Monday, September 13, 2010

A nemesis no more

Steelers 15, Falcons 9, OT

By Mike Batista

At Heinz Field on Sunday, the Steelers rescued themselves, as well as their PNC Park neighbors, from the Curse of Atlanta.

In my column previewing the Steelers' season opener, I took a look at Atlanta's torment of Pittsburgh in baseball and football over the past two decades.

The Curse of Atlanta was cast in 1992, when the Pirates were three outs away from the World Series, only to squander a 2-0 lead against the Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

Since David Justice and Sid Bream (even though he was out) scored on Francisco Cabrera's single, the Pirates have not had a winning season.

While the Curse of Atlanta has meant doom for the Pirates, it's been more of a nuisance for the Steelers.

The last three times these quadrennial opponents have played, they have gone to overtime. The Steelers had to settle for a tie in 2002, and lost in 2006.

You think this curse thing is hogwash? You think this comes from the mind of some paranoid guy who talks to himself in the park?

The parallels were just too eerie for it not to be a curse. The last time the Falcons came to Heinz Field, the Steelers had a chance to win on a Todd Peterson field goal in overtime. But it was blocked.

Peterson lost his job that season when the Steelers signed a guy named Jeff Reed. That same guy could have prevented overtime Sunday with a 40-yard field goal with 39 seconds left. But he missed.

Reed also missed a 55-yard attempt when he hit the right upright late in the first half.

With all of the game's scoring to that point coming on field goals, those misses hurt.

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney came all the way from Ireland to watch the game. If he wanted to see a tie, he could have stayed in Europe and watched soccer.

Fortunately, Rashard Mendenhall ended the field goal slap fight with a 50-yard touchdown run 3:24 into overtime.

It was the Steelers' first win over the Falcons since 1999, when they beat them at Three Rivers Stadium. Even then, the Steelers were spooked by the Curse of Atlanta. The Falcons also scored nine points that day. The Steelers? Unlucky 13.

Not only does the breaking of the curse pretty much guarantee a winning season for the Pirates in 2011 (I just don't see how they CAN'T have a winning season, right?), it skews my prediction for the Steelers' season. When predicting the Steelers' 1-3 start without Ben Roethlisberger, I had this game tabbed as a loss.

If Roethlisberger takes over a 2-2 team, 10-6 might be within reach. Of course, I'll stick to my original 9-7 prediction, but I don't mind being wrong in this case.

In a city full of bridges, Dennis Dixon showed he's capable of building an adequate one to keep the Steelers' 2010 season above water until Roethlisberger gets back. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 236 yards, showed poise in the pocket and made a couple of tough throws.

Dixon did, however, throw an interception and the Falcons dropped one or two other picks. I'm concerned about how he'll respond next week at Tennessee, where the Steelers haven't won since 2001, and against Baltimore.

His job won't be any easier if the Steelers are without Max Starks, who left the game with a high ankle sprain. As the left tackle, Starks is responsible for protecting Dixon's blind side.

While Starks' status is a concern, everything else around Dixon looked like 2008 on Sunday. The Steelers' defense stifled a highly touted Falcons' offense, with sacks by James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and an interception by Troy Polamalu, all major contributors to the Steelers' championship two years ago.

Unfortunately, the 2008 reminders include the offensive line, which allowed three sacks in the final quarter and a half, including two sandwiched around the two-minute warning, which scuttled a potential game-winning drive.

If the Steelers are to recapture the magic of 2008, Dixon and Mendenhall, two guys who watched from the sidelines that year, will need to make contributions.

At least until Roethlisberger gets back.

Even if the Steelers don't win their seventh Super Bowl this season, at least Atlanta can't hurt Pittsburgh anymore.

1 comment:

  1. For the first time since the 2008 season I had faith our Defense would close out a game in the 4th quarter!! Troy came up huge like he has done so many times before to put us in a position to win (even if the Atlanta curse pushed Reed's field goal wide). SO, THE CURSE OF THE FOURTH QUARTER FROM LAST YEAR SEEMS TO BE REMOVED. Speaking of curses, the Madden curse has officially been shed from Troy and I'm scared to death for Drew Brees this season.

    Anyway, I'll be attending the Steelers-Titans game in Nashville and I'm looking forward to Black and Gold covering the music city on Sunday.

    Our defense is going to have to win this one (again) and I think Dixon will be forced to make some big throws against a tough Titans defense. I WISH DIXON WOULD USE HIS LEGS MORE!!!