- Wednesday, January 26, 2011 1:46 AM
- Written By: Jim Reich
I am a day late as I was on the road to Sarasota since Saturday, having dropped off in Tallahassee for a visit to Steel City Joan's high school friend. But to their great credit, our hosts provided me with a beautiful 46 inch flat screen TV and they served dinner on Sunday night in the den right in front of the TV. So, I didn't miss anything.
Where do you start with this game? It was a tale of two halves. The first was almost all Steelers. Everything clicked on offense and defense as the Steelers built up a 24-0 lead before the Jets got a field goal at the end of the half. But the second half was a different story. The Steelers did not score, and the Jets were able to get 19 points, including the dreaded safety. But guys like Mendenhall, Gay, Taylor, and the offensive line and the whole defense held together.
The Jets were outplayed in the first half. Cowher said at halftime that having played Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road in the previous two weeks, they were a tired ballclub. Coming into Heinz Field for their third road game in as many weeks, with 68,000+ screaming fans waving Terrible Towels, was no joy either. And the bitter cold had to be a factor. Truly, they looked lousy in the first half. But if they were so fatigued going into the first half, after playing a tough first half in the cold, wouldn't you think they would have been even more pooped coming out for the second half? Well, you might have thought so. But something at halftime invigorated them and they came out like a house on fire for the second half.
I have to tip my hat to Rex Ryan and his coaching staff. First they devised a plan that soundly defeated the heavily favored Patriots in Foxborough the week before. Who would have thought this was possible? In Sunday's game hey never let their guys quit. They played until the end. I saw the HBO show about the Jets' training camp in the motel on Saturday night. While he can be pretty foul-mouthed, you can easily see that Rex Ryan is a man's man. His coaches and players like the guy. They will run through a wall for him. His personality, his knowledge of the game, and his ability to game plan make him one of the best coaches in the game. For two years running he has taken his team to the AFC championship game, and there's no reason to think that he won't be back again next year knocking on the door, as they say. Don't forget, Mark Sanchez will be a year older and much wiser next year, too.
The Steelers, on the other hand, were a team with attitude. For one thing, they were determined to get to the Super Bowl. For another, the Jets embarrassed them just a month earlier in their own ball yard, and they were just not gong to let that happen again. There is something intangible about this team. You can't break it down by comparing running backs to running backs, corner to corners, etc. Having been denied the playoffs in 2009, after winning the Super Bowl the previous season, they came to camp with a chip on their shoulders. The memory of the five-game losing streak in 2009 provided a sour taste in their mouths.
When their franchise quarterback was suspended for the first four games of 2010 and they were without their best wide receiver who had been dispatched to the Jets, they reached a pact among themselves that they would win without these guys. When two of their starting offensive linemen went down with season ending injuries, they rallied behind their replacements. They ended the first four games with a 3-1 record, and only a last minute pass by the Ravens on blown coverage prevented them from going 4-0. This set the tone for the rest of the season. Yes, they lost another 3 games, and they scraped by with a hair raising win in Miami and escaped with a win in Buffalo when Johnston dropped a perfect pass in the end zone that would have won the game for Buffalo. But they got the AFC North trophy and the bye, which helped to set them up...so far.
I think the whole story starts with the Rooneys who keep a low profile, but gently nudge the other executives and coaching staff. Art Rooney, Jr. opined that they could use rookies more effectively and three became standouts this season, Pouncey, Sanders, and Brown. Others, like Sylvester Stevenson contributed mightily on special teams. This also demonstrated a pretty good ability to identify youngsters and draft them. They also picked an outsanding person as a head coach in Mike Tomlin. At first there might have been some grumbling about him being an African American. But Mike is their man now, no question about it. They believe in him and they love to play for him, all 53 players. Tomlin was also smart enough to retain coachs like LeBeau and Arians, and despite his unfamiliarity with the 3-4, he was flexible enough to allow it to continue under LeBeau. The fact that LeBeau, at 72, has already announced that he will return in 2012 shows that he enjoys working with Tomlin.
Then, there are the players, a pretty good mix of veterans and youngsters. This is a team in which the youngsters look up the vets like Ward and Farrior. So, it's not as if the coaches do all the exhorting. The guys in the locker room do it, too.
Then, what can you say about Ben? He's certainly not the slickest of quarterbacks. He's not Manning, Brady or Brees. But his third and fourth quarter stats are amazing. He takes sacks, he underthrows (like when Reavis intercepted a pass when Wallace would have had a touchdown except that Wallace was about four steps beyond the ball), and he does all kinds of things that drives fans crazy. But he also plays against a header hunting team like the Ravens with a broken foot and a broken and bleeding nose. Do you think Cutler would have done that? He also takes off when he can't find a receiver and more times than not will not take a slide, but will charge in head first. Do you think Brady would do that? He plays ugly, but somehow he seems to win.
Now, does all that mean that the Steelers are guaranteed a win in the Super Bowl? Certainly not. The Packers are a fantastic team, both on offense and defense. They have weapons everywhere and they are healthy. But the Steelers wll be in there with their game plan and their grit and resolve and a bit more history in games like this, so we'll see what transpires. But win or lose, this has been a very satisfying season for the Pittsburgh faithful.