Monday, September 26, 2011
It's becoming a Sunday-night spectacle. Troy Polamalu rescues the Steelers late in the game with what coach Mike Tomlin calls a "splash" play on defense.
It was enough for the Steelers to beat the Ravens last December for the AFC North title. But somehow they needed more than Polamalu's heist to beat the Peyton Manning-less Colts Sunday night.
The warning signs of Super Bowl Hangover III seemed to be developing.
With 5:21 left in the game, the Steelers were tied 13-13 with the Colts. All of the Colts' points came off turnovers, including a fumble return for a touchdown. Hair-pulling reminders of 2006 and 2009.
Then James Harrison, who looked all night like his back is just fine, introduced himself to Colts' third-string quarterback Curtis Painter. The Steelers' first sack of the night turned into their first forced turnover of the season.
Not since 1938, when they were still the Pirates, have the Steelers forced just one turnover in the first three games of a season.
With loose balls now like golden eggs for the Steelers defense, Polamalu wasn't going to miss the chance to turn this fumble into points. He picked the ball up on a hop, almost like a basketball dribble, and ran 16 yards for a touchdown and a 20-13 Steelers lead.
Unlike last December in Baltimore, however, Polamalu's Superman moment was fleeting. It morphed into a role as one of the 11 Keystone Kops defenders who allowed Painter to drive 80 yards in three minutes to tie the game.
Polamalu was all over the place on that drive, and he damn near blew up Joseph Addai's 6-yard touchdown run before it started. But every Steeler on the field deserves a share of the blame for yielding a fourth-quarter comeback drive to a guy who came into the game with a career 9.8 passer rating. Yes, the decimal point is in the right place.
For the Steelers' defense, this is more of a red flag than a girl telling you on a first date that she's got 27 cats.
Painter was in the game because Kerry Collins, who would have been watching this game with his feet up in his living room were it not for Peyton Manning's injury, was being evaluated for a concussion stemming from a play in which he was leveled by James Farrior, a play that would have drawn a yellow hanky if it were No. 18 hitting the turf.
The Steelers barely played well enough in this game to beat a retread and a clipboard carrier. Imagine if Peyton Manning didn't have a pain in the neck?
Tomlin said after the game that they "just want to get out of stadiums with wins."
The Steelers (2-1) got out of Lorenzo's (I know, it's Lucas) Oil Stadium with a win, but they had to hide it under their coats, because they shoplifted this one.
Sure, there was Ben Roethlisberger's 81-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace that gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead (I got a feeling the Wallace faux-hawk will be part of a lot of Halloween costumes in Pittsburgh this year). As picturesque as that play was, the rest of the Steelers' performance was about as scenic as a landfill.
Both offensive tackles, Marcus Gilbert on the right and Jonathan Scott on the left, were directly responsible for strip sacks in the first half. One led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal and the other was returned 47 yards by Jamaal Anderson for a touchdown, tying the game 10-10 late in the first half.
Both Gilbert and Scott were hurt during the game, although Gilbert had to go back in during the fourth quarter when the Steelers were down to four offensive linemen. Doug Legursky also was hurt during the game. It might be time for Flozell Adams to put down the chips and dip.
The Steelers' Gem Puzzle offensive line also could not open holes against the Colts' traditionally porous run defense. Rashard Mendenhall gained just 37 yards on 18 carries. Isaac Redman, who probably should have seen the ball more, especially in the first half, had just six yards on three carries.
Then, just in a nick of time, the Steelers remembered that Mewelde Moore is still on the team.
After Painter brushed a couple of coats of Embarrassment Red on the Steelers' defense, the offense had 2 minutes and 9 seconds to get into field goal range. It was Moore who got the Steelers into Colts territory by catching a screen pass from Roethlisberger and taking it 22 yards to the Colts' 41.
After Roethlisberger got the Steelers into field goal range with an 11-yard scamper, Moore got them into Shaun Suisham field goal range with runs of five and four yards.
Before the Steelers had Antonio Brown to return punts, Moore often was used as a punt returner deep in their own end because of his sure-handedness. That's why he was called upon Sunday once the Steelers were in field goal range. No way was Butterfingers Mendenhall getting the ball. Suisham's 38-yard field goal gave the Steelers the 23-20 win.
Since joining the Steelers as a third-down back in 2008, Moore has been like a Batman utility belt gadget for the Steelers. It seems there's been at least a half-dozen times in which Moore has taken the Steelers out of a tight spot with a long gain after a screen pass. He probably can't handle the load of every-down play, which is why we don't see more of him.
Moore did his job for the Steelers Sunday night. The answer to the Steelers' ailing running game isn't for him to get more carries. It's for Mendenhall to do more with his carries, and he could use some help from the offensive line.
And on defense, they have to force more turnovers and turn in a lot of bad-ass performances to make us forget about Painter's Drive.
Sure, this is the kind of win the Steelers get away with once or twice during their Super Bowl seasons, but it's not enough to convince me they are a good team.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
If you're a Steelers fan too young to remember the Immaculate Reception, you're probably at least old enough to remember the Steelers' 2005 playoff upset of the Colts.
Even though the stadium and the quarterback are different, the Steelers return to Indianapolis today for the first time since that game.
Just like the Immaculate Reception got the Steelers over the hump in terms of winning playoff games, that upset of the Colts catapulted the Steelers over the hurdle to the Super Bowl. After so many losses in the AFC title game, no way were the Steelers losing in Denver a week after stunning the mighty Colts.
With Ben Roethlisberger saving Jerome Bettis from infamy with his tackle of Nick Harper, and the "thank God" field goal miss by the Colts kicker, the 2005 playoff game packed enough unlikely events to be almost as memorable as the Immaculate Reception.
It was the franchise's most pivotal win in the post-Steel -Curtain Era. Since then, anything short of a Lombardi Trophy is considered a failure. For Steelers fans of this generation, it was our Immaculate Reception.
Monday, September 19, 2011
It was enough to make Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wish he were back at USC banging 19-year-old coeds. I'm not saying Carroll actually banged 19-year-old coeds at USC. I'm just saying that's what I would do if I were the football coach at the University of Southern California, that's all.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Friday, September 9, 2011
What's Wink Martindale doing these days?
How about Chuck Woolery?
Or Ben Stein?
Hell, I'd even settle for Rolf Benirschke. That's right, the intestinally challenged former Chargers kicker hosted Wheel of Fortune for a few months in 1989.
I need someone to host this year's version of everyone's favorite game show, the Win-Loss Game, where contestants look at their favorite team's schedule, and predict a win or a loss for each game.
It's like Wheel of Fortune with only "W"s and "L"s, and maybe an occasional "T" if you really got some balls.
The 2011 Steelers schedule is tied for the fourth-weakest in the NFL.
That scares me.
In 2009, the Steelers also were coming off a Super Bowl appearance and had a piece-of-cake schedule on their plate. We all know how that turned out.
And with the exception of the Bengals, it's not like any of those teams in 2009 were better than expected. During the five-game losing streak that blew their season to bits, the Steelers lost to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns, all of whom were as shitty as advertised.
My head tells me the Steelers are a damn good team this year, even if they are the oldest team in the NFL. However, 2009 won't easily be forgotten. Nor will 2006, when they famously flopped after winning Super Bowl XL the year before. I can't help but have those two seasons in the back of my mind as I play the Win-Loss Game this season.*
And now, it's time to play.
Week 1, at Baltimore: This is like waking up to a slap in the face instead of a cup of coffee. This is the Steelers' most intense opener since 2002, when they opened on a Monday night in New England the year after the Patriots upset them in the 2001 AFC championship game. This will go a little bit better, as long as Rashard Mendenhall can avoid all the objects Ravens fans throw at him on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. W, 20-16
Week 2, Seattle: Tarvaris Jackson is starting at quarterback for the Seahawks. Steelers defense, start your engines. W, 38-7
Week 3, at Indianapolis: If Peyton Manning plays at all this season, it certainly won't be by Week 3. Still, let's not take this one too lightly. Kerry Collins is a capable backup, and hard-core Steelers fans will remember the name Cody Carlson. W, 20-13
Week 4, at Houston: Manning possibly being out for the year might be what it takes for the ultimate "Wait 'Til Next Year" team to finally so something in the AFC South and make the playoffs. The Steelers never tempt perfection with long winning streaks to start the season, and I can't help but think that someone will sneak up on the Steelers during this yawn-inspiring Houston-Tennessee-Jacksonville leg of their schedule. Not exactly the most dynamic NFL cities. L, 19-13
Week 5, Tennessee: Munchak and Hasselbeck. Sounds like some kind of cheesy, early 80s cop-show duo. W, 23-12
Week 6, Jacksonville: According to ESPN, quarterback David Garrard was released hours after being introduced as the Jaguars' starting quarterback at a chamber of commerce luncheon. Maybe he can tour the country as a Seal impersonator and see if he can hook up with a model like Heidi Klum. W, 28-21
Week 7, at Arizona: Between not getting the Steelers head coaching job and losing to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, Ken Whisenhunt will want to win this game so bad that he'll kick every single one of his players in the balls if they lose. L, 34-17
Week 8, New England: Tom Brady comes to Heinz Field dressed in drag on Halloween Eve. Then we realize that's really his hair. We also realize that's not a mask Bill Belichick's wearing. That's really his face. Unlike last year's Patriots visit, this one will be a game. Unfortunately, the Patriots will win the shootout. Yeah, I know this is 76 points allowed in the past two games. But the Steelers defense will show its age with a mid-season swoon. L, 42-35
Week 9, Baltimore: Joe Fucko has never beaten the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger plays. W, 14-6
Week 10, at Cincinnati: Steelers finish up with the Ravens early and get two games each against the Bengals and Browns, and a bye, in the last eight weeks of the season. W, 37-13
Week 11, Bye
Week 12, at Kansas City: The NFL is just busting the Steelers' balls here. They also had a late-November game at Kansas City in 2009, in the midst of their infamous slide. Look for the Chiefs to plateau a bit this year after their rise last year. W, 31-20
Week 13, Cincinnati: Who knows if he'll still be the starter this late in the season, but Andy Dalton is the Bengals' first rookie quarterback to start a season opener since Greg Cook in 1969. I know. Who cares. W, 45-3
Week 14, Cleveland: Aww, c'mon NFL. Really? A Thursday night game in early December against the Browns? That doesn't remind Steelers fans of anything, does it? At least this one's in Pittsburgh. W, 27-15
Week 15, at San Francisco: Chalk this up as a "haunted by 2009" pick. L, 20-17
Week 16, St. Louis: Please don't flex this one to a night game, NFL. It's going to be tough enough planning Christmas Eve around a 1 p.m. game. W, 22-9
Week 17, at Cleveland: I wouldn't be surprised if most of those votes Peyton Hillis got for the Madden cover were cast by Steelers fans so he'd get jinxed. The Browns have their quarterback in Colt McCoy. They'll be better this year, and I just don't see the Steelers going 12-4 again. L, 17-16
Now for the Bonus Round. Or in this case, playoffs.
Here's how I see the AFC playoff picture shaking out:
1. Patriots (13-3)
2. Chargers (12-4)
3. Steelers (11-5)
4. Texans (10-6)
5. Ravens (10-6)
6. Jets (10-6)
Wild-card: Steelers 25, Jets 17; Texans 13, Ravens 7
Divisional: Chargers 16, Steelers 13; Patriots 37, Texans 13
Championship: Patriots 21, Chargers 7
I think the Steelers start to show their age toward the end of the year and get beat in the playoffs by the Chargers. But no way Norv Turner is getting the Chargers into the Super Bowl. So, I regret to inform everyone that the Patriots get back to the Super Bowl.
Since the season's already started in the NFC, I can't really pick records or playoff seeds. Or maybe I'm just too damn lazy. I say the Packers get back to the Super Bowl, not based on Thursday night's game but based on the fact that they got to the Super Bowl last year despite all those injuries. You'd have to think they'll be healthier this year and maybe get a home playoff game or two.
Unlike last year, I'll actually be rooting for the Packers in the Super Bowl. Sure, the Packers were added to my NFL shit list after beating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, but the Patriots have earned my unconditional hatred. I'll be quite relieved when the Packers beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Of course, my predictions are usually wrong, and I hope this year is no different.
*-When I was thinking of game-show hosts to mention, one of the names I wanted to use was former Remote Control host Ken Ober. Then I saw that he died at 52 on Nov. 15, 2009. You know what else happened that day? The Steelers lost to the Bengals at home, starting their infamous five-game losing streak. Spooky stuff, huh?