The Sunday night matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens is one of the strangest ever in the storied rivalry. It will be played with somewhat of a purple haze engulfing it.
First of all, the game doesn’t hold its typical historic significance for the AFC North. Usually, a second game of the year between the Steelers and the Ravens means a division championship is on the line, and in many cases is a critical playoff qualifier for Pittsburgh.
But in this case, the Steelers could lose to the Ravens, and then again to the New England Patriots next week, and still hold a one game advantage plus tiebreakers over Baltimore.
And usually, the blood between the two teams is so bad prior to the game, with bulletin board material abounding, that the anticipation for kickoff is nearly unbearable.
Yet, this year, compared to the contempt the Steelers have developed for the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens are like Boy Scouts, brothers from another mother.
What did Baltimore do in their first prep meeting for the Steelers this week? They prayed for LB Ryan Shazier.
And, speaking of Shazier, it’s hard to keep the focus on football for players and fans. There is so much concern and love for number 50, it’s a challenge in contrast to root for anything other than the young man’s well being. Yes. There’s a purple haze over this game.
But, Shazier has urged us to keep our minds on football, our focus on the prize, and that’s just what we’ll do. So let’s Spin it up.
Am I Happy Or In Misery?
Was there any Steelers fan who truly enjoyed the game against Cincinnati? For one thing, it was ugly football. With the Bengals racking up nearly two hundred yards in penalties, and the game having a dirty feel to it from the first whistle, there wasn’t much to savor.
Then, of course, having Ryan Shazier lying on the field with a serious back injury, tore away the curtains of NFL perspective. I would personally surrender every win for the remainder of the year to have him fully recover. Such a beautiful player and human being. I think seeing tough guy Vince Willams crying on the bench represented the emotions of an entire Steelers Nation. Sometimes, it’s just a dumb game.
Praying for you and your family Ryan. Keep the faith.
Lately Things Just Don’t Seem The Same
The instant Ryan Shazier got injured, the Steelers season shifted on a dime. No, we’re not talking about the strategic ramifications of losing the caliber of player of Shazier on the field. That part is obvious. Shazier was on the ascent to being an All Pro this year, and his gifts are absolutely irreplaceable. This is a much weaker defense, and will be for the remainder of the season.
But that’s not what changed the most. What is different is this is suddenly a team with a different identity. The storyline is no longer about a team that is extraordinarily stacked and in some cases underperforming. Instead, the prevailing theme is now this is a squad that has already faced huge adversity this season, beginning with the passing of its owner, and now can best be defined as a team that is relentless and destiny-driven.
The team’s bounce back from a 17-0 deficit to win by a final score of 23-20 spoke as much to its character and leadership than any other game Pittsburgh played in years. Risen from the ashes of that ugly game is a force of nature, a team on a mission.
Acting Funny, But I Don’t Know Why
It won’t be long before more NFL fans start doing which is considered to be absolutely sacrosanct. That is, mentioning Antonio Brown as not only this generation’s best at his position, but the greatest of all time. This will be for two reasons. One is that today’s younger fans never saw Jerry Rice play and old guys tend to be forgotten. And secondly, that Brown is gaining ground with every week. The truth is that Antonio is a few Super Bowl runs short of accomplishing this goal, but my oh my, does he amaze!
Last week, he was virtually crippled with a bum toe, yet still carried the team on his shoulders once again. When it comes to clutch time, there is none other like Antonio. His game winning catch while simultaneously getting completely clocked with an illegal helmet to helmet hit was one of his top five completions…and that’s saying a lot. Big time players, make big time plays. And then, like Brown, they act funny afterwards, like it was no big thing.
‘Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky
I think for those of us who grew up playing Pop Warner and watching Steelers football in the 70’s, it’s a little tougher to see JuJu Smith-Schuster’s crackback block as a dirty play. I mean, back then, that was just…good football. But, then you take an injury like that of Shazier’s and you understand why the rules have changed for the better. Still, although the taunting afterwards was Bush League, it’s difficult to see JuJu’s play other than a key block on a fast moving play. A 15-yard penalty? I guess. It is the Hines Ward rule, after all.
But a one game suspension? That’s pretty Bush League to me.
Regardless of your opinion on the play, one thing is undeniable…you’ve got to applaud the courage of JuJu in fearlessly taking on the block in the first place. Vontaze Burfict? That is a grown man. JuJu is one tough dude and is a critical element of the redefining character of this team.
Don’t Know If I’m Coming Up Or Down
Even with this purple haze all in our eyes, we should bring ourselves back to the importance of the Steelers game versus the Ravens. After all, these ARE the Ravens, our number one rival in the league. It is Sunday Night Football, in the spotlight of millions.
Keep in mind, Baltimore is once again on the rise. They are coming into this game on a three game win streak and if they pull off the upset, they will be on the path of being the most dangerous wildcard team in the playoffs. This means, if the Steelers lose, they will have a good chance of having to face Baltimore again in the postseason. That’s not a match they want on their Super Bowl schedule.
More importantly, the Steelers need to solidify their identity as a dominant NFL team and will be desperate to get their defense on more solid footing before facing the Patriots the following week. Is this another big game? You bet.
Nothing hazy about that.