On Second Thought: Raiders at Steelers
by Ivan Cole
Sometimes it really sucks to be right. Two terms that appeared in the season midpoint report hung over today’s proceedings like a dark cloud; ‘Injuries’ and ‘snake bitten’. They defined the first half of 2015, and now threaten to define the entire year. The team survived in the sense that it was a victory and records were set, but at what cost? Did we see the season begin to circle the drain this afternoon?
Say what you will about Steelers football in 2015, but it is exciting. After nine games there has been only one where there wasn’t a sense of drama in play in the final moments. Unfortunately, there is super hero/action adventure type drama, and then this horror/slasher type drama. And all too often it has been variations on the latter scenario. Today was only atypical in the details—the narrative arch has been similar.
There is, first, the false happy ending. Three players you probably forgot were on the team—Roosevelt Nix (caused fumble), Anthony Chickillo (recovered fumble) and Jesse James (catches touchdown pass), combine to give Pittsburgh its biggest lead of the day. Cue happy flute music.
Among the players there are smiles, high fives and butt slaps all around. In the stands little Steelers Nation cherubs frolic with their parents and siblings under golden sunlight and a clear blue sky. I swear you can hear the birds chirping and you know that somewhere, wrapped in a Terrible Towel, Cam Heyward’s newborn son is smiling. And then…
“Who is that lurking in the shadows?”
Confusion as the sound of a chain saw starting fills the air.
“OMG! THEY JUST CUT OFF BEN’S FOOT!!”
And the high drama begins. Half the time it ends with black and gold dismembered limbs and torsos littering the field as guys in hockey masks cackle and exchange high fives, perhaps munching on Le’Veon Bell’s mangled knee. Other times it’s like this game. Victory, yes, but as Homer J so accurately puts it, Pyrrhic in nature. This leaves even the most devout of Steelers fans stumbling toward the liquor cabinet in a desperate attempt to calm traumatized nerves and to remember that they are supposed to be enjoying this sort of thing. At times like these there is something attractive about the peace and quiet of March.
As I write the news on Roethlisberger is not as bad as it could have been—a mid foot sprain, a type of injury I am personally familiar with. The fact that it happened, as these things seem to keep happening, is distressing. On the other hand if you have to suffer this sort of thing the timing could hardly be better. The team has to manage to find a way to win at home against the Browns and then has a bye week. Ben should be back in time for the Seattle game. Possible we dodged the bullet a second time in this regard?
Antonio and DeAngelo
Hard to believe that one of these performances will be considered just second best. You have to give the nod to AB based upon his last run and catch that set up the game winning field goal, as well as the rest of his record setting performance. But his fumbled punt also put him on the short list of potential goats.
In many ways, given the circumstances, Williams’ day was more impressive. Spectacular runs, solid receiving, but most impressive was his ‘chip’ block on Aldon Smith in the fourth quarter. It was major injustice in my view that there were no replays during the game of that hit.
The Williams hit on Smith leads us to one of the clear positive trends of this season. Their record as it relates to beating teams is just slightly above mediocre. They are doing a much more impressive and consistent job of beating other teams up. The Steelers have successful recalibrated in response to new league standards and have regained their mojo of playing intimidating, brutal football.
Mitchell and Blake
Safety Mike Mitchell is leading the way here with Antwon Blake and a bunch of others following suit. Mitchell’s knockout shot of Latavius Murray was just the most spectacular of the hits that Pittsburgh has been delivering in all phases, but particularly by the defensive secondary. These hits are thwarting what would otherwise be successful plays and are also creating turnover opportunities. The quality secondary play continues overall. People don’t throw in William Gay’s direction much these days. Ross Cockrell continues to impress with some nicely defensed passes and one critical interception.
I had honestly forgotten about this red shirt rookie. His regular season debut was auspicious to say the least. This game, two good receptions, including the touchdown grab. And, perhaps more impressively, some very good blocking, including on Martavis Bryant’s touchdown scamper. He gave the impression of someone who can successfully step into Heath Miller’s shoes when the time comes. But the guy whose days may be numbered in the more immediate sense may be Matt Spaeth. Fans being fans, I think it’s a pretty sure bet we will be hearing some of that conversation during the week.
Chris and Martavis
Both our rookie placekicker and second year receiver had challenging moments earlier in the game that will likely be glossed over by later successes. Boswell missed his second field goal attempt and botched a kickoff that provided the Raiders good field position on one of their late scoring drives. Bryant dropped some makeable catches early.
Bryant wasn’t the only receiver to struggle at times. It was not the best day for either Markus Wheaton or Darrius Heyward-Bey. Disappointing I’m sure for Heyward-Bey, who probably wanted to show his old team that he had landed on his feet.
Wherever he might be, Dri Archer is probably saying ‘I could have done that’. The Jones Steelers debut was nothing to write home about, but let’s see what happens after he actually gets a chance to practice with the team.
Speaking of Jones. Homer is reprising “Along Came Jones,” and I’m betting that we will be returning to the season of fickle fandom over these next couple weeks. He did not lose the game and allowed his playmakers the opportunity to win it, which they obligingly did. But this coming week, as in Kansas City, he is going to actually have to try to win a football game.
I can already hear a segment of the fan base making ominous references to the ‘T’ (trap) word, while a different segment have already checked this one off in the win column. Both are wrong.
Cleveland needs no extra incentives to put forth their best effort against the Steelers. But with Ben and Bell out the smell of blood in the water must be intoxicating. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the pattern of play we have been subjected to this season continues next Sunday.
Can you hear that chainsaw?