Monday, January 12, 2009
Above: Steelers "chakra' seems to be in perfect balance.
That was some out-of-body experience and beat-down that "yer Stillers" put on the Diego Chargers yesterday. In fact, the whole team looked so focused and fresh that it reminded me of some of the Steelers greatest teams in the 70s that would dismember teams after a bye week.
I know, I know. Less than a week ago I suggested that in winning the SuperBowl that the Steelers offense would only score 40 points in three games! However, no matter how skeptical I was of their offensive line and running game, I still believed that this team would prevail nevertheless. Now what?
You know how people are saying that the Ravens are the team that no one wants to play? Well the Steelers right now are the juggernaut nobody wants to play. I'll write the following sentence only half meaning it: I feel sorry for the Baltimore Ravens. They are a beat up, tired, rapidly-aging football team that has a lot of heart but will have no answer for the gigantic buzzsaw they're going to encounter on Sunday night. Just think back to the third quarter when San Diego had the ball for a total of 17 seconds. That's what it looks like when you have both sides of the ball playing at an extremely high level.
In their win over Tennessee on Saturday, a war of attrition if there ever was one, no less than four Baltimore starters suffered injuries that forced them from the game and could impact their ability to play this week if indeed they play at all. Cornerback Samarri Rolle, lineman Willie Anderson, linebacker Terrell Suggs and brute running back LaRon McClain have injuies ranging from the knee, leg, shoulder and ankle. McClain and Rolle seem to have the more serious problems and either player would be a critical loss. These Ravens are gamers though. It wouldn't surprise me if they tried to play on crutches...that's how thoroughly they dislike the Steelers. Had Tennessee running back Chris Johnson not injured his ankle near halftime, the Steelers more than likely would be facing Tennessee this week...he was that dominant. So a quick back can gash the Ravens as we saw against Tennessee.
On the other side of the coin, the Steelers look about as healthy as they've been since they were seen carrying fans in at St. Vincent's earlier last summer. Sure, they're still without three players on injured reserve, linemen Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons and backup q.b. Charlie Batch, but the team has moved beyond these players long ago. Yesterday, the Steelers took the field looking so fresh and reinvigorated that some of the most nagging injuries seemed to have finally been put behind them. Mike Tomlin has this team playing with a purpose that is nothing short of frightening.
Big Ben was throwing rockets and showed no effects from his recent concussion. His toss to Hines Ward was one of the prettiest passes I've ever seen. Willie Parker looked, for the first time since breaking his leg, like the guy who terrorized the Seattle Seahawks in SuperBowl XL. Then there was the offensive line. These guys finally played a football game that the Steeler Nation could be proud of, a game where the running game took control. It was something every Steeler fan has been longing to see.
Willie Parker had 146 yards rushing out of a team total of 164, one of the strongest post season rushing games in team history. Big Ben, for his part had 184 yards passing a TD pass to Heath Miller and more importantly, no turnovers. He was protected so well that he was actually able to survey the field and make sound decisions. It was beautiful sight to behold. Roethlisberger also had a terrific "quick kick" that was downed inside the 10 and threw a block after a beautiful fake pitch that sprung open a nice gain. In short, he was a physical force that few other quarterbacks could have matched yesterday.
Santonio Holmes had a monster punt return for a touchdown that brought the Steelers back into a tie after San Diego opened with a rivers bomb to Vincent Jackson. It was the kind of game where all phases of the game were performing at a high level, the kind of game that can leave a team thirsting for more, not being satisfied until they are finally hoisting the Lombardi Trophy above their heads.
So complete in every aspect was this victory that without question the Steelers looked more formidable than they have at any time this year. True, they've played tougher defenses than the Chargers, but this was a big game. Now, they have their buddies coming back to Pittsburgh to settle some unfinished business...or so they think.
As I said earlier, I kind of feel sorry for them because they have a lot of heart... true football fans can appreciate that. But on Sunday, they're going to have their hearts cut out of their chests with no anesthesia! So confident are the Steelers and so healthy, that they will manhandle the Ravens in this game. The first half will be close as the Ravens will keep up on pure adrenaline. However the physicality of last week's game in Tennessee; the injuries, weariness from lack of rest (it's been about 17 weeks since they've had a bye week) and finally, the withering atmosphere of playing in Heinz Field, will catch up with them. The end result should be that this game will have an even wider margin of victory than the San Diego game. The fourth quarter should be one big party.
By gametime, we'll already know whether we'll be playing an all-Pennsylvania SuperBowl against a Pennsylvania city we really don't like, or meeting Ken Whisenhunt's "Steelers West" team. Either way, the storylines will be great, but when it's over, the six pack will be complete. There's no team left in the playoffs that will stop them now.
THE SIX PACK TROPHY
Above: The "Six Pack Trophy". The Steelers will be the first NFL franchise to claim this most elusive and valuable piece of hardware. Steeler fans will hoist many of these in doing their part for the team.