Steelers vs. Oakland: Raiders of the Lost Quarterback
Well, we won. I haven’t felt this depressed about a win since, oh, say Week 3, when the Steelers won the battle and potentially lost the war. And we’re back to Square One again. Except we’re not. We’re back to Square -100, because now Le’Veon Bell is gone too. Somehow this team seems completely snakebit. After a rocky start Ben was looking like Ben again. For about two and a half quarters. It’s pretty hard to sustain a season on random portions of a game and then holding on by your fingernails for the next four weeks.
Four weeks was the most recent prediction I heard for Ben to be out, but Ed Bouchette updated and said it looks like two weeks for a mid-foot sprain. If that’s true it’s about the best news the Steelers could have gotten, as there is the Browns game next week in Pittsburgh and then the bye week. But four weeks may be more realistic anyhow, in that if we get Bad Ben in the first game back there’s probably no hope of winning it, as it is in Seattle. Possibly with Good Ben, or Mediocre Ben and some really good luck, they could pull out a nail biter. But that seems unduly optimistic somehow… And for that matter the Browns game is hardly a given under the circumstances. As Homer noted:
Ivan said he has a “special feeling” about this team. I’m beginning to have a special feeling. The only way to take care of my special feeling is to buy a roll of Tums. And maybe some nitroglycerine for the ticker…
But enough of sadness. Let us review the game the Steelers somehow pulled out of the hat. I feared if it went into overtime it was done. Roxanna Firehall commented on Friday’s post, The 46 Horsemen of the Apocalype:
This is a game we should win. It really shouldn’t be close. If we cannot win this game, we don’t belong in the playoffs. I’m fairly confident. For what that’s worth…
So I’m asking all of you now, does it make you uncomfortable that the game was that close? I had a quick look at some of the other scores in the league. It’s crazy out there. Undefeated Denver is undefeated no more, beaten by the lowly Colts, who are only alive because they play in the wretched AFC South. How about the mighty Falcons going down to the same San Francisco team the Steelers blew out in Week 2? How about Tennessee beating New Orleans, despite another banner day for Drew Brees? [387 yards, 3 touchdowns.]
I suppose you could put the Titans/Saints result down to the First Game After the Head Coach Gets Fired effect. And for that matter I suppose you could put the Falcons-49ers game down to the First Game After the Quarterback Gets Benched effect.
If, despite the evidences of the ravages of injury and the iron hand of parity you are still uncomfortable, you could cite the dropped passes at the beginning of the game, even including a few by Antonio Brown, who went on to justify himself magnificently, or almost. I’m afraid Martavis Bryant didn’t—well, not until around 2:45 in the fourth quarter, when he took a little screen pass, juked a couple of guys, and scored. And Darrius Heyward-Bey also had a couple of drops which were costly, although he also redeemed himself in my opinion with a couple of great special teams plays and at least one nice block.
But on the other hand the Raiders’ receivers also dropped some nicely placed passes, especially rookie sensation Amari Cooper. They also took some penalties that helped out the Steelers. But the Steelers taketh, and the Steelers giveth away. One of the really huge penalties in the game was the Heath Miller holding call which negated a 20 yard DeAngelo Williams run and backed the Steelers up to their own 10 yard line with just over a minute left in the game. Even bigger was the personal foul on Ryan Shazier with about four minutes left in the fourth quarter which negated a three-and-out in a one-touchdown game and kept the drive alive. In fact, if Ross Cockrell had not intercepted Carr in the end zone the game could well have ended with a very different result.
You could cite the huge run the Steelers gave up on the second Oakland play of the game. 44 yards. It brought back visions of that awful game in 2013 which began with Terrelle Pryor tucking the ball and running it 80 yards or so for a touchdown. And I would like to say the guys settled down and stuffed the run after that, but they didn’t, really, even after Latavius Murray went out near the end of the third quarter and didn’t come back.
But you could also cite the remarkable number of turnovers they generated, including a touchdown negated by Mitchell’s foot being just out of bounds when he scooped up the ball and ran. The Raiders came into Heinz Field with five fumbles in seven games, four of them lost. The Steelers defense and special teams generated five fumbles and recovered three of them. Derek Carr, who had been intercepted twice all year, gave up another. The Steelers defense had some big misses, but they also had some big hits, in both senses of the word, where and when it counted.
And then there’s the return game. If I’m Dri Archer, right now I’m thinking to myself that the Steelers may be back pretty soon, hat in hand. Here was Return Specialist Jacoby Jones’ stat line: 4 kick returns for an average of 20.75 yards. (Archer averaged 25.3.) Two punt returns for 1 yard. Hmm. And when they sent Brown out he managed to fumble the ball and give it back to Oakland, when they would have had it at the 39. (Why he didn’t signal for a fair catch I’ll never know…)
As № 1 son Adrian said when we talked after the game, could it be it’s the blocking? Maybe, although I think Ivan is right that Archer lacks the spacial intelligence to take advantage of what’s in front of him. I do wonder if Terence Garvin’s absence on special teams has anything to do with the paltry return game the past few weeks. (Or I should say more paltry.)
But enough of the kvetching. Let’s get to some of the high (and low)lights of the game. They will mostly be given in Homer’s inimitable way, noted by italics.
First Oakland series:
Murray cut through the middle between Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward to the 20…Carr hits Crabtree for the touchdown. 3 plays—66 yards—43 seconds. Ouch!
Shamarko Thomas buries kick return guy at the 25. Notice that kickoffs don’t seem to be traveling as far.
I noticed this as well. Both kickers—the veteran Sebastian Janikowski and the newbie Chris Boswell—had only two touchbacks, and both had at least one kickoff that was short of the endzone. Unfortunately for us, four of Boswell’s kicks were short. I hope he hasn’t pulled something. That in conjunction with Mike Tomlin’s reluctance to let him try 50+ field goal attempts in the past few weeks, despite him making a 52 yarder earlier in the season, makes me wonder. Plus, he missed a field goal today, a 41-yard attempt.
[Latavius] Murray off left side for first down. Nice block on Heyward, except it was holding. But since it wasn’t called, it was a nice block. 2nd down, Timmons knocks down pass.
First down—Antonio Brown wide open—59 yards—to Oakland 24.
Bubble screen to Wheaton—the ghost of Bruce Arians—loses two yards.
D-Will cuts through excellent blocking for a touchdown. Going for 2—pass to Williams, who was screened by Heath Miller. Miller does so many things that are barely noticed by casual fans—little things that make the big things happen.
After a good deal more back and forth which unfortunately resulted in a touchdown for Oakland on what one presumes is a blown coverage of Amari Cooper, the Steelers got the ball back, resulting another touchdown of their own:
D-Will stuffed—4th and a foot coming up at 2 minute warning. D-Will imposes his will—for the touchdown off the left side. [Alejandro] Villanueva absolutely pancaked his guy. Happy Veterans Day!!! Foster and Wallace also pushed their men forward. No Dancing! No Dancing!
The second half began with a score of 21-14, and now things really started to get interesting. Mostly in the sense of the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.”
Murray runs into Big Daddy Heyward—2 yards.
Oakland fumble picked up by Mike Mitchell, who had one foot still out of bounds.
This negated a touchdown. Bud Dupree was also running to scoop up the ball, and if Mitchell had let him grab it the touchdown would have been good. At least I’m assuming he would have made it into the end zone. He had James Harrison to block for him, and would have had Mitchell as well. The worst was, Oakland got to keep the ball. However, they had to punt, and Bud Dupree blocked the punt instead. The offense got the ball with fantastic field position—the OAK 46—and as they so often have done this season, proceeded to squander it. Fortunately Jordan Berry managed an excellent punt, which wasn’t a given in this game.
Jacoby Jones returns kickoff to 13 yard line. Ivan says he has Dri Archer Disease.
Ben steps up in pocket and throws an interception as Ammerson jumps the route on AB.
Latavious Murray hit and knocked out by Mike Mitchell. He fumbles and Jarvis Jones recovers. Mitchell has been an absolute monster out there.
Ben goes long for Bryant—too long. Field goal attempt. Boswell from 41—wide. First miss of the year. Geez.
Nooo pressure on Carr all day. [Not strictly true, especially towards the end of the game, but that’s sure what it felt like.] Stephon Tuitt makes the tackle on 5 yard gain even though held.
Huge hit on Walford, who coughs up the ball—Cockrell with a great effort, but the ball touches the ground. [Thus incomplete rather than an interception.] Second enormous play by defensive backs where the luck of the draw negated a turnover.
[Jordan] Todman sighting—three yards off the left side. Then D-Will for the first down. Oakland is getting beaten up physically. Quick pass to AB. Another Oakland guy down. They are calling roll after each play to see how many guys are left. Quick pass to Martavis Bryant who skips and hops his way into the end zone. Nice block by Jesse James, who has blocked extremely well today.
Oakland was definitely getting beaten up, particularly Charles “It’s Only A Flesh Wound” Woodson. Ben never knew whether Woodson was covering a receiver or was on the sideline getting another artificial body part attached…
Kickoff [to Oakland] fumbled—huge hit by Roosevelt Nix, recovered on the six by local boy Anthony Chickillo. D-Will to the four. Jesse James 4 yard touchdown reception. So you have Nix, Chickillo, and James combining on a big touchdown. Three guys who have been fighting for a helmet all year. If you are going to whip an outlaw team like the Raiders, is there anyone better than Jess James to have on your side?
But it wasn’t all sweetness and light:
Boswell kicked it out of bounds. Oh no…Olawale cuts through the middle and isn’t even touched. Oakland cut through the Steelers defense like that proverbial hot knife through warm butter. 4 plays, 62 yards. 1:52. Just awful defense.
But there’s worse to come:
Ben sacked—twisted his ankle—this is awful!!! Helped off the field. [If it makes any of us feel any better, it was Oakland’s only sacl. No? Don’t feel any better? I didn’t think so…]
Jordan Berry with a huge punt—Heyward-Bey and Thomas make a big tackle—down at the OAK 6 yard line.
Then Along Came Jones—Landry Jones. He throws to AB for the first down—praises be!
Boswell from the 19—Steelers call time out to ice their own kicker? Boswell kick good. Game over? Nope. Oh, dear Lord—two seconds left, and Oakland tries the Stanford Band play—a fitting end.
There will be no grades here, other than that Antonio Brown, Mike Mitchell, and DeAngelo Williams will get A++++++ grades.
There is no question the Steelers put a huge hurt on Oakland in one of the most physical games the Steeler defense has played in several years.
Homer’s Wrap-Up of a Pyrrhic Victory:
Perhaps the best wrap-up of Sunday’s Steelers-Raiders game was provided in millenia past by King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose Army suffered irreplaceable casualties while defeating the Romans at Heracleain in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC. He is quoted as saying, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”
Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, an Alabama native and therefore most likely a football fan, referred to Pyrrhus in the case of Beauhamais v Illinois, when he spoke of “the possible relevancy of this ancient remark, ‘Another such victory and I am undone.'”
That’s where the term “Pyrrhic victory” comes from, and, if ever there was a Pyrrhic victory, Sunday’s Steeler win was it. Another such victory and we are undone. It’s not a question of the fight in the men. Now, it’s all about the men in the fight. The loss of one irreplaceable player after another is dogging this team. Ben is gone. Again. It just won’t stop, even as the team won’t quit.
You can’t stop watching the Cardiac Gold and Black, and you can’t stop rooting for them, but you wonder how long they can keep this up while sustaining critical injuries and losing key players. More and more, you get the haunting feeling that this season won’t end well.
But then hope returns. The younger guys are really stepping up – guys like Bud Dupree, young sackmaster who partially blocked a punt Sunday. And back-up DeAngelo Williams is playing like an All-Pro. Landry Jones and Mike Vick each led the team to victory — so hope is surely not lost. Maybe, just for this year, we ought to replace the Steeler fight song with The Ballad of John and Yoko. The part that goes, “you know it ain’t easy.” It never is for these guys.
Momma’s Kind and Caring Grades:
The defense was putting a great deal of effort out on the field. Unfortunately it didn’t always have the desired result. But much is forgiven for the multiple turnovers. They were few and far between in the past few years. I don’t know what Keith Butler is saying to them, but please keep saying it, Coach.
There was a lot of anti-citizenship on display today, including students talking during class and having to be reprimanded by the proctors, I mean referees. And I fear we would hate Mike Mitchell if he didn’t play for us. Even though most of what he does is legal. So the award goes to DeAngelo Williams and his magnificently elegant and old-fashioned touchdown bow.
I wish I thought hard work and effort would fix what ails the Steelers. Because what they need is an infusion of health and a modicum of luck. A lot of plays stood out as far as old-fashioned nose-to-the-grindstone sort of plays. Antonio Brown would be obvious, but he’s getting all the awards already from everyone around the league. So I vote for the offensive line, who (almost) kept Ben upright and untouched. Too bad one sack was one too many…
If you were an indifferent fan, in the sense of not really caring about the outcome, this had to be a really exciting game. Lots of scoring, lots of defense, and the outcome down to the final seconds. Doesn’t get better than that. Unless, of course, you expect perfection. Because let’s face it. These guys are human, and they make mistakes. And then they do amazing and magnificent things. And we’re left alternately cheering and ripping our hair out. And some of us don’t have that much to spare.
And I think I’m fresh out of tears. Let’s hope next week doesn’t put paid to the season with another couple of injuries to critical players. I can’t take much more, and I’m quite sure the Steelers can’t.