So Close, Yet So Far Away: Patriots at Steelers
I’m still busy processing this game. Strangely, I don’t quite know how to feel about it yet. On the one hand I’m glad the Steelers weren’t completely embarrassed, but on the other hand I’m frustrated that they seemed to have a genuine chance until the last half of the fourth quarter or so, but couldn’t capitalize on the gifts they received from the Patriots or from their own players.
On the one hand I’m disappointed in some guys I thought should have shown more than they did, but I’m pleasantly surprised by the unexpected contributions of some unheralded players. So I guess for the moment I’m just going to throw some of those things out there, good and bad, and give myself (and all of us) time to digest things a bit more.
I don’t know how it was for the rest of you, but CBS out here in New Mexico insisted on showing the bitter end of the Raiders-Jacksonville game, despite the fact that the outcome was certain by the last three minutes or so. This included showing us the players filing past one another after the game was over, while the beginning of the Steelers/Patriots match ticked away. So I haven’t yet seen the first five minutes or so of the first quarter, but gather nothing of note happened, except that both teams turned the ball over. That wasn’t terribly surprising for the Steelers, but was a bit more surprising for the Patriots.
Nonetheless, the score was still 0-0 by the time CBS graciously allowed me to see what was happening, so that was gratifying. After all, it could potentially have been about 14-0, Patriots, at that point.
In fact, it was indeed 14-0 during the second quarter, and the surprise was, the Steelers bounced right back and scored the next 10 points. The sad part was, it could have been more. The touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey which was eliminated by a holding call was pretty annoying. The missed field goal after that was even more annoying.
Which brings me to my first disappointment. Chris Boswell, Mr. Dependable, wasn’t what we’ve come to take for granted. Mind you, I don’t blame him for the missed 54-yard field goal late in the game. In fact, I’m a bit disappointed in Mike Tomlin, Mr. “I Don’t Live In My Fears,” for not going for it on 4th-and-2.
It’s hard to see the downside of going for it at that point as opposed to asking your kicker to nail a field goal three yards longer than his career long, especially on a day he obviously wasn’t at his best. And Boswell didn’t just miss it short, like Shaun Suisham famously did on a similar occasion. It was long enough—it was just way off. I really hope the two misses don’t mess with his head. He may give the impression of having ice water in his veins, but he’s a human being.
But let’s try to leaven the disappointments with the successes. While Chris Boswell may have had a bad day, the rest of the kick team was stellar. Jordan Berry had some terrific punts, especially the one after Belichick decided to make him re-punt rather than accept the illegal formation penalty, and he made an even better punt. I love it.
But this is nothing to long snapper Greg “Old Man” Warren successfully retaining the fumble recovery despite the best efforts of a guy half his age and who probably has biceps the size of Warren’s thighs. Old People Power!!!!
Since I’ve set up a sort of bi-polar pattern here, let’s stay with the turnover theme and note my chagrin that the Steelers’ offense managed to capitalize on neither of the lovely turnovers the defense and special teams got for them. This is, you might say, sub-optimal. In both instances they began on the New England side of the field, and in both instances they were unable to close the deal.
And speaking of the offense, there were two things I found particularly heartening—the improvement of Landry Jones throughout the game and the clutch third-down-and-very-long conversions, both thanks to Jones and Cobi Hamilton.
Wait, who? Yes, the same Cobi Hamilton signed off the practice squad last week. He was a bright spot in an offense that needed one. I’m wondering if this is some sort of cosmic test, to take away all the skill players one by one and see how long it takes before the offense is completely crippled. Thank heavens we still have Le’Veon Bell, but when he is almost the only skill player left it reduces his effectiveness.
As for Landry, he definitely looked better out there as the game progressed, and made some really nice throws. Just not quite enough of them, under the circumstances.
A downer is of course the Antonio Brown whatever-that-was. Seemed like more than a cramp and less than an ACL, but time will reveal the extent of the damage. Hopefully he’ll be back good as new after the bye week.
And I sure hope a lot of other people are back good as new after the bye week as well, because this is getting ridiculous. I noted that all of the NE guys who were listed as questionable whose names I recognized played in the game, including, unfortunately, Julian Edelman, Brandon Boldin, and Jamie Collins. As has been frequently noted of late, “Next Man Up” is all very well, but there comes a point where the next man up is inevitably going to be an enormous step down from the guy he’s replacing. Particularly when you’re down to the third or fourth guy on the depth chart.
Back to the positives—despite everything I found the play of the (greatly attenuated) defense to be encouraging. There was a boneheaded penalty—somebody needs to tell Artie Burns that tackling a guy and planting them are going to incur rather different reactions from the referees—but there were some really great moments, like when they had Tom Brady running for his life, or when Ryan Shazier knifed into the backfield to take the runner down.
Overall the effort was insufficient, because the team didn’t win, but honestly I blame the offense far more for that. If you can hold a pissed-off Tom Brady on his Revenge Tour to 27 points, 14 of those coming after the defense was thoroughly gassed, you’re probably at least on the right track. Unfortunately without Ben the offense can’t reliably put up more than 27 points. In fact, even with Ben the offense can’t reliably put up more than that, due to a combination of bad luck and incomprehensible implosions.
Well, it’s getting late and that’s all I have to say now. I’m sure there will be more—much more—from us tomorrow.