Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Finding religion

Saints 20, Steelers 10

By Mike Batista

It figures God finally got me when the Steelers played the Saints.

In 2007, my rookie year as a Steelers blogger, I coined the nickname "Hands of God" for Heath Miller after he helped the Steelers come from behind for a 31-28 win over the Browns.

He now has been stripped of that moniker, just like he was stripped of the ball Sunday night.

The Steelers trailed 13-10 with less than seven minutes left when Miller took a pass from Ben Roethlisberger near midfield and rumbled to the fringe of field goal range.

The Saints' Marvin Mitchell jarred the ball loose.
Darren Sharper recovered the fumble before it even hit the ground, and the Saints eventually scored the clinching touchdown in their 20-10 victory.

That's what I get for comparing the skills of a Steelers player to God.

Miller's gaffe is my penance for violating Section 2, Paragraph 12, Line J of the First Commandment.

Or maybe it's penance for my blatant disregard for the Second and Third commandments every Sunday during football season.

Or maybe it was just God's way of telling me that He never would have fumbled in that situation.

On KDKA the Fan, Vinnie Richichi and Ron Cook were preaching forgiveness for Sunday night's loss. Oh, the Saints (5-3) needed this game more than the Steelers. Oh, the Steelers are still 5-2.

Folks, in this era of Steelers football, it's very difficult to excuse a loss. The Steelers have won two of the last five Super Bowls and are expected to make a run at a championship every year as long as Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu are healthy.

The Steelers will need to go to confession for this loss. They easily could have won this game. Momentum was squarely on their side when Miller coughed up the ball.

Rashard Mendenhall ran 38 yards for a touchdown to pull the Steelers to within 13-10 with just under 11 minutes left in the game. The Saints reached the Steelers 20 on their ensuing possession when Bryant McFadden sacked Drew Brees and forced a fumble. LaMarr Woodley recovered at the 27.

A 12-yard pass to Matt Spaeth (yes, he's still on the team) and a 2-yard gain by Mendenhall was followed by Miller's flub.

A turnover into the hands of Darren Sharper almost would have been forgivable last season, when the Saints seemed blessed during their championship run. Turnovers were a big part of the Saints' success, and Sharper seemed to be in the middle of it all.

But this isn't 2009. The Saints struggled going into this game and were slapped around by the Browns in the Superdome the week before.

That's hard to swallow. The Browns beat the Saints in New Orleans but the Steelers couldn't. It's like going out with a girl you know put out for previous boyfriends, but never getting any yourself.

The most basic sign of football virility is the ability to penetrate the end zone from the 1-yard line, and the Steelers again failed to measure up in that department Sunday.

Antwan Randle-El finally did something besides fair-catching punts when he took a 12-yard pass from Roethlisberger and scored an apparent touchdown early in the second quarter. But it was overturned by replay, giving the Steelers a first-and-goal from the 1.

On first down, Isaac Redman lost a yard. Redman, an undrafted free agent from Bowie State, was dubbed "Red Zone" Redman in 2009 for his prowess in goal line drills during training camp.

Guess what. There's a big difference between practicing on the campus of a quaint little college in August and playing for real in front of Guinness world record mass of Halloween revelers in New Orleans.

Not even in the Big Easy is scoring in goal line situations easy for the Steelers. It never has been since Jerome Bettis retired.

Mendenhall, who ended up with 71 rushing yards on 15 carries, might turn out to be a better overall running back than Bettis, but he couldn't get the ball into the end zone, either. He at least made up for Redman's lost yardage on second down. Then on third down, he was stopped.

What I can't understand is why Mendenhall went to his right on both of those plays and not just up the gut. The Steelers were in their power formation with tight end David Johnson lined up in front of Mendenhall.

The Steelers settled for a field goal (not even Jeff Reed is going to miss from 19 yards out) to take a 3-0 lead. That's at least four points the Steelers left out there. Who knows how many points Miller's fumble cost?

After Miller's fumble, NBC ran a graphic that said Miller didn't fumble in the first 58 games of his career, but has fumbled four times in the last 27 games.

Maybe it's time for Miller to carry the ball everywhere he goes around the Steelers' practice facility, with $100 going to anyone who can take it away from him.

Hopefully Miller won't need that treatment. Maybe the steep price of Sunday's fumble will be a wake-up call for him to take care of the ball like he did earlier in his career.

Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise that the Steelers got this stinker out of their system now. Next week, they're at Cincinnati in a division game and the week after they host the Patriots in The Game You Must Not Lose.

Wins in those games might put me in a more forgiving mood.

1 comment:

  1. Ball on the 6" line, 250lb. qb behind a 300lb. center. Sneak it at least once?