The signs of a serious physical thrashing were everywhere. Whether it was Steeler safety Ryan Clark's near assassination hit on New England wideout Wes Welker, or James Harrison's violent sacks that led to two fumbles by quarterback Matt Cassel or a furious Casey Hampton sacking Cassel on the play after being flagged for defensive holding, you could just feel the tenor of this football game, and if you happened to be wearing a navy blue jersey with silver-white pants with a red and blue stripe running down the side...well God help you because it was that dangerous out there. A football field is not a place for the faint of heart on a good day. But on a day like yesterday where a team that prides itself on being the most physical team in the league decides to unleash its' full fury on a hated foe, the results are predictable.
This Steeler team is playing a schedule that has been rated as the most difficult since 1940. Beacuse of this, going into the year, most pundits were predicting an 8-8 or 9-7 season at best. Now the Steelers are in the midst of a four week swing that takes them to New England, back home to play the Cowboys, then at Baltimore for possibly a division championship showdown and then against the AFC-leading Tennessee Titans. The Steelers then close out their regular season at home in what should be Romeo Crennell's final game as head coach of the Browns.
Strangely enough, the only game that "worries" me is that Browns game, because the team will have just completed playing a murderer's row of teams that owned a 34-14 record (.708 winning percentage) after yesterday's action. That's known as a let down. However, the amazing phenomenon that is occuring now is that as the difficulty of the schedule manifests itself to the fullest, the team is reaching a zenith of focus and intensity.
Above: In the tunnel, "Trouble on the way".
Just look at the offensive line yesterday. They allowed one sack (a corner blitz) and dominated the line of scrimmage to the point where the Steelers had 160 yards rushing between Mewelde Moore and Willie Parker. The hitting wasn't confined to the offensive and defensive teams either. Even the special teams, long an achilles heel for this team had some fine plays. Keyaron Fox had some massive hits and a muffed kick recovery. Santonio Holmes was sprung on a 29 yard punt return (the longest of the year) when a runaway truck ran over a Patriot along the sidelines.
Wasn't it great seeing a near-empty Gillette Stadium with the Patriots "faithful" having vacated the premises to the few thousand Steeler fans who once again managed to gain admission to a foreign stadium?
The only criticism I had of the coaching for this game was the decision to kick off rather than deferring to the second half. With a defense like we have, the sooner we can get them on the field the better. I'll take my chances anytime that they'll be able to stop that opening drive. I also really appreciate getting that kickoff to start the second half. That possession, to me, has always been much more valuable. After all, it's later in the game, after the break, and gives the team a chance to establish control in the drive that Bill Cowher once called, "The most important possession of the game."
But don't get me wrong, I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed the rollicking effort by the entire Steelers team during weather that Big Ben called, "Probably the worst weather that I've ever played in." That's what made it even more memorable!