Merry Christmas, Steeler Nation

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Via Steelers.com

By Ivan Cole

That pretty much sums up a game that presented a little something for everyone and provided what could be called a Hollywood type ending. If you saw it, no explanation necessary. If you didn’t, you want to be sure to catch both the first and fourth quarters of any replay, that was the good part.

Steelers and Steelers fans were the obvious short term winners of the 31-27 Pittsburgh victory, but there were more winners than just the Steelers.

The NFL

The league needed this one. During a year when it struggled with ratings and its image, a showcase stinker on Christmas Day, which was inconveniently, for many, available only on a cable outlet—when the sports bars and other venues that many retreat to who don’t have pay networks at home might be closed, could have been a disaster. The gamble, not a bad one really, was that one of sport’s best rivalries would deliver.

The stakes didn’t need to be hyped. The AFC North title was on the line. It was a guaranteed elimination game for one team (Ravens), and just a disaster for the other (Steelers) with a loss. There was talent and star power, legitimate animosity between the two teams, and a promise of violence that would be brutal, but more tasteful than the goofball thug-fests that the Cincinnati Bengals display. It would be a playoff game in all but name only, featuring two well matched, and very familiar foes. The teams didn’t disappoint in that regard, but also provided a bonus.

Steelers/Ravens rarely disappoints the purists and football traditionalists who appreciate hard-nosed, defensive focused football. For three quarters that is pretty much exactly what this game delivered. But then in the fourth quarter it morphed into the offensive circus that the league, its partners and a good portion of the football watching public loves.

The Steelers/Ravens Rivalry

Sometimes, many times really, it is difficult for things to live up to the hype associated with them. As I write this, mere moments after the game, I already know that this will be discussed and replayed among fans and chroniclers of the sport for years into the future. Great individual performances, devastating mistakes and heroic drives delivered by both teams at the end. Antonio Brown’s game winning touchdown catch, which captured both the spirit of the game and the rivalry as he struggled to get the ball into the end zone as Ravens defenders were crushing him to the ground. The rivalry was a winner today.

Steelers Nation

For a non-Super Bowl, non-playoff circumstance, does it get any better than this? I had the pleasure on Christmas Eve to discuss the state of the team with PaVaSteelers and Bill Steinbach. We, as well as it seems, everyone, were excited about a game of this magnitude, played under these circumstances, with these stakes.

But there was precious little discussion of the impact of a loss and how that might lay waste to our holiday spirit. I don’t know about the rest of you who watched the game, but I was deep into reflection of what that misery would be like throughout the third quarter. Hard to imagine that this game won’t find itself occupying a special place in Steelers lore. Perhaps one of the better indications of the special intensity of this game is that during the last drive, Ben was having difficulty with the crowd noise at home.

As we know, for some fans only a Lombardi will do. And I personally believe that making the conference championship game is the minimum measure of team success given the big picture. But we must acknowledge that a joyful holiday season into the New Year has been established. It will be fun in Pittsburgh and anywhere where two or more Steelers fans are gathered. So let’s spend a little time on winners and losers.

Ben Roethlisberger

A great win for him because he would have been in line for Goat Number One if Pittsburgh had lost. I felt beforehand that the most likely, perhaps the only way the Steelers would lose this game is if Bad Ben showed up, and he most certainly did. He didn’t fall completely apart, though, and his passing and decision making were crucial during those three fourth quarter drives.

Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown

Bell’s play was the most consistent and spectacular of the Big Three, leaving commentators such as Tony Dungy literally speechless in trying to describe his artistry as an athlete. He scored two of the three last quarter touchdowns, and through most of the game was virtually unstoppable. Most people didn’t see his regionally broadcast performance in Buffalo. This national display may well establish him as a superstar in this league.

On the other hand, the better hyped Brown appeared on his way to being an underachieving non-factor in this effort. But then the character that has made him the best receiver in the league was on full display. Though he did not, could not, erase Bell’s brilliance, he pulled even with it in a few short strokes. Guess who the headliner will be tomorrow.

Offensive line

Though it was the cause of some temporary discomfort, the Ravens only reached Ben once. As I had joked with PaVa, there have been times this season when Ben looked as if he could have ordered a pizza and wait for it to be delivered. Today was one of those times. In a stunning sequence during the first quarter, they stuffed Bell down the Ravens defense’s throat. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil were reduced to non-factors for most of the game.

Demarcus Ayers, Xavier Grimble, Johnny Maxey, Eli Rogers

The question going into this game was, could Pittsburgh survive the loss of Stephon Tuitt, LaDarius Green, along with other missing in action players such as Darrius Heyward-Bey? Mind you, Ayers and Maxey had not even been issued a helmet to participate in an NFL game to this point. And their contributions, like those of Grimble and Rogers, were not mere special teams contributions. They were on the field, making plays when the outcome of the game was not certain. That’s taking this whole next man up thing to an entirely different level.

And besides Ben, who ended up on both sides of the equation, who were the losers this week?

Chris Boswell

His two kicks that went out of bounds earned him this distinction. Fortunately, neither resulted in negative consequences for the Steelers.

Terry Bradshaw

His ill-advised comments concerning head coach Mike Tomlin have now also proved to be badly timed. There are those who have still not forgiven him for not attending Chuck Noll’s funeral. The platform he was featured on has a reputation for having it in for Tomlin for no good reason (I mean, why?)

Tomlin’s players and those from other teams line up to sing his praises, the team just clinched a division title and eliminated their most hated rival from playoff contention on Christmas Day, and Tomlin’s next losing season will be his first one. Don’t get Homer J started on this one.

So, Happy New Year’s Steelers Nation. Time to start thinking about where you will be watching that first playoff game in January.

7 comments

  • Well, Bradshaw hasn’t gotten along with any coach since the Nixon Presidency, when some rube at Northeast Southwest Louisiana Cow College and School of Horse Manure Studies spent four years kissing his goober rear end. I believe Brad graduated with a degree in Feline Studies once he figured out there’s a “t” at the end.

    This truly was a game for the ages, and it brought Next Man Up to an entirely different level. Ya gotta give credit to the coaching staff for preparing and motivating — especially when you consider they were forced to use extensively a couple of rookies who never even got a hat before this game. Cheerleader? Wow. Give me those pom-poms any day.

    The NFL screwed up Big Time not putting this game on a major network. Their ratings have tanked all season, and that’s going to have ramifications down the road when it’s time to renew the broadcast rights. This game would have given them their biggest national audience of the year, but NO. They put it on a cable channel that gives you Thursday Night Monster Horror Chill Football Theater in 3-D with color rush. NFLnet’s ratings are so bad, you could probably go there to hide from the police because, most of the time, no one will ever see you on there. Not only did this preclude Homer from seeing the game live (family obligations out of town and a family dinner), it deprived them of a 30-plus ratings share that they so desperately needed. Trust me, they screwed up.

    Hats off to the Ravens and the rivalry. They both showed how it’s done. You play hard. You play 60 minutes, fight for every blade of grass and extend to cross the plane of the goal line. Homer’s perfectly fine with that Ravens guy saying the better team lost. That’s exactly what he should believe, and say. They’ll be back next year. And so will the Steelers. It’s the best rivalry in the NFL, with passion and respect all around. Not like the Bungles, who seem like a bunch of heel stiffs from WWE.

    So let’s keep everybody healthy during the Faux Bye week against the GPODAWUND of Cleveveland. Maybe Brad could go up there to brush up on his spelling. Meaningful football in January is much of what is good in life.

    Happy New Year.

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    • Sunday’s game was one for the ages, and so was Mike Tomlin’s comment today, when a reporter at his weekly press conference asked him about the Bradshaw comment.

      “Terms like cheerleader guy, to me, fall outside the bounds of critique or criticism,” Tomlin said. “They probably fall more toward the area of disrespect and unprofessional. But what do I know? I grew up a Dallas fan. Particularly a Hollywood Henderson fan.”

      Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, of course, got into a spat with Bradshaw in 1979 just before the Super Bowl, saying Bradshaw was so dumb he couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the c and a.

      If Terry wants to get into an insult-fest, he should stick to someone in his own league. He’s waaay out of his depth here.

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      • It is neither a matter of being glib or overstating the case to say that what Bradshaw has done is really, well, dumb.

        Tomlin’s comments were accurately quoted, but look up the video on Steelers.com to get the full effect. A room of reporters at the press conference roared with laughter as Tomlin, who you might expect to diplomatically sidestep the matter, delivered a concise critique, disrespectful and unprofessional, followed by a dagger thrust, the Hollywood Henderson comment that might of flown over the heads of younger members of Steelers Nation, but was devastating in its precision, appropriateness and wit.

        As a friend of mine is fond of saying, Terry engaged in a battle of wits unarmed.

        It is clear that Terry has few if any friends in Steelers Nation on this one. Even though almost everyone is mindful that Bradshaw is a family member, the condemnation of both the assessment and the method is firm, and in some cases brutal. Players, fans, the media and others associated with the team are reacting with derision and barely controlled contempt. It difficult to say what is more offensive, the betrayal of the community and organization that made his current status possible, or the stupidity of his assertions.

        Why would someone in his position, even if his sentiments on this matter are honest, allowed himself to be tied to the sinking professional ship that is Jason Whitlock, who has apparently decided that his lifeline to redemption is to discredit Tomlin. Terry comes off appearing to be a useful idiot in that effort. You have to wonder if this person, who’s job it is to promote the game, finds Tomlin to be subpar, what must his opinion be of the majority of coaches in the game at this time? To be certain, there are Tomlin haters that secretly delighted in his comments. But the key word is ‘secret’. This would be a time for all, but the most out of touch anti-Tomlins to keep their heads down and their powder dry. And hope for an early exit from the playoffs, preferably at the hands of Robert Morris.

        On a more compassionate note, one has to wonder what demons Terry is fighting to engage in such self destructive behavior. He has placed himself at some professional risk, and he has burned some bridges in Pittsburgh. Can you imagine the reception he might receive on alumni weekend?

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        • Agreed entirely, Ivan. Bradshaw was Lady Astor to Tomlin’s Churchill.

          I’ve been wondering about the genesis of Coach’s remarks. He waited four days to respond, and pretty much knew he was going to be asked about this at the weekly news conference. So he had time not only to have an answer at the ready, but, also, to run it past the rest of the family before uttering those words.

          Mike Tomlin is secure in his job, and doesn’t need to ask permission to defend himself. But he is very much a key member of the organization – a family member in the family business. My guess is that he ran his response past Bert, and then Artie and probably Dan, as a “whaddya think?”prior to making his remarks. That’s how things seem to work in the extended Rooney Family.

          It is a fact that there are long-time members of the Steeler Family who have had it up to here with Bradshaw. I can”t imagine Tomlin getting any pushback for his remarks – either before or after. In fact, to borrow a phrase I heard somewhere lately, there might have been some cheerleading coming for the corner offices on the South Side.

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  • What a game. Unfortunately, I missed most of it. With all that was going on, I had to record it and watch it later. About midway through the 3rd quarter with the Steelers down a FG, my dvr went out. Frantically I cut to the live feed and the Steelers were just starting their game winning drive.

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  • Great summary, and I was pretty upset about not getting to watch too. Greedy Goodell isn’t doing the league any favors, and the sooner he’s gone the better as far as I’m concerned.

    I’ve been proclaiming too what a classic Steelers-Ravens game this was. It reminded me immediately of Santonio Holmes’ catch in the very, very front of the endzone. Steelers-Ravens football isn’t about getting it into the end zone, it’s about crossing the plane. Jusczxkqyc’s diving TD will be mostly forgotten since Brown surpassed it, but it’s another example in the same game of what the rivalry is all about.

    That brings me to the topic of Bud Dupree. I know I’ve said negative things about him before, and I’m going to again. I don’t dislike the guy; I think he’s a decent player who could still become a great one. But standing around watching a FS try to bring down a FB by himself, in the red zone, in any game, ought to earn you a very uncomfortable week of practice. In a Steelers-Ravens game? That shame lasts a long time. It was late in the game, and he was probably tired from playing more snaps than he ever has and perhaps still not fully in shape, but you got to find the energy to get in on the tackle in that situation. In the end, it’s probably best that he didn’t I admit, because it left time for the Steelers to respond, but it’s still an ugly look. I love, though, that Dupree got yet another sack chasing down a QB trying to leave the pocket. That guy is an absolute monster in pursuit, and as long as we can generate interior pressure with good coverage downfield to force QB’s out of the pocket, Dupree is going to keep ringing up sacks whether he ever learns how to actually rush the passer or not. Sooner or later they’ll learn to roll out the other way, but it would just be too funny to see Dupree end up with 10 sacks on a year without ever beating a blocker.

    Finally, it’s tough to say enough about Bell tearing it up on the ground against the Ravens. It is now official that nobody in the league can stop the Steelers running game, and I don’t blame the OL for not wanting to rest for the Cleveland game. You don’t want that fire to die down. In a way, all the injuries to WR’s may have been a blessing as it forced us to really establish our running game. If we can get back Green and Coates or DHB fully functional for the postseason too, to add that deep ball dimension back in, this offense is primed to be really, really good.

    Right now, though, I’m just going to relish the joy of a really, really, good game.

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  • Yes, as the fourth quarter started my wife said, “This is going to ruin your Christmas, isn’t it?” My son and I both shouted YES, but –ho ho — it only ended up making it merrier. The greatest gift of all, hand delivered by Antonio Brown. As for Ben, his play actually reminded me of his Super Bowls, particularly vs the Cards. Not MVP, but when push came to shove he got the job done.

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