Ravens @ Steelers: A 38-Tums Game*
Photo via Steelers.com
If you watched the game you have no need of an explanation for the headline. If you have watched the Steelers at all this season you probably don’t need an explanation either. I had the joy of watching the game with both my sons, and it was a corker. After taking a 14-0 lead in the early going, the Steelers had to make it interesting for the next 45 minutes or so. And the Ravens managed to make it interesting by seemingly Bungling the end of the game, not at least going for a Hail Mary pass in the waning seconds. But in fact it was T.J. Watt’s strip sack that decided their fate. And a timely play it was, too. It was, I believe, the only sack of the game by the Steelers’ defense, and it couldn’t have been more welcome. Except, perhaps, to Joe Flacco.
There’s just something about this team. They are scarily slow on defense in the middle of the field without Ryan Shazier. The tackling was improved tonight, enough to come up to perhaps junior varsity level, but Alex Collins frequently ripped through them like a hot knife through butter. Or Javoris Allen. Or the friggin’ fullback.
On the offensive side, Ben threw for 506 yards, generally a recipe for disaster. There were some big catches, but also a few drops and a couple of either bad throws or poorly-run routes—as usual it’s pretty hard to tell. Antonio Brown was otherworldly. Le’Veon Bell looked fairly mortal after he left the game and returned, and I suspect he’s going to be on the injury report. Vance McDonald came up big, until he left with a different injury than the one that’s kept him out so much of the year. Eli Rogers made some good catches, grabbing the opportunity he was given with JuJu Smith-Schuster suspended, and Martavis Bryant drew a few big PI penalties. Jesse James had perhaps his best game ever. But it would be difficult to call the offense a well-oiled machine for the bulk of the game.
The Ravens’ defense looked as good as advertised, and I sincerely hope we don’t have to see them in the playoffs. On the other hand, for about 50 minutes of almost every game the Steelers look capable of losing to anybody, and then they win the game somehow or other. It’s been said many times before—it’s better to be lucky than good. But it isn’t luck, exactly—it’s just they have the seeming ability to crank into another gear, but not a moment before it’s necessary.
I’m not going to say much more about this game. It’s very difficult to type when you are lying on the floor moaning gently. I guess I need to get a special stand for my iPad that can be angled down to make it easier, because it’s clearly going to be necessary.
Another thing that is necessary, although I probably won’t manage it, is to avoid reading all the commenters and callers to the sports radio stations whining about how the Steelers will never beat the Patriots that way. This is patently obvious, of course. The thing is, they have beat everyone in a different manner. All season long the complaint has gone out—this team has no identity.
In one sense this is true. We thought they were going to be a fantastic offense that would carry a still-young and growing defense. Boy was that wrong. And just about the time we thought the defense was going to carry the offense they started springing leaks. And somehow or other the offense got its act together and started carrying the defense. Sort of.
And now, this seems to change moment to moment. This game is a perfect example. The Steelers put up 14 points right away, thanks to a timely interception, and it looked like a cakewalk. And then the defense started hemorrhaging big plays and the offense started going three and out. Then the offense got it together, and the defense had a last stand, and somehow or other they won yet again. It’s a different script every week, although the plot line is very similar. I just hope I can survive another few games.
In the meantime, your 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers are the AFC North Champions. It’s merely a milestone on the intended journey, but it’s a significant one nonetheless. Whatever happens in the ensuing three games, the Steelers will be the division champs. Given everything, this isn’t something to take for granted.
Who knows what next week will bring? I fully admit that I will sign on for another nail-biter won at the last second. I’m not expecting it, especially given how the defense looked for a considerable portion of the game, but it wouldn’t shock me either. I think I’m finally beyond being shocked by this team.
I was never a fan of the thrill rides at amusement parks. The sedate old-school roller coasters that never ever made you feel in the least danger of a violent death were just about my speed. So this Steelers team isn’t really in line with my preferred sort of entertainment. But in my 64 years I’ve gradually learned that you have to take people as they are. And this is certainly true for the Steelers. There will never be any comfort with this team. We can’t ever feel that if the offense will put up X number of points the defense will hold it. But there is always hope, and isn’t that, in the end, better than comfort?
*My eldest son suggested I begin the article thus: “I’m writing this post for the half a dozen or so Steelers fans who did not succumb to cardiac arrest during the game.” That may be a high estimate.