As winter transforms the Northern climes into frozen tundras a strange counter-meteorological phenomenon is occurring. A deep thawing. As in a thawing of the Pittsburgh Steelers playoffs hopes following their victory over the Chicago Bears by a score of 29-27.
Under Coach Mike Tomlin’s leadership, they have somehow chiseled out of an initial 1-3 cold start to the season and have patched together four wins in a row. The Black and Gold have ascended to a 5-3 record with as close to a gimme as there is in the NFL this weekend in their upcoming match against the Detroit Lions. These Motor Citians are 0-8, having been outscored by combined tallies of 134-244.
For those of you math scholars, this means their average loss is about 17-30, which includes their most recent drubbing by the not-so-high-flying Philadelphia Eagles by a wing flapping deficit of 6-44.
What’s more, somehow miraculously, with recent stumbles by the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and general Brownness by the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers are back into division contention and can even rise to first place with a nod over the toothless, thorn-in-paw Lions.
But, using one of my favorite Tomlinisms, “I’d rather say ‘Woah’ than have to say ‘Giddyup’” when referring to his players, the Spin has to say to all of Steelers Nation, “Woah Nellie!”
Even Roethlisberger admitted that the Steelers aren’t that good of a team yet, and we all witnessed life span shrinking performances as they recorded four of some of the most uninspiring victories in a row.
So what gives?
It’s true, these Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t as strong as their record would indicate. Yet, the good news is that none of the other teams in the American Football Conference are all that much either.
What’s going on with the Kansas City Chiefs? How could the Baltimore Ravens have lost to the Miami Dolphins? Why would the Cincinnati Bengals allow themselves to get walloped by the Cleveland Browns?
The most consistent and impressive team in the AFC thus far has been the Tennessee Titans, but their entire playoffs prosperity will depend on the talent of the surgeons who worked on Derrick Henry’s broken foot.
Let’s face it. For most of Steelers Nation, our smiles are a thin disguise leading into this game. By now we realize that 0-8 teams are the bane of Tomlin’s coaching career.
Are we any good? Will we be able to bring momentum into what is arguably the toughest second half of a season of any team in the NFL following this game?
You can’t hide your Lion eyes. Not at least, when the Spin is on the job. So, let’s get ‘er gyrating.
And Now…A Word From Our Sponsors
The home cookin’ was being served on the griddle during the recent Monday Night Football game at Heinz Field, and it was distributed in heaping portions of the most lopsided officiating I can remember experiencing in a game. Personally, I much prefer to be in a position of complaining about the bad refereeing, as it does seem as if the Steelers get the short end of the whistle in many matches. But, the Chicago Bears got jobbed like none other, and it made you wonder if the refs each left with eight cases of ketchup in their trunks.
Of course not, but it did remind me of pick-up basketballing in San Diego many years ago when I was in my 20’s which meant a 37-year-old player was…ancient…at the time. One of these “old timers” I played against was named Alvin and he was terrible. He had the worst shooting form you’d ever see, but he was still able to toss them up with 100% success. That was because, with Alvin, either the ball went through the basket or he shouted, “Foul!”, regardless of whether anyone was within five feet of him.
There was no difference Alvin and the Steelers last Monday, thanks to their overly friendly referee friends. If the Steelers had received that treatment, Steelers fans would have been projectile spitting their Primantis and Iron City onto their flat screen televisions in anger.
When you consider the game came down to a last-minute field goal you’ve got to call it what it was. This was the Battle of the Zoo. Bears 0. Zebras 1.
Call From The Marsh
One of the most game-changing calls by the refs was that against the Lions outside linebacker Cassius Marsh. The rockstar-locks linebacker was a former Steelers aspirant, having fallen short in his efforts to earn a roster spot here in Pittsburgh.
There was another Cassius, as in Cassius Clay, from years ago who was the Greatest Ever at taunting opponents. Can you imagine if the National Football League’s new taunting rules were applied to the great Muhammed Ali?
For me, Cassius Marsh was merely speaking for every kid with a football dream, who since they could walk wanted to make it to the NFL. His proud scream to the Steelers sidelines had everything to do with him saying, “You shouldn’t have given up on me” than anything else.
It’s clear in the postgame handshakes he remains friends with the players on the team from which he was released, and there were no hard feelings. It just hurts to get cut. In football and in life.
Count me a fan of the young man. I hope he finds his way back to Pittsburgh someday.
The Comeback Kid?
Since 1970, when records were kept on the statistic, Ben Roethlisberger is now third on the list for game winning drives. His comeback victory against the Bears was his fiftieth.
This is no small achievement, and one hard fought, as he also is the most sacked quarterback in NFL history. He deserves accolades for giving Stone Cold Killer Chris Boswell a chance to clinch the victory against the Bears with yet another clutch field goal.
Yet, this game, like so many before them in Big Ben’s career, should have never required a comeback. This contest should have been iced like snow crab at an all-you-can-eat casino buffet.
It’s a strange sidenote in the shared and glorious careers of Big Ben and Tomlin that they just can’t seem to put teams away when they should. So many early second half drives in Ben’s career sputter out with him gesturing to some receiver who broke off a route and failed to convert a third down.
There never seems to be a boot on the throat mentality with this team, and until it’s added to the playbook, the Steelers are always going to struggle with stringing pearls in the playoffs.
Takin’ It To The House
If there was a goat in the Bears game it would seem to have been Ray-Ray McCloud. With the Steelers up 23-13 with less than seven minutes left in the game, he managed to botch a punt return that DeAndre Houston-Carson scooped up for an improbable 25-yard special teams touchdown return.
As is so often with the level of class displayed by the players on this year’s Steelers roster, McCloud took to social media to apologize to Steelers Nation.
Yes, the priority for McCloud should have been to secure the ball, but it’s always difficult to fault a player for trying to make a play for his team.
And, perhaps his extra effort is just an expression of frustration on how Special Teams Coach Danny Smith just doesn’t seem to excel at dialing up return schemes.
Sure, the team is ranked above the midline in terms of average return yards this year, but how often do Smith’s return squads take it to the house? There are more sightings of the Loch Ness Monster in the Confluence.
In the long wish list of what is needed for this Steelers team to start check-boxing dominant wins, put Danny Smith on notice as well.
A Real Dickens
It was many years ago when Charles Dickens, in pre-dating the existence of American football, was once quoted as saying, “It was the best of lines, it was the worst of lines” and so right he was after viewing the Bears game.
Just one week prior against the Cleveland Browns, the young Steelers offensive linemen looked like world beaters against one of the stoutest defensive lines in the NFL.
Yet, what was that against the Bears?
For most of the game, the Steelers offensive trenches were mostly in full retreat. They looked like bowling pins flying backwards on $5 pizza night at The Lucky Lanes.
It would be difficult to explain their getting bear-mauled as poor technique or growing pains. Nothing looked to be fixable by a few extra reps in the weight room.
One of the great mysteries of the 2021 season thus far is this:
Is this the offensive line of the future? Or are we drafting big men high in next year’s draft?
A Flock Of Seagulls
It seems like few fans are more misunderstood than those of Steelers Nation. Why aren’t they ever happy? How could they not be over-the-moon thrilled with having a sure-fire Hall of Famer at coach and quarterback for all of these years?
These complaints are particularly hurled at long-term Steelers fans, who find themselves still wallowing in the Glory Days.
Yeah…we love our team. Don’t get us wrong.
It’s just that we’re like that proud parent, who always sees the unlimited potential, the unrealized greatness within.
Plus, we’re realists. The tape is the tape.
Please don’t question our fan-ness. It’s just we come from a time where “We won’t get fooled again” is more than a song.
Besides. We’re tenured and are immunized from having our loyalties questioned. Any of us who made it through the ‘80’s without destroying our Terrible Towels or becoming San Francisco 49ers followers, are true Steelers fans. Don’t ever question our street creds.
The Steelers head to the Lion’s Den for another critical match in their season of comebacks. As far as a “Den” this one is packed with Laz-E-Boys and beers in the fridge.
This should be easy pickin’s for the Steelers, and if they aren’t going all banjo on the Lions we’re going to need to strap ourselves for a second half plunge of epic proportions.
There are so many loose bolts on this year’s Steelers team. If Tomlin and his coaching staff can get all of the rivets sealed, this might be a riveting year after all.
If they can pull off the probable, Pittsburgh will sit atop the perch of the AFC North looking down at the Ravens, Bengals and Browns…oh my!
Who are these Steelers? The answer may be revealed this weekend, behind these Lion eyes.