Unless you are new to my column you know it posts on Monday morning. I usually spend the weekend observing the sports world trying to figure out the topic for my main column.
Going in to the weekend I already made up my mind I was going to write about the unprecedented collapse and soon to be demise of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I had my shovel and many piles of dirt ready to throw on Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, and this entire group of Pittsburgh Steelers.
By 2:00 Sunday afternoon my column was writing itself. I said a week ago they weren’t winning another game this year. The quarterback was finished. The coach needed to accept responsibility. The defense was beat up. The offensive coordinator needed fired. Well, okay, that last one is still true.
Around 2:30 Sunday afternoon I had to stop typing. I sat up and took notice of a coach, quarterback, and entire team that I had not seen in well over a month. Balls were flying DOWN the field. Receivers were catching the ball. The coach was pacing and fist pumping. And most importantly, someone other than Randy Fichtner had to be calling the plays.
The Steelers, down 17 around 2:00 Sunday afternoon, came all the way back for a stunning 28-24 victory over a good Indianapolis Colts team. Honestly, you could make the argument it is the Steelers best win of the year.
Well now what am I supposed to write?
At the beginning of the season I predicted the Steelers would win the Super Bowl. I was called a homer because of my allegiance to the black and gold. The last few weeks I suggested Roethlisberger was done. I was called doom and gloom. I was jumping off the bandwagon. Look, I invented the bandwagon so I’ll get on and off when I like. I personally think I was justified in making both predictions at the time I did.
I will stick by my Super Bowl prediction until the Steelers prove me right or prove me wrong.
As for the here and now…
There was ample evidence for doom and gloom the last month. With every two yard slant, good or bad, it sure left you questioning the offense. From the offensive line to the quarterback to the coordinator it was a complete and utter disaster.
Sunday’s first half was more of the same, only with each passing second it became more glaring. They finished the first half with 98 total yards, but 41 of those were cheap end of the half yards while the Colts were in prevent defense. So that is 57 meaningful yards, which was 17 more meaningful yards than they had a week ago in the first half. Zero running game, including the inability to make one yard when necessary over and over again. Add in a quarterback that seemed unable to throw the ball down the field. Again, put a fork in the Steelers.
The offense that took the field for the second half did a 180. Flipped the script. Turned the switch. The change allowed them to overcome a 17 point deficit in just over a quarter and a half.
The Steelers went no huddle. I suggested earlier they should do this all the time. More of Ben calling plays, and less of Fichtner calling plays is a good thing. Plus, more often than not it ignites the offense and keeps defenses at bay.
What really made it work? They mixed in a bunch of throws down the field. When they weren’t completing them they were getting beneficial pass interference calls. As Tony Romo astutely pointed out, you get calls down the field that you don’t get with short passes.
The offense also seemed to inspire the defense, who nearly pitched a second half shutout. They harassed old man Rivers with relentless pressure. I actually put out this tweet in the first half.
One team has a QB willing to stand in there and take a hit to throw it down field. One team has a QB that can throw it down field. Two months ago if you would have told me that was Phillip Rivers I wouldn’t have believed you. #Steelers finished.
— Tim Clark (@TrojanTim66) December 27, 2020
Um, yea. So about that. The second half was like we entered the Bizarro World. Or was it the last month plus today’s first half that was the Bizarro World? That is what Steelers fans appreciate wondering.
Why would the Steelers not throw the ball down the field?
Did Mike Tomlin finally step in and demand a change in the second half?
Did Ben demand the change?
Did one of the young receivers make a request?
Maybe one of the veterans on defense said something. They couldn’t be happy watching that garbage the last month.
We will probably never know. Ben wasn’t saying. Mike Tomlin wasn’t saying. He has always been the ultimate defender of his coaches and players. Tomlin would only say that they would enjoy the hats and T-shirts for a night. A reference to the gear the team got for winning the division.
Heck, could it be the many fanatics that made the difference. Check out former Steelers Alan Faneca’s commentary.
— Alan Faneca (@afan66) December 27, 2020
My friend, Scott, sent me this text message:
By the way, my son and I changed outfits and TV’s at halftime. You can thank us. 😉
See, it isn’t just me.
Whatever it was, the Steelers need to bottle it and take it with them going forward. I’m not sure why they can’t run the football. Again, I’ll note that they had four 100 yard rushers in the first five games. The offensive line is aging, and doesn’t get the push they used to. This guy, in particular, seems to really be struggling.
I don’t think the answers for him will be found on that iPad. Finding some semblance of a running game would certainly be beneficial.
Regardless of the running game, the passing game must continue to mix the short passes with intermediate and long pass plays. It was effective earlier this season, and it was effective in leading them back against Indy on Sunday.
Can a no huddle Ben lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl?
It may be the Steelers only hope. And kudos to the person(s) that suggested they go back to it. In the NFL there is a fine line between success and failure. Or to quote Mike Tomlin…
Mike Tomlin on being Humbled 🚨
“There’s a fine line between drinking wine & squashing grapes.” pic.twitter.com/BqSJLwKDSA
— CoachTube.com (@thecoachtube) July 2, 2019
Yep, he broke out this dandy again Sunday. You know, I don’t understand a lot of what he says, yet I love every word. Let’s see how far the wordsmith coach can take this team. Did his team get back into the winery for good, or are they going to head right back to the vineyard?
I still think Ben is near the end, and the Steelers need a contingency plan. They will need to revamp the offensive line going forward. They need to fire the offensive coordinator. But that is next year and the year after and the year after.
This is this year, and surely this team wants to keep drinking wine.
The first glass was poured yesterday.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the AFC North champions.
Two Cent Takes
Saturday Night Special: How NOT to close out a football game
~Example one came in the Cure Bowl, where Liberty couldn’t stop Coastal Carolina and Coastal Carolina couldn’t stop Liberty. At least in the fourth quarter. So it came down to who got the last possession, which was Liberty.
Liberty drove to the Chanticleers three yard line with time winding down and the Chants out of timeouts. Simply have your quarterback take a knee in the middle of the field a few times and kick a chip shot field goal as time runs out. Game over.
On first down the Flames handed off to…wait, why would you hand off risking a fumble or your running back having a brain freeze, not to be confused with a Hugh Freeze, and scoring. Coastal’s defense correctly stood up and were going to let him score so they could get the ball back. Luckily for Freeze, Hugh not brain, the kid went down immediately.
On to second down. TAKE A KNEE! You have to TAKE A KNEE!
On second down Liberty handed the ball off again, and this time the running back decided to creep forward. At that point Coastal players grabbed him and pulled him towards the end zone so he would score and they can get the ball back. Oh, they got the ball back. In the process of trying not to score, the Flames runner fumbled the ball. That’s right. He fumbled, and you guessed it. Coastal Carolina recovered.
WATCH – Here’s the fumble ICYMI. Liberty could have just kneeled down, used their timeouts, and kicked a game winning FG. They didn’t and now we’re going to OT @WLTX #Coastal pic.twitter.com/u74tzr0ofp
— Chandler Mack (@chandlerdmack) December 27, 2020
You just had to TAKE A KNEE!
Liberty won in overtime when they blocked a Chanticleer’s field goal attempt. But, wow. It shouldn’t have been that hard.
The year of the Chanticleer came to a crashing halt, and Liberty proved that sometimes stupidity can be overcome.
Okay, quick, flip over to the NFL game where the Raiders look like they are going to squash the Dolphin’s playoff hopes.
After one of the worst pass interference calls of the year set the Raiders up in easy field goal range. It would be a simple matter of bleeding the clock as far as possible before kicking the go ahead field goal. So, you know…TAKE A KNEE!
The Dolphins were out of timeouts. The Raiders couldn’t quite bleed all of the clock, but they could make it next to impossible—hint, that is fantastic foreshadowing— for the Dolphins to do anything.
On second down the Raiders handed off—yes they handed off—and the running back fortunately went down at the half yard line. Clearly the Dolphins were going to let him score so they could get the ball back. He nearly did.
Disaster averted for the Raiders. So…TAKE A KNEE!
Miracle of miracles, someone got my message to Jon Gruden. The Raiders took a knee, kicked the go ahead field goal, and left the Dolphins a mere 19 seconds.
Now, all the Raiders would have to do is prevent a Hail Mary. Even then the Dolphins would still not be close enough for a field goal. So basically just play prevent defense and don’t do anything stupid. Like they say, just KNOCK IT DOWN!
Someone forgot to inform the Raiders in order to KNOCK IT DOWN you first have to be within fifteen yards of the receiver. The Dolphins managed to complete a prayer to Mack Hollins—a guy who has the best afro in sports by the way—for 34 yards. It was okay because the Dolphins were still out of field goal range even with the long completion. The Raiders would have to defend one more play, maybe two.
Wait, on the pass a Raiders lineman tried to unscrew Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s head from his body using his facemask? Okay, then scratch that whole thing about not being in field goal range. A prayer, a penalty, a possible field goal.
— Bodog Canada (@BodogCA) December 27, 2020
Wow. Dolphins kick. Dolphins win. Wow.
I have to imagine Jon Gruden’s final words to his defense were: keep everything in front of you, knock down any long heaves, and don’t commit a penalty. The Raiders defense went 0 for 3 on that message.
I couldn’t be a football coach. I don’t really know the difference between a two gap and a three gap technique, nor the intricacies of the man over defense. But you know what? I could manage games better than most of these coaches. It isn’t rocket science. Time management, timeout usage, replay challenges, end of game situations seem to mesmerize even the best coaches these days. But, at least it led to an entertaining Saturday night.
~Gonzaga is easily the best team in college basketball. The latest team they dismantled was Virginia. It is really a shame that the Zags game with Baylor got canceled. That might have been a real clash.
~The Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball, and it isn’t close. We knew Iowa was really good. Illinois and Michigan State are really good. Last week I mentioned how good Wisconsin was. This week let’s mention two teams most thought would be bottom feeders. Northwestern just keeps winning, beating top 25 Ohio State on Saturday. Minnesota took out Iowa on Christmas night. You could easily argue that 13 of the 14 teams are tournament worthy, and 11 may actually make the tourney.
~ This will be the worst ACC you may see in a long time. Duke is off to a slow start. North Carolina and Florida State are eh. Virginia showed this weekend they are only a fringe top 20 team. Louisville finally beat Kentucky, but boy was it ugly. They just don’t have the usual high caliber teams at the top of the conference.
~Speaking of Kentucky…the Wildcats are atrocious. John Calipari recruited a top class as usual, but they can’t shoot. Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr has been a huge disappointment, and the young guns look like they’ve never been taught how to shoot. This season will drive Calipari crazy.
~Nobody in the NFC wants me touting them—better known as the Two Cent jinx. I was wrong on so many teams throughout the year, including my latest red hot take from a couple weeks ago: The Rams look like the best team in the conference. From there they lost to the Jets and looked horrific against the Seahawks. So like it or not Green Bay, here goes. The Packers look significantly better than all the other NFC playoff teams. Plus, home field in the playoffs might mean this.
There is nothing better than a snow game. The Titans may disagree, and so might any NFC contender that has to play a playoff game in that stuff.
~Mitch Trubisky may lead the Chicago Bears to the playoffs. That would be so 2020.
~Minnesota didn’t want the playoffs. Now, Arizona appears to be shunning the playoffs. The Rams are toying with the idea of missing the playoffs. The Bears are the only team charging towards the playoffs in the NFC wildcard chase, but they have the Packers next week. Someone has to make it. Actually two of those teams will make the playoffs.
In the AFC a deserving team with 10 or 11 wins will miss out on the playoffs. If you would have told the Colts, Titans, Dolphins, Browns, and Ravens they would have 10 wins with one game to play they would have all jumped on it. All can win and get in, except the Colts. They need someone to lose.
It is possible that the one game that may keep the Colts out of the playoffs is an opening game loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. It is Jacksonville’s lone win.
~Dallas is going to make the playoffs. Washington will lose to the spoiler Eagles, especially if they have to pull Dwayne Haskins out of the strip club to start at quarterback again next week. Dallas will beat the Giants, and will be on a four game win streak flying into the playoffs. Again, so very 2020.
~Why is JJ Watt so respected? Check this out and you will know.
This is awesome. pic.twitter.com/gbhJHSXnMw
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) December 27, 2020
~Speaking of the Watts, Steelers TJ Watt should be defensive player of the year. He has 15 sacks despite putting up with garbage like this each week.
Nothing to see here pic.twitter.com/pfbL2DysXk
— Evil Mike Tomlin (@EvilMikeTomlin) December 27, 2020
That is a sleeper hold that even Chief J Strongbow would be proud of(OK, so you have to be old like me to get that reference). Much like other similar plays Watt has dealt with this year, it wasn’t called at all.
~JuJu Smith-Schuster stopped dancing on the midfield logo before the game. That’s probably not a bad idea, but after the game?
— Josh Rowntree (@JRown32) December 27, 2020
JuJu always danced on the sidelines at USC. Penn State fans might remember cameras catching him dancing before the game tying drive in the 2017 Rose Bowl. JuJu is going to be JuJu. He also plays his ass off between the white lines. He blocks, runs defenders over, and is always willing to go across the middle. Does it matter that he dances a little?
~This is also who JuJu is. Always has been.
A lot of headlines this past week and today but these are the ones I really care about. So proud of the work we do at the @JuJuFoundation especially during the holidays in a very difficult year for everyone. https://t.co/Z2TTNXOnBZ
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) December 27, 2020
~One of the newest Steelers, Cassius Marsh was a special teams demon on Sunday.
He may be a bit of a loose cannon, which is perfect for a guy sprinting down field on a kick to try and drill somebody. He does need work on his stare down game.
— Tim Clark (@TrojanTim66) December 28, 2020
A Penny For My Final Thought…
2020 is nearly over.
Stop that raucous cheering.
Okay, I’ve got nothing. Keep cheering. And let’s all hope 2021 brings us back to normalcy. I’ll cheer for that.
Maybe by the beginning of summer fans will be allowed to start pouring into baseball stadiums to cheer the boys of summer. No, Mr. Nutting, you probably don’t have to hire that extra ticket taker.
I didn’t mind watching games with no fans until college football season. Part of the fun of college sports is the atmosphere. Everything doesn’t have to be a Penn State whiteout, but some cheering—or booing—would be nice. I noticed I really missed hearing bands play the fight song, cheerleaders leading cheers, and mascots acting silly.
College basketball is better with pep bands and dance squads. Hockey is better with fans pounding on the glass. Golf is better when you can hear the crowd roaring on hole 16 when the action being shown is on hole 10.
I want to hear fans singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.
I desperately need to hear “Renegade” being played at the start of the fourth quarter at Heinz Field to spur the Steelers defense on.
I also desperately need to hear the USC fight song ringing incessantly in my ear.
I want to see actual hats thrown on the ice when Sidney Crosby scores a hat trick.
When a college hoopster throws down a monster dunk, I want Gus Johnson to have to yell extra loud because the crowd is going insane.
Hell, I even want to hear, “It’s in the hole!”
We can get back to getting practice reports and injury reports, rather than who is on the COVID-19 report. Coaches can stop the charade of wearing a mask. Players can focus on practicing instead of having a swab jammed up their nose.
It’s time for some normalcy.
Sports need normalcy.
Let ‘s all hope, especially as sports fanatics, that ringing in 2021 will eventually bring back that normalcy to our sports world. Out with the old, in with the new. Or better yet, out with the bad and in with the good.
With 2020 we had more than our fair share of bad. 2021 brings with it the hope of normalcy and some much needed good.
Auld Lang Syne will be sung or played by many on New Year’s Eve. The meaning of those words is “for the sake of old times”.
Boy, will it be nice to get back to old times. C’mon 2021, you can do it.
Happy New Year to all my fanatics out there!
Just my two cents…