Sunday, November 16, 2008

Done Only Once In 12,838 Games

Yes that was some football game that your Steelers played on Sunday afternoon against the San Diego Chargers. When the snow flurries finally cleared and we were able to view the scoreboard, we learned that the Steelers and Chargers did something that had NEVER been done before in the prior 12,838 regular and post season games ever played in history! It was the final score, 11-10. Amazingly, that score had never been recorded before Sunday's contest. It almost didn't happen in this game too, because on thte last play of the game, Troy Polamalu picked up a ball that looked like a backwards pass and ran it into the end zone. The zebras conferred with the oracle and determined it an "illegal forward pass". Well to everyone not betting on this game it didn't matter, the Steelers still won. However, there was reportedly much weeping and gnashing of teeth in sports books across the country. But that's another story.

Steeler safety, Troy Polamalu (above) had one of the most amazing interceptions ever.

The story of this game was how the Steelers managed to roll up 410 yards of offense with nary a touchdown to show for it. For that matter, when was the last time you saw a quarterback throw for 308 yards and no interceptions, have a running back rake in 115 yards and yet not put a touchdown on the board? It's partically an impossible feat when you think about it.

Actually, the score that really made the difference was James Harrison's safety during a sack of Phillip Rivers in the second quarter. The Steelers were already trailing 7-0 at this point after LaDanian Tomlinson had punched in a score in the first period. That score was aided by a very questionable interference call on Ike Taylor who on replays was run into by a San Diego receiver. The only highlight for the Steelers in the first period was a phenomenal fingertip interception off the grass by Troy Polamalu. This interception, however, did not reap any points for the Steelers as Jeff Reed missed badly on a 51 yard kick that probably shouldn't have been attempted in the first place.

Later in that quarter on their next possession, the Steelers drove down to the 7 of San Diego. On third down from the eight, Nate Washington took the ball to the half yard line only to see Mewelde Moore stuffed on fourth down.

James Harrison had a safety, a sack and an interception, a rare NFL hat trick

San Diego's first possession of the second quarter led to Harrison's safety. However the Steelers were becoming frustrated by bad starting field position of their own. As an example of this, following the safety, San Diego's subsequent free kick from the 20 wound up after another Steelers penalty with the ball on the Pittsburgh five yard line and another long field.

Late in the second quarter with the score 7-2, San Diego's offense was really beginning to click. It was beginning to look as though the Chargers might race out to a 14-2 lead. However, all-pro outside linebacker James Harrison had other ideas as he intercepted Rivers on the ten and returned the ball to the 43. A few plays later and out of timeouts, Santonio Holmes made a key play by fighting to get out of bounds with only three seconds left on the clock. Jeff Reed would add the field goal that further tightened the score to 7-5.

The Steelers received the opening kickoff of the second half as the had deferred to start the game. They proceeded to march up field but a major play to Matt Spaeth was negated by a Hines Ward holding penalty, one of three penalties Ward would receive on this day. After the drive stalled, Jeff Reed kicked his second successful field goal, a 41 yarder, giving the Steelers their first lead at 8-7.

At this point in the game, the Steelers had 50 offensive plays to 25 for the Chargers. Their time of possession was 24:55 to 11:22.

On the Chargers next drive kicker Nate Kaeding missed right on a 43 yard field goal, so the Steelers carried an 8-7 lead into the fourth quarter. As you can imagine, the situation was very tense as it always is when one team has rolled up impressive yardage yet doesn't have much of a lead to show for it.

Sure enough, on their next drive the Chargers finally managed to threaten a score. However on a big third and goal play, Antonio Gates, San Diego's big tight end, couldn't come up with a catch in the end zone which led to Kaeding kicking a 22 yard field goal, which gave San Diego a late lead in this one.

However in a masterful drive over the final six minutes of the game, Ben Roethlisberger engineered a beautiful drive punctuated by crisp short passing routes run from the Steelers famous "bunch formation".

The Steelers actually scored on a Willie Parker run, however it was negated on a hold by Pittsburgh tight end Sean McHugh. But the Steelers had already done the damage, because they had already run the clock down to 15 seconds. They brought out Jeff Reed on third down (in case of a botched snap) but it wasn't necessary as Reed gave it a center-cut kick into the open end of the stadium.

Following the Polamalu fumble recovery highjinks, the game was ruled over by the beleagured zebras and to the relief of millions of Steelers fans. Immediately afterwards, thousands of fans could be seen coming in from window ledges around the Pittsburgh area. To their great relief and to the relief of Coach Mike Tomlin, Big Ben looked a lot better and didn't have to endure many life-threatening hits.

One thing is becoming very obvious as this most difficult schedule in over 40 years plays itself out: The Steelers have been playing good teams for so long now that's it's almost like they've been in the playoffs all year.

Next Thursday, the Steelers get what one would think should be an "easy" game against the Cincinnati Bengals. However, as everyone knows (just ask the Philadelphia Eagles) in the NFL anything can happen if you let it. Apparently the Eagles thought they had an easy win before they finished with a 13-13 tie (the first tie since the Steelers and Falcons did it six years ago). But if you're a Steeler fan, this is a good thing because if for no other reason it shows your team that their next opponent can indeed be dangerous and shouldn't be taken lightly. After the Bengals game the schedule reverts back to its' "murderers row" status for the duration. After Baltimore's loss to the Giants today, the Steelers have a one game lead on the Baltimorons. Yes it was a great game today, but in the crazy world of the NFL this one very easily could have finshed up in the "L" column.

GAME NOTES: The Steelers were penalized 115 yards on 13 penalties....The Steelers finished with 36:31 in timne of possession...Wille Parker, looking sharp, averaged 4.6 yards per carry...Hines Ward had his second big game in a row, pulling in 11 catches for 124 yards. However he had three costly penalties negating some big gains...River hit on 15 of 26 throws for 159 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions...LaDanian Tomlinson was kept under control as he had 18 carries for 57 yards (3.16 per carry) as well as 40 receiving yards on three catches. His 97 all purpose yards on 21 plays averaged 4.6 yards per attempt.