If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to weave together another miracle against the Denver Broncos it will need to come out of the thin air of Mile High Stadium.
This means another cardiac crushing experience for Steelers Nation, many of whom only resumed breathing a day or two ago following remarkable victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
But have no fear.
Being lead by a one-armed paper hanging quarterback? All Pro Grammy-Award winning receiver on the sidelines? Both your Bell Cow and the Team Angel running backs on the sideline injured?
No problem. Coach Mike Tomlin has the Broncos right where he wants them. Obviously.
Still the odds are stacked like a house of pancakes against the Steelers. The only thing worse would be if they were actually favored by a touchdown and had to compete as the strong favorite.
Start spinning your Terrible Towels up to maximum speed for here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
There is no greater advantage in sports than that enjoyed by the underdogs. With Bronco players and fans brimming—nay spilling over—with confidence the Steelers are in the admirable position of just keeping it close to hold the edge in this game. If they can keep the game within a touchdown at halftime, they will carry the emotional momentum into the second half which should make for another phenomenal finish.
Band Of Brothers
There are many legitimate beefs Steelers fans can have with Tomlin’s coaching style, game day acumen and painstakingly stubborn attitude at times, but one significant, undeniable and hugely powerful skill set he possesses is the ability to band together the brothers. Even during the low points of seasons during Tomlin’s leadership, there is never a crack within the locker room. Not even a hairline fracture. Amazingly, you even rarely hear a whisper of a complaint from players who have been left drifting unsigned or released from the team. Tomlin will have his team in full bunker mode and they will be fighting for one another every minute of the game.
Ben Roethlisberger told the media this week he would be hurting the team by starting if he couldn’t throw the ball more than thirty yards down the field. Really? The offense would be better with Big Ben throwing left handed than bringing in the back-ups. The big fella John Wayned it last week, and for the Steelers to have a chance he is going to have to cowboy the Broncos this week as well. Roethlisberger’s detractors outside Steelers Nation have questioned his Hall of Fame credentials, but if he can somehow ride this Stagecoach across the Red River into a Super Bowl victory this year, they will start molding the bust in Canton.
And speaking of Big Ben, his heroic victory against the Cincinnati Bengals may have been exactly what was needed for him to get his groove back as a clutch performer. Over the last few years he has been mediocre in terms of performing at a high level in the pressure cooker moments of games. His stunning comeback last week may be just what it took to get his clutch-time mojo back.
A Distant Second
So what happens if Big Ben can’t pull it off? What if the AC Joint won’t cooperate? Well…Vegas money would say it’s over. As poorly as Landry Jones has played and as even more miserably that Mike Vick performed this season there remains hope. Both of them can bail out this team and repair their goat-level status. Once again, the Steelers only need to keep this close. Landry can hand the ball off sufficiently and Vick can do the same while adding some wiggle to the running game. Without Antonio Brown and with Big Ben nursing a rag arm, the team is in game management mode anyway.
The reality of Sunday’s Divisional matchup is the greatest influence on the outcome of the game will be Peyton Manning. If he can perform at a minimum level of 80% of Peyton Past the Broncos will be a tough out. The Steelers pass defense is not exactly a Rubik’s Cube in complexity and there is no greater field general than Manning. He has the ability to look terrible for the first three quarters and then explode in the fourth. So this game won’t be over until the marching band rushes the field (or sadly puts away their instruments). No. Regardless of the age of Manning, this will be Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler’s biggest task to date. Manning’s last dash career splash is as big a storyline as is Big Ben’s shoulder.
For the Steelers to win this game, the defense is not only going to need to play lights out, but they might even have to help out the offense. It may take a defensive score to put the Steelers in the win column. Who is better to rise to this challenge than William Gay? A timely Pick Six may make him the game’s hero.
The Surprise MVP?
For all of the challenges the Steelers are facing in terms of significant injuries they can count their lucky stars that the offensive line has been strong, healthy and improving weekly since they got reconfigured at the beginning of the season. The Steelers HAVE to be able to run and if they are successful it will be because the O-line outshoveled the trenches.
And The Answer Is…?
If ever there was an unpredictable game…this is it. There are so many unsorted variables that even the most brilliant oddsmaker would struggle to pick a winner. But since brilliance is not something I have to worry about here is the bold prediction. Steelers fans lose the remaining portions of their fingernails. Big Ben wins the weak-armed quarterback contest. Chris Boswell kicks it through the uprights as the clock winds down. Go Steelers!