Keep Hope Alive!
It was a must win game for Green Bay and simply another chance for Pittsburgh to put themselves in the win category, then cross their fingers with respect to losses by other AFC playoff hopefuls. Big Ben didn’t have a great day, overthrew AB on two deep post routes, then an ill advised qual on a crosser that was picked by linebacker AJ Hawk. But otherwise did what he needed to do to win, including an astute scramble and hobble into the end zone for a much needed TD. Given the weather conditions, Big Ben handled his business on the frozen turf of Lambeau. Antonio Brown again showed the steadiness and consistency of a top NFL receiver, hauling in 6 passes for 105 yards, minus of course the two overthrows which would have been TD’s as he was wide open. AB also returned two punts for 41 yards, creating well needed field position. Passes were distributed between 9 different receivers, including of all people Matt Spaeth, who held onto an 11 yard touchdown reception.
The offensive star of the day was rookie running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell has proven to be an essential element of our offensives productivity and is playing with a solid sense of purpose and desire. Bell carried 26 times for 124 yards, he had a 4.8 ypc and 1 touchdown. He also had his first fumble of his rookie campaign, which came at a very inopportune time. Midway through the third quarter leading 17-14, the Steelers were pinned at their own 2 yard line. Bell got stripped on the first carry, then the Pack went in for a walk in touchdown. You had to feel sorry for this kid as he sat stoned faced on the bench, then Bell came back with a vengeance on the next series. Taking a hand off right tackle, Bell ripped off a 25 yard run while hurtling a defender. Le’Veon has proven his metal to me, if he can stay healthy in his career the Steeler have a lot to look forward to in the coming seasons.
Facing a back up journeyman cast off in quarterback Matt Flynn, the Steelers caught a break with Aaron Rogers sitting on the sideline nursing his injured collar bone. However Flynn was more than adequate going 21-39 for 232 yards, he did a fine job of managing the offense and orchestrating long time consuming drives. Giving up 31 points to Matt Flynn meant Aaron Rogers would’ve killed us, they also gave up 151 yards rushing, albeit between 3 running backs. They went without the injured Jarvis Jones as well as the oft injured Lamar Woodley, which gave back-ups Stephenson Sylvestry and Terence Garvin substantial playing time. Rookie linebacker Vinnie Williams had a fairly solid game, I’ve been waiting for him to step up and show some dominance, he certainly had flashes today. One thing I don’t like however, is the way he celebrates and preens after making plays. Certainly players need to celebrate, but c’mon Vinnie, you’re a Steeler linebacker.
There was of course the typical meltdown with 4:42 left in the first half and clinging to a 7-7 tie. The defense, as has been their trademark, let the opposition waltz down the field like a cozy afternoon stroll through the park, giving up a cake easy TD making the score 14-7. If the powers that be don’t see this as a major issue that needs immediate repair in the off season, then some definite changes need to made. You can count on this defense giving up late game drives as much as you can count on 2014 coming in at exactly 11:59 December 31.
Credit needs to be given where credit is due, certainly. Cornerback Cortez Allen had a nifty pick six on an under thrown ball. Then, just when the game was tied and on the line with 3:00 left, the great Troy Polamalu with intense hustle, flew across the field on a QB scramble and forced a fumble which was then recovered by Brett Keisel.
It was a banner day for the Special Teams, a magnificent fake punt that went for 30 yards, a blocked field goal, expert pooch punting, and lofty kick off returns. The fake field goal was a thing of beauty, perfectly orchestrated and executed. Right at the start of the 3rd quarter McBriar takes the snap and rolls right and while on the run, lofted a gorgeous pass twenty yards down field to of all people, tight end David Paulson. They play went for 30 yard as well as a roughing the passer penalty attached to the play. But they weren’t bereft of gaffes, including allowing a 70 yard kick off return with little more than 1:20 left in the game, setting the Packers up nicely with an opportunity to tie the game. If the great Myron Cope were still alive, I’m sure he would’ve responded appropriately with a sighful, “Oiyee!, and double Oyiee!”
We’ll leave Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley off the hook for a second week in a row, given the weather conditions in the Frozen Tundra and what was at stake, he clearly had an efficient enough game plan in place to give us the success we needed. I’ll even fain from heaping a mountain of blame on Dick Lebeau, he had back-ups to work with, and let’s be honest, some players lack the talent to really contribute. Additionally, “C’Mon Ike!!!” Catch the damn ball every once in a while!. Ike has been one of the top defense backs for over ten years, 3 Super Bowl appearances on his resume and his only has about 4 interceptions to his illustrious career. Anyhow, he always comes through when we need him and Steeler Nation has mad love for him, I dog him but I love him too.
Speaking of C’Mon Man, Tomlin, you need to learn about clock management and using your timeouts appropriately. It hasn’t come up to bite you square in the ass yet, but your close calls in late game situational moments, must improve! Otherwise a sound job by the coaching staff, and I’ll say that in the spirit of the holidays. They did come into a hostile environment against a desperate team, they fought hard keeping their focus throughout the afternoon in what could have been a really ugly day in Steeltown.
Now we wait for the stars to align and the Football Gods to smile down on us for a long shot of a chance at the playoffs. On one hand this team doesn’t deserve to make the playoffs, on the other hand they have been improving marginally all year and any shot to compete in the playoffs is a good thing. Beating the Brownies in the home closer shouldn’t be too problematic, getting the Rat-Birds, the Chargers, and the Dolphins to all loose for us is a horse of a different color. In the meantime we’ve fought a good fight in 2013, far too many shortcomings, but I would say there are plenty of things that should improve in the forthcoming season and certain not a year where we should hang our heads low.
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