Monday, September 21, 2009

STEELERS FINALLY SUCCEED IN GIVING AWAY A GAME IN SECOND TRY THIS SEASON




Last week, the Steelers almost gave away their home opener against Tennessee with a Hines Ward fumble in the waning seconds. They managed to win that one in OT. This week, playing on the road in a stadium where they'd lost ten of their prior eleven games during the last several decades, they this time succeeded in losing a game they should have won, falling to the Chicago Bears 17-14.

Along the way, Jeff Reed pulled two medium-range field goal attempts that would have locked up the win while Santonio Holmes dropped, what more than likely would have been a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Reed, who kicked the winning field goal last week hasn't looked good even when his kicks have gone through this season. He has uncharacteristically been pushing, then pulling kicks and several have come out very low, barely clearing the crossbar.

Reed, whose kicks have always come out splitting the uprights and sailing very long seems to be in the type of slump that even good golfers occasionally have. He's not hitting the ball crisply and the result is ugly-looking kicks that sometimes sail off mark. To this writer, Reed's deviation from his normal dependability looks to be a much bigger potential right now than the running game woes that had Steeler followers in a near-suicide watch last week.



ABOVE: Jeff Reed is practically a legendary Pittsburgh party-animal, but yesterday's game was certainly no "day at the beach" for him as he pulled two fourth quarter field goals en route to a 17-14 Steeler loss. The Steelers are now 1-1.

While the running game still isn't where the Steelers would like it to be, there is no question that all of the backs looked much better this week. Rashard Mendenhall broke a 39 yard run that almost resulted in a TD and Willie Parker also had a couple 12 yard bursts. The team averaged 4.2 yards per carry, a significant upgrade over last week's anemic 1.6 yards per carry average and the often-critcized offensive line had much improved play. But it wasn't enough...

I figured out the other day that I've seen about a thousand Steeler games during my life and probably another three-four thousand "others". While that's a lot of football games, it does give you a relatively sound basis for my next comment. There is an unwritten rule in football: When you miss two makeable field goals in the fourth quarter, it spells an automatic loss. It's just an unwritten rule. I knew five minutes before the game ended that the Steelers would lose on a last second field goal. It's almost as though when you fail to cash in opportunities that this diabolical game simply jumps up and bites you, which it certainly did yesterday. It's practically a pre-ordained loss.

Another Kool-Aid-ism (new word) of football that the Steelers like to drink heavily from is the belief that when you allow your fate to be determined by the other team that you're going to get whatever you deserve and chances are, you're not going to like it. This also happened yesterday and it's a great way to look at things.

The Steelers didn't play a bad game in Chi Town, but they certainly didn't play with the killer instinct necessary to put away teams when they're down. Not only did the team not do this, they also allowed the Bears to tie the game just before halftime (after taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter) and then to tie it a second time after Ben had managed to crash the end zone in the third period.

What became painfully evident to this writer was that this defense, although "very good" is definitely not "great" without Troy Polamalu on the field. Losing Troy on defense is the equivalent of losing Ben on the offensive side. Polamalu's defensive skill set is Hall of fame caliber and you don't replace that with very many different players. He is the straw that stirs this defensive poison and when that straw isn't in there a lot of the dynamics of this defense are toned-down immeasurably. Translation: Troy can't come back soon enough.

While one loss does not a catastrophic season make, coaches in the NFL are always worried about the 'snowball effect", as in, one mistake begets another, or one bad loss loss can beget another, etc. If the Steelers go to Cinci and lose, Steeler fans will then officially be in full siren mode. It will mean that the team will have 1) almost blown the first game, 2) succeeded in blowing the second game and then 3) followed that up with an unthinkable division loss to the "Bungles".

While I'm not nearly as inclined to press the old "panic button" as many others, I'm perfectly willing to let this game fall under the category of being "one of those days" where a bounce here, a catch there, could have made all the difference in the world. Remember folks, this is the NFL. The other side is trying to win too and the margin between victory and defeat is very slim indeed. Just ask the Dallas Cryboys. Even a $1.12 billion stadium and 105,000 roaring fans couldn't save them last night when they violated the dreaded four turnover paradigm (you practically never win with four turnovers).


ABOVE: Steeler fans will be in full siren mode if the team should fall to the "Bungles" in Cincinnati this weekend.