Monday Night Football under the bright lights of Heinz Field at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Are you kidding me?
Howard Cosell. Frank Gifford. Dandy Don Meredith. Bosephus singing out this question, “Are you ready for some football?”
The Miami Dolphins, possessors of the only perfect season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers…the greatest NFL franchise of all time?
I mean. Does it get any better than this?
Cue audio effect: Needle scratching across record.
Well…if we’re being truthful, it does. In fact, it gets a lot better than watching these two anemic National Football League teams with a combined record of 2-11 this season mud wrestling in prime time.
In fact, you have to work hard to come up with a compelling reason to skip your softball game or even your knitting club meeting to dial in to this one if you’re anything other than a diehard Steelers or Dolphins fan.
Fortunately, for ESPN, there are enough diehard fans in Steelers Nation to keep their Nielsen Ratings sound.
Let’s get ready to rumble. It’s Monday Night Football, and the Steelers still have hope for greater pastures following their bye week.
So, let’s give it a Spin.
The First Pass
This season will be a complete success for no other reason than Mason Rudolph being able to throw his next pass. Not complete a pass. Merely throw a pass. After his heart-stopping, facemask-less exit from Baltimore Ravens game, nothing mattered more this season than this young man being alright. It was one of those scary moments that made even the most hardened of football fans question whether this sport is worth playing when it comes to player safety.
Will Rudolph pick up where he left off? That is, as a rapidly ascending young quarterback in this league? Will he have a great game in leading the team to a critical victory?
Who cares? If he throws a single pass, the evening will already be a triumphant success.
For years, Steelers Nation has been waiting for Stephon Tuitt to go all US Army and be all he could be. He’s always had the highest ceiling of just about any player on the team’s defense, yet he could never quite reach that point of maximized potential.
Until this year.
Tuitt’s performance over the first six games was nothing short of mesmerizing. He was dominant at most times, and completely un-blockable the rest.
It was terrible news to hear of his pectoral injury, because it couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time for a player having the season of his life, the one we’ve always believed he had in him.
Cause For Pause
As disastrous as this season has been thus far for the Steelers, there has been one significant victory in terms of future negotiations of contracts for years to come. The money ain’t the honey and the grass isn’t greener when it comes to leaving the Steelers for brighter pastures.
Le’Veon Bell was hell bent on resetting the running back market with his year-long holdout from the Steelers. Instead, it’s clear now he only succeeded in putting a meteoric crater in the prime of his career. How much better would he have been if he had accepted the earlier, generous offers of the Steelers a few years back? Now with him wallowing in misery with the New York Jets, he is a prototypical case study in greed gone bad.
Add to this the tragi-comedy of the Antonio Brown saga, and you have some compelling exhibit “A’s” for future front office negotiations.
Just put on your ruby slippers and take our best offer. There’s no place like home.
But…Talent Does Count
Yet, there is another lesson from all of this discord. Talent does matter. You can’t win in the NFL with a roster full of Rudy’s. This offense has never been as potent, and the running game has never been as impressive since the time that Le’Veon Bell stopped playing for the Steelers.
In addition, this receivers corps (as predicted here) has completely gone in the tank with the absence of Antonio Brown who consistently drew double and triple coverage. Say what you want about all of his antics and behavioral shortcomings…and perhaps serious off the field issues…the man did have an on-the-field point last year when he wasn’t even voted the most valuable player of his offense.
Throw Away Game?
Don’t tell that to the Dolphins. Even if you believe the theories that their front office wants to completely tank this season, there is no more significant game on their schedule than this one against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With the Steelers 2020 first round draft pick in their possession, nothing could make Miami happier than to have Pittsburgh in the dolphin tank with them.
This game is perfectly timed for the Dolphins to issue a mortal blow by poisoning any Steelers hopes with an upset loss that could be psychologically crippling enough to send Pittsburgh into a season long tailspin.
Bye, Bye Bad Times
Even more important is this game to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With a win they could hit the halfway point of the season at 3-5, and be boasting a two game winning streak.
In most years, that statement would bring on raucous laughter, but have you taken a look at the AFC standings lately?
Outside of the alien-bred New England Patriots, there are no dominant teams, and the records across the board are largely dismal.
With a steady drumbeat of improved play, the Steelers could find themselves in the AFC Wildcard discussions within a few games and their schedule ahead is looking as soft as the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
Are You Ready For Some Football?
That all was a long winded way of explaining that this game today certainly DOES matter. For both teams.
Following their bye week, could this be the start of an incredible midseason Mike Tomlin-esque run for the Steelers? Or will it be the stake in the heart of the decision to trade away a potential Top 5 draft pick when they should be rebuilding?
Tune in. Fire up. And see for yourself.
Because, even though the NFL has grossly watered down the significance of its once glorious prime time showcase…it’ still, Monday Night Football, baby.