The Steelers’ Christmas Gift to their Nation
Photo via Steelers.com
By Ivan Cole
Last season the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens provided Steelers Nation, and the rest of the football loving world, a high-stakes, high drama matchup for Christmas, capped by Antonio Brown’s Immaculate Extension, a division title and a playoff berth. For that positive bit of holiday entertainment, the scheduling gods at the NFL decided that it would be good for business if the Steelers worked on Christmas Day for the second consecutive year. One wonders if somewhere someone is mulling the perverse notion that Christmas for Pittsburgh could be what Thanksgiving is for Detroit and Dallas. Let’s hope not.
The Steelers delivered again, only this time the gift was for their fans alone. What they gave them, appropriate for the occasion, was peace.
Pittsburgh has been enjoying one of its most successful seasons, but it has been a mostly unrelenting, high stress affair. The endings have been mostly happy and satisfying. Steelers fans have gotten the wins that we crave, an early seat into the playoffs, and a tie for best record in the conference. The football watching public has gotten a consistent diet of high drama and last second heroics.
While Steelers Nation can appreciate this kind of play as disinterested observers, they neither need or want this kind of thing when it involves their own team. So, while the game was almost certainly a boring, disappointing blowout to most fans, for followers of the Steelers it was just what the doctor ordered—a dominating performance that did not disturb the good feeling of not just the day, but with a Bye secured, pushed back any feelings of anxiety for a fortnight, which is the most likely time anything of significance will occur.
Let’s break down the components of the gift:
-Reassurance that the team suffered no lasting psychological damage from their last outing. It wasn’t just that they overwhelmed a Houston team that was simply too broken to put up much of a fight (a shame given that when scheduled it held as much promise as last season’s Ravens matchup), but also it was how they won. Rebecca emphasized that it was businesslike, but it was joyful as well. If they were angry or bitter they disguised it well. It demonstrated a level of resilience which was encouraging to me.
-Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. No Antonio Brown, no problem. Bryant is now consistently showing the level of play expected of him, which is very bad news for teams who thought they only needed to figure out how impede AB. As good as Brown/Bryant has shown, JuJu is demonstrating, not just promise, but performance that is earning him to right to have his name mentioned in the same breath as the other two. Who wants to have to figure out how to cope with these three in the playoffs?
-Vance McDonald. I wasn’t impressed with his acquisition earlier this year. I stand corrected. Another receiving headache for opposing defensive coordinators.
-Le’Veon and Ben. Why Bell was the number one vote getter for the Pro Bowl was on display. The only certain defense for him is injury. Ben’s mistakes have become more noticeable because they occur so infrequently now. Regardless of the opponent, you now believe this team can score anytime they get their offense gets their hands on the ball.
-Chris Boswell. Virtually automatic lately.
-Mike Hilton, Artie Burns and Joe Haden. Somehow, I was thinking the Hilton’s play would level off at some point. Guys you pick up off the street are not supposed to be this good. But tell that to Al Villanueva. Burns is more effective when Haden’s around. DeAndre Hopkins may have been much more of a problem if Haden wasn’t around.
-Eli Rodgers. Looks like he may be getting this punt returning role down. If so, he will have found his place on this team.
-B.J. Finney, Rosie Nix and Justin Hunter. Just as Chris Hubbard yields center stage to Marcus Gilbert, Finney reminds us that there is more than one reserve offensive lineman capable of delivering. The Nix and Hunter touchdowns have three benefits: First, great feel good stories from role players down the roster on a national stage. Confirmation of the Standard. And, particularly in the case of Nix, something else for opponents to worry about in short yardage.
-No injuries of note.
Looking forward, since the league seems determined to assist the Pats to the top seed, if I were in charge, I would make the following decisions.
-You have seen the last of the B’s (except for Boswell) before the divisional round. Same for Ramon Foster, and maybe McDonald as well. If Landry Jones, Ridley and the rest of the receiver corps can’t get it done against the Browns, then too bad. Put it on the bottom of the roster to win a game.
-Conversely, keep Bryant and Haden working. For Haden it would be nice for him to see the other side of a late season, meaningless Pittsburgh vs Cleveland game.
12-3. Possibly 13-3 and a Bye. I’ll take it.