Monday, January 24, 2011
In a contest very reminiscent of the recent Pitt-Syracuse basketball game where the Panthers unexpectedly ran out to a 19-0 lead against the third-ranked Orange, only to see them storm back to a 19-17 score; The Pittsburgh Steelers surprisingly displayed smash-mouth football at its' very finest, running out to a 24-0 lead and only allowing a single field goal just before the half. But in the back of your mind you knew it would be a harbinger of things to come. This game was far from over.
The New York Jets didn't get this far by not being resilient. In fact, if there is a message to be learned here, resiliency is the very essence of what it takes to be an NFL champion. The Steelers clearly own the patent on resiliency as evidenced again last night and this entire season. Can anything stop these guys?
Taking on a team that had just defeated both the Colts and Patriots in convincing fashion, the Steelers started off with one of the most suffocating offensive drives to start off a game ever seen. The Steelers used up nine minutes of the first quarter by going right at the teeth of the Jets defense...and winning. During the course of this withering drive, their quarterback, certainly no Jake Cutler (who took himself out of his championship game earlier in the day) sustained a nasty knee to the thigh, a very painful injury. Limping badly, he continued on. His pro bowl rookie center, Maurkice Pouncey, then suffered a game ending high ankle sprain. The resilient Steelers continued on with Doug "Bronco" Lagursky gamely taking his place.
The first half was filled with typical Big Ben plays: Crucial first down throws, skillful scampers at the most opportune times as well as another defensive touchdown, this time caused by Ike Taylor nearly taking off quarterback Mark Sanchez' arm and the resultant fumble being scooped up and run in almost matter-of-factly by cornerback William Gay. His "acting like he's been there before" after scoring was epic in my eyes. In fact, it was downright refreshing. It said, "This was not about me, it's about my team."
But mostly it was Rashard Mendenhall left, Rashard Mendenhall right, Rashard Mendenhall up-the-middle. Mendenhall has rushed for more yards in a single game before, but never for this many (121) and with such devastating results on such a big stage. Guaranteed a lot more national "experts" know who Rashard Mendenhall is today. Yes, they are all very learned, we know that.
ABOVE: SuperBowl XLV will be played in Dallas at the new "House that Jerry Built." Ever willing to squeeze every last penny out of America, the N.F.L. will have large screens outside of the stadium for loyal fans who cannot get a ticket. The difference between Mario's T.V. and these Shylocks? The NFL is going to charge $200 to enjoy this privilige. They're all heart!
But clearly though, for all of their dash and bravado, the Jets looked like a team that had left most of their game on the field last week in Foxboro. Their win against the Patriots was subconsciously, their SuperBowl. By contrast there were no head flips and cartwheels last week when Steelers defeated their arch-nemesis, the Ravens. For that matter, there weren't even gymnastics on display last night after the Steelers hung on after gamely doing a 30 minute "rope-a-dope" in the second half.
After the Jets and Sanchez had gamely come back to make it a 24-19 score including a second safety against the Steelers in one season (surely some kind of a record) it all came down to possessing the ball. It was now "Antonio Brown time".
The rookie Brown competed all season simply "to get a hat" each week against fellow rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders. For most of the year Sanders was leading in that derby but as the year has worn on, Brown has become more and more of a factor. In fact, his clutch play has become downright scary.
Last week he connected on that mammoth hookup that sent the Ravens flying back to Capistrano. This week when it came down to crunch time again, Brown once again was in the forefront.
The Steelers were leading 24-10 after three quarters, but you just knew what was coming...The Jets proceeded on an epic drive of their own, moving the ball all the way to the Steeler one yard line where the Steeler defense showed the depth of their resolve, stopping a largely ineffective LaDanian Tomlinson at the three inch line. Unfortunately, the dreaded "safety" reared its ugly head once again when Big Ben did not handle the next snap making the score 24-12. The Jets were coming now in a big way. They once again had regained their momentum. By the three minute mark, Sanchez connected to Jerricho Cotchery for a score making it 24-19. The Jets now had three minutes to get the ball back and score a touchdown... not an impossibility by any stretch of the imagination.
They elected to kick the ball low and squib style to the awaiting Antonio Brown. He scooped up the ball cleanly and in stride and cut up the left sideline taking the ball all the way to the Pittsburgh 40 and helping field position immensely. After a big first down catch by Heath Miller, the Steelers elected to run the ball twice. By this time the Jets had now burned all of their timeouts and passed the two minute warning.
Facing a third and six, commentator Phil Simms remarked that the Steelers should, "Run the ball here and not risk stopping the clock", sort of a "Don't try to win the game here, just try not to lose it" philosophy. To be completely truthful, this writer instinctively felt a pass to the ever-dependable Hines Ward coming at this moment. After all, he's done it a million times. This was contrary even to the words that had been stated earlier in the day by Nostradamus right here in "Pittsburgh's Black and Gold"!!! "Look for a young lad named 'Antonio' to dash the hopes of the invaders,". So as he said, it would be Brown who would come through again. "Don't you even read your own blog," you ask?
In retrospect, truer words were never prognosticated.
Ben then proceeded into one of his epic "Ben plays" where he this time rolled to his right and while pressured, threw to a diving and rolling...you guessed it, Antonio Brown.
All that was left was for Ben to kneel down twice while Rex Ryan was busy breaking his expensive Motorola headset. The Steelers finished ahead 24-19. But remember, style points don't count in either AFC Championships or hand grenades. They count for even less with a Lombardi Trophy on the line. This is why Ben Roethlisberger never gets respect from NFL fans. His stats aren't always the greatest, but guess what, he wins!!! The Steelers aren't in business to win fantasy football leagues, they're in it to win reality league championships. Fans on a national level forget this important fact. Steeler fans thankfully don't. That's also why the Steelers aren't ashamed of that cupboard full of Lombardi trophies either!
So this tale of two halves ended with the Steelers front office planning another trip to the SuperBowl, The Rooneys and Mike Tomlin politely accepting the Lamar Hunt Trophy "hardware" as Tomlin calls it, and the Steeler fans celebrating with a lusty version of, "I've got a feeeling, Pittsburgh's goin' to the SuperBowl again....."I've got a feeeling, Pittsburgh's goin' to the SuperBowl again.....Yes, it certainly is a good feeling. As sports fans living in "America's Most Livable City", we are certainly living a charmed existence and best of all, we know it! Let's enjoy it for awhile. There's time before we have to start worrying about the Packers, a confrontation between two resilient teams and the league's two most ardent fan groups. Tickets for this one will be in tremendous demand and at all-time high prices. It will no doubt be the most-watched SuperBowl in history.
I guess "P.B. & G." will be faced with paying Nostradamus for another prediction. This guy's really expensive, but good.
Photo by Allison Viron Photography
ABOVE: Caught up in Steeler fever this past Saturday night, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury dons a Steeler helmet and terrible towel. You have to love how all of the athletes in different sports pull for their fellow "Black & Gold" brothers. The Steelers are frequent visitors to Pens games.