On Second Thought: the 2016 Divisional Playoffs
by Ivan Cole
A successful season
Yes, I know, I know. The line is that the only successful season is one that ends with the hoisting of the Lombardi. That would mean that there have only been six successful seasons in the history of the Franchise. It would also mean that some franchises have never had a successful season ever. So, let’s be realistic.
I am on record as stating that the standard for success for this particular collection of talent is to make it to the Conference Championship Game. Though familiar territory for fans, for some players, like Bud Dupree, winning a division championship was a new experience. For the majority of the roster, participating in a conference championship is something only a relative handful of players know about. Doing so would be novel for coaches such as Todd Haley and Mike Munchak.
It is important to not confuse the organization’s experience with championship level play with that of most players. The fact that Le’Veon Bell has only played in two playoff games, and that Antonio Brown scored his first playoff touchdown last week should be instructive.
I also think it is important to point out that we can now mark the success of Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and team leadership in rebuilding the team and getting them to the brink of a championship. Don’t get me wrong, I will be as disappointed as anyone if the team falls short after traveling so far. Nor am I attempting to inoculate the reader against failure as well. However, I would suggest that we be mindful that given the relative lack of experience in these matters, a winning performance would be a step beyond teams from the 70s and the last decade who needed multiple tries before claiming the ultimate prize.
Behind the mask of political correctness
Antonio Brown presented Steeler Nation, and the rest of the world, a peek behind the curtain of the Pittsburgh locker room via live video on Facebook. During his postgame remarks to the team Tomlin referred to the New England Patriots as “ass—-s”. This is, for some, a shocking (delightful for me) reveal for the normally unfailingly respectful Steelers head man.
But let’s get real here. If we could condense the essential sentiment held by the entirety of Steelers Nation toward the entirety of Patriots Nation to one word, ‘ass—-s’ would pretty much capture it. Although ‘jagoffs’ would be an acceptable alternative as well. In any case, this provides some texture to the whole ‘cheerleader’ narrative. Meanwhile, we can watch this week as the Steelers lie and deny that they really believe the Pats to be a bunch of ass—-s. Of course, the rest of us don’t have to operate under such restraints.
Speaking of ass—-s, only slightly less satisfying than the pleasure of witnessing the Steelers advance was watching the Cowboys suffer. Besides the fact that there is something spiritually diminishing about wishing ill of another, it could ultimately prove self-defeating as well.
Can’t help it though. After a generation of, more or less, bottom feeding futility, Jerry’s Nation seemed poised to, with no sense of humility, once again assume the mantle of self-righteous superiority on the path to their sixth Lombardi.
On the other hand, it was the consensus of the group I was with that a potential Super Bowl match with Dallas would be more favorable than to have to deal with a hot Aaron Rodgers. But some of us just couldn’t bring ourselves to root for the Cowboys. Hopefully, we will have the challenge of having to cross that Rodgers bridge in three weeks. For some reason, the network cameras that normally love to focus on the Dallas owner’s box didn’t choose to linger on the tears.
The national media will focus upon the Killer Bs, and not without good reason. But we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the heroic contributions of the following:
James Harrison. To this point he has been on the margins for getting into the Hall of Fame. But if he plays a central role in another championship run, it makes for a great case for inclusion.
Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree. We see the future of great Steelers linebacking developing before our eyes. Despite Shazier’s dominant play and four interceptions in four games, Dupree is probably playing better at the moment. That’s saying a lot.
The offensive and defensive lines. The sputtering and mistakes of the skill players have mattered less because it is glaringly obvious that these two groups are winning the war of the trenches, making Pittsburgh the better team.
Jesse James. It sure would be nice to have Ladarius Green, but Jesse’s performance allows the luxury of not missing him.
Eli Rodgers, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers. Almost makes you not notice that Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates aren’t contributing. Almost.
The defensive secondary. Remember when we used to hate watching them play?
Vince Williams. The antidote to Tyrek Hill.