
The Cleveland Browns know the injury well, as all three of their quarterbacks missed extended time this season with high ankle sprains. It would be somewhat of a medical marvel if Pouncey shook off his injury to help the Steelers try to win their seventh Super Bowl title.
Pouncey had his leg rolled up by Jets defensive lineman Bryan Thomas in the first quarter, and backup Doug Legursky filled in admirably the rest of the game. Pittsburgh rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns against New York, which held the NFL's third-best run defense. Even without Pouncey, holes were plentiful for Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall, who rushed for 121 yards against the Jets.
"He played his tail off. I'm so happy for him," Pouncey said of Legursky. "That's my guy, man. We meet together, we talk about things, we go over game plans."
But in Pouncey's mind, he -- not Legursky -- will be taking the first snap of Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers. When asked if he would be ready for Feb. 6, Pouncey quickly responded, "Most definitely."