Rashard, Reed, and Redemption.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the San Diego Chargers once again Sunday night by a final score of 38-28. The thousands in attendance and the millions watching at home had to be absolutely tickled pink at the effort put forth by the Black and Gold. And I’m not just referring to the armbands, shoes, and special edition Terrible Towels worn yesterday in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Despite a brutal fourth quarter which turned a blowout into a nail-biter, this was by far the team’s best showing this season.
Let’s start with Rashard Mendenhall. Steeler Nation has been tough on Rashard, I’ve been tough on Rashard, Mike Tomlin has been tough on Rashard. Two nice plays against Chicago had been the grand total of his meaningful output as a pro. Not anymore. Mendenhall rumbled for 165 yards on 29 carries and two TDs. He doesn’t have the darting elusive style of Willie Parker but he’s more in the mold of Barry Foster (for you older fans), an explosive power runner. He showed a quick burst getting through holes and then got loose on several long gains by breaking through would-be tacklers. I particularly loved his physical play, lowering his shoulder when being tackled and absolutely PANCAKING blitzing linebackers on passing plays.
We also have to give it up for the oft-criticized offensive line. They opened up huge holes for the running game and provided plenty of time for Ben Roethlisberger (23/33 for 333 yards) to throw the ball. In fact, the 3 sacks they gave up wouldn’t have happened if Ben threw the ball in a timely fashion. I hope everybody noticed how when the line takes a holding penalty or gives up a sack, 90% of the time it’s when Ben drops back, surveys the field, then decides to run around like a maniac instead of throwing it away. Anyhow, Chris Kemoeatu was an absolute beast out there while Max Starks, no doubt stocked up on antibiotics and hoping to impress Tila Tequila, squashed Shawne Merriman all game long.
Through the first three quarters of play, this game looked like a laugher. At halftime, the Chargers had only 7 minutes of offensive possession. By the third quarter, they only produced a little over 100 yards of total offense. Their supposedly fearsome running back duo of LaDainian Thomlinson (15 yards rushing) and Darren Sproles (16 yards receiving) were non-factors. All seemed right in the world.
After three quarters of dominance, it happened again. Toward the end of the quarter, Philip Rivers engineered a thirteen play 79 yard drive, ending with a 3 yard TD pass to Antonio Gates. The Chargers went to a no-huddle shotgun formation and the Steelers decided to blitz almost every play. I don’t know if our linebackers have lost a step or if our new CBs are slower than last year’s but once again they didn’t come close as Rivers picked them apart.
Then came the fourth quarter or as Steeler fans now know it, “The Nightmare Time.” Stefan Logan fielded a punt while surrounded by approximately 37 San Diego players which is like an ant trying to survive an avalanche. He had the ball ripped from his bosom and ran back for a touchdown. At this point, I defy you to say you didn’t feel like you just got junk-punched by James Harrison.
To their credit, the Steeler offense marched right back down the field to answer with a TD of their own. Which should have salted the game away. All that was left to do was play some prevent, run out the clock, get off the field, and pack up your baby oil and speedo for wrestling tomorrow.
Which would’ve been fine if the Steeler defense hadn’t decided to take the REST OF THE GAME OFF. I’m utterly shocked at how one of the best defenses in NFL history last season can struggle so much this year. The Chargers scored two quick touchdowns to cut the lead to a single score. And when I say quick, I’m talking Usain Bolt speed. They went 67 yards on four plays. FOUR PLAYS!!! After being tricked by an on-side kick which Ryan Mundy all but dusted off and handed to the Chargers, they scored on a 54 yard drive in only 3 plays. THREE PLAYS! WHAT THE HELL!?!
The Steelers had no answer for Antonio Gates (9 catches 124 yards 2 TD). As I correctly guessed in my preview, Gates down the middle was going to be a problem because the secondary has struggled with that this season. Of course, Gates is a superstar and we’re missing Troy Polamalu but I didn’t think he’d be *that* much of a problem. Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter handled him alright during the early part of the game. When SD went to shotgun formations, our safeties had to cover WRs, which left a LB to cover Gates. Lawrence Timmons is either way more hurt than he’s letting on or he stinks. He was beaten like a drum time and time and time again. It got so bad that toward the end of the game, Dick LeBeau had seen enough and asked Harrison to cover him. Now, Silverback was the Defensive Player of the Year but shouldn’t your scariest pass rusher, oh I don’t know, rush the quarterback?
In a blink of an eye, a 28-0 pasting turned into a 35-28 thriller. It felt like going to a Sandra Bullock movie and out of nowhere seeing Freddy Krueger disembowel some well-endowed blonde (who no doubt has mammograms on a regular basis, thanks to Breast Cancer Awareness). Luckily, the Chargers defense couldn’t stop a fly with a bazooka so the Steelers managed to drive the ball down the field while taking valuable time off the clock. Which set the stage for Redemption #2 as Skippy Reed booted what amounted to a game-winning FG from 46 yards out.
At this point in the season, I have no idea what to think about this team. This was a huge win because it kept the team confident and ensured Big Ben doesn’t get beer thrown at him on Monday Night Raw. The Patriots also did us a favor by defeating the overrated Ravens so we picked up a game in the AFC North standings. We’re not going to learn much next week when we play the Lions because, well, they’re the Lions. Although there were many many good things to take from this game, these fourth quarter collapses have gotten to be a nasty habit. A habit they need to break before it’s too late to redeem themselves.
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