Heading into week 13 I had run out of superlatives to use in describing the Steelers 10-0 season. There are only so many ‘firsts’ and ‘bests’ you can talk about with this team. After the multiple delays and the saga in rescheduling this game from Thanksgiving to Tuesday to Wednesday, I had run out of exasperation icons. After watching the game itself, I’ve run out of expletives.
It was the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, with basically without the good. Even Clint Eastwood couldn’t have cleaned up the culprits nor my language and not even Lilly from the AT&T commercials could have put the pretty on this pig.
I would describe to you what I saw in this game except for that after about the fifth dropped pass in the red zone, I ripped out my own eyes, not unlike the Necromancer android in Raised By Wolves. Or at least I wished they had been, and for the same reasons.*
*She removes them to keep herself from making very bad things happen
All year long we had defended the Steelers offense despite its mediocre appearance on paper. Was it overly reliant on the short passing game? Couldn’t run very well? Sure, but what part of fourth in scoring don’t you understand?! They manage to find ways to score in the red zone. They get the job done!. Or at least they did until Week 12, when all of the fears that this offense wouldn’t be able to sustain itself came floating to the surface.
On this historic occasion, the Steelers became the first team since at least 1950 to have a quarterback throw 50 times, not be sacked, score under 20 points… and win. I’m thinking that’s pretty hard to do.
I once referred to a film I reviewed as “a masterpiece of bad’. This Picasso of malfeasance had everything but the bad ending on the scoreboard. Not even a stellar appearance by Joe Haden’s second career pick-6 could save this movie.
All of the bad things that happened were basically topped by two medical emergencies at Heinz Field. The least serious was a 4th quarter, 3rd down-and-have-to-have-it, Ben Roethlisberger to James Washington pass that floated and fluttered in the December air like a plastic bag on a gust of beach breeze and put the entire fandom of Steelerhood into cardiac arrest. Thankfully paramedics and James Washington were able to remotely revive us all with a catch that prevented our worst fears––Baltimore throwing into the end zone with a shot at the win––from transpiring. But Dupree‘s ACL was not so lucky.
Sure you can hash out a million “what-if‘s” but it’s fair to say that if the Steelers receivers had caught the balls that hit them in both hands, it’s a real possibility that the Steelers would’ve been up by two or three touchdowns and a bunch of starters like Dupree might not have even been on the field when, late in the fourth quarter, his knee made the ultimate sacrifice as he gave an all-out effort to try and get to the quarterback in a close game situation. But if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a fun Christmas. Especially if it had been crybaby John Harbaugh’s knee that gave out?
Harbaugh has an unsurpassed talent for complaint during games. He works officials like the German horsehair brush massage lady at Baden-Baden, often grinding them into a fine dust by the end of the game, and likely getting a few calls to go his way. There’s never been a Baltimore loss where Coach Harbaugh didn’t have an officiating complaint. Last time, it was him wondering why there was no hitting a defenseless receiver call on the last play of the game (despite the fact that the defender was catching the ball with both hands when the receiver ran into him!). This game, it was all about how the Steelers defense had snookered the officials into letting the clock run while they prevented his runner from getting up just before halftime. In truth, the Steelers were in no hurry to unpile… but the Baltimore runner wasn’t showing any urgency to get up either. Terrell Edmunds, Gus Edwards, and Vince Williams were tangled up, below a sea of linemen. I’m not sure they took any longer to get up than they might have had there been 12 minutes on the clock, but since Baltimore had foolishly used their last timeout just prior to the play, the clock ran down so far that there was only time for one desperate shot at the end zone, a pass that would have been a TD except for some excellent coverage by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who knocked the ball to the ground and sent the Ravens to the locker room hungry and behind.
In truth, despite pulling every shenanigan possible to work this game’s scheduling and personnel in his favor, and despite a winning effort and gameplan from his undermanned team, Harbaugh really has nothing to blame except his own decisions, his team’s lack of preparedness for the late-half situation, and his assistant coach’s protocol violations. In other words, suck on that until 2021, John-boy.
Speaking of Head Coaches, the press asked Coach Mike Tomlin about his team’s execution and he said “I am in favor of it”
Or at least he would have said that, had that quote not already been coined by all-ter quote machine and erstwhile Tampa Bay Creamsicles coach John McKay in 1976 or so. However, that is about the only biting and wry comment Tomlin didn’t make in his terse postgame presser. Instead, they asked him,
“Coach, you had a lot of drops today in the red zone and elsewhere on the field. do you contribute that to anything specific?”
“Tomlin: “Yeah, us sucking” .
Um, sucking, indeed!. And yes that great sucking sound you hear was not Ross Perot or jobs to Mexico but was an array of mistakes that might have been comical in retrospect, coming as they did in a win, but which piled on top of each other to become the massive shit sandwich that ended with reprisals, derision, and brickbats from all observers. it also was a win that felt a little like a loss and which came at a very high price indeed.
“We can’t win at home and we can’t win on the road,” he once said. “What we need is a neutral site.”– John McKay
The 2020 Steelers sure looked like the 1976-77 Buccaneers for one afternoon. Except they did something that team couldn’t do in 14 tries. Despite at least 10 dropped passes, three fumbles, a muffed punt, and a red-zone interception apparently thrown by Ben to one of the white diagonal lines honoring the 1943 Steagles, the Steelers rousingly defeated the ravens JV, virus-infested, yet plucky football squad by the ‘excuse-me’ score of 19 to 14, bringing their 2020 season record to 11 and zero. Somehow.
Thanks to potential DPOY T.J. Watt’s two sacks, the Steelers extended their streak with at least one sack to 69 games, tying the all-time NFL record streak set by the 1999-2003 Tamp Bay Bucs (do I sense a theme to this week’s recap?)
And on the other side of things, Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been sacked in nearly 4 and a half games––he’s thrown 200 passes without being sacked. I know Andrew Luck went 4 games without being sacked in 2018, but the record is still a ways away. Dan Marino once went 19 games and 759 passes without being sacked. Let us hope Ben plays long enough to break that streak!
Prior to this stretch, Ben has never gone more than two games in a row without a sack, and has never had more than 3 such games in any season. He has 5 so far this year, with at least 6 games left to play. Not sure if it’s a record, but the 2020 Steelers’ sack differential of +31 has to be some kind of record that will stand forever.
The defense was playing a game for the ages, until it gave up two inexcusable plays that absolutely changed the game and ruined their day’s performance. The first was allowing a QB draw up the middle for 39 yards on 3rd and 11––at a time when the Ravens had practically nothing going on offense. The second was a ridiculous 70-yard TD catch and run by Hollywood Brown in a situation where getting beat deep in a game that Steelers comfortably led was really the only concern the defense should have had. Both times, Terrell Edmunds was a culprit. I give him a little more leeway on the first play––he dove and came up empty on his tackle attempt… but on the deep pass play, he overran the play while not looking back for the football and subsequently whiffed on the tackle attempt. For all of his ups and downs, Edmunds has been the team’s most reliable tackler this year, with an astounding 4% missed tackle rate. But those two plays contributed to the nail-biting at the end as surely as the drops and moribund run game on the offense’s side did.
Bottom line: Steelers’ magic number for a playoff spot is 1 over Miami. Their magic number to win the division is 2 over Cleveland. Their magic number over KC for the #1 seed is 5. But the only magic number that matters is 1, as in 1 opponent on the schedule next, the nameless, faceless Washington Football Team. Finish Monday Night with 1 more point than the WTF WFT, and leave the power rankings and PFF grades to the teams who aren’t undefeated.