Week 15 Recap: Big Ben Saves Christmas

On Sunday, the NFL’s fourth best defense faced off against the league’s number two rated unit.   So naturally what resulted was a crazy wide-open game where both teams combined for a shade under 1,000 yards of total offense.   Defense?  We don’t need no stinkin’ defense.   And when the smoke cleared, the Pittsburgh Steelers had ended their five game losing streak with a heartstopping 37-36 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

The tone was set early.  On the Steelers very first play from scrimmage, Ben Roethlisberger rolled right and unleashed a 60 yard TD bomb to rookie Mike Wallace.  The pass was slightly underthrown but DB Jarrett Bush never looked back for the ball allowing Wallace to make a great catch.  I’m sure nobody was happier than offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who has been doggedly trying to hit this play all year.   By the way, Bush is apparently GB’s version of Will.i.am Gay because the Steelers tortured him all day.

Of course, the thrill of that play was bittersweet.   Once Arians got a taste of passing success, the Flying Circus was off and running.   On our next drive, Ben followed a 28 yarder to Heath Miller with three consecutive misfires.   Green Bay took the ball at their 17 and provided some fireworks of their own.   Aaron Rodgers fired a gorgeous pass over the middle to Donald Driver, who broke free of a feeble tackling attempt by useless Tyrone Carter and outran the rest of our secondary for an 83 yard TD.

The Steelers answered right back with a nice drive mixing Rashard Mendenhall runs with short play action passing.   They were also aided by Green Bay’s sloppy play, as the most penalized team in the NFL got flagged twice on this drive.  A 12 yard catch-and-run by Santonio Holmes set them up with a 1st and goal from the 2.  Mendenhall scored a Bettis-esque  TD by bouncing off hits and bulling over four different Packers to put the Black and Gold up 14-7.

On their next possession, the Steelers caught a huge break.  Rookie LB Clay Matthews blew by LT Max Starks and crashed into Ben just as he was preparing to throw.  Everybody from the Fox commentators to Ben himself seemed to think it was a fumble.   I don’t usually agree with Aikman and Buck since their hatred of the Steelers is ridiculously obvious but even I thought it was a fumble.  However, the only opinion that matters is the ref’s and he called it an incomplete pass.

Starks was horrific yesterday.  Matthews ran right around him like a $10 million human pylon.  I don’t like when people jump down his throat because LT is a very difficult position and he’s been a solid performer but this is the second straight game where he’s crapped the bed.  This week he was beaten for at least two of GB’s five sacks, contributed to a couple others, allowed all kinds of QB pressure, and was penalized three times for good measure.

Anyway, the non-fumble non-sack still forced a punt.  Rodgers zipped yet another pass down the middle for a 49 yard gain.  I would like to blame somebody for this travesty but I don’t have my copy of the playbook handy and lord knows I don’t want to blame Ryan Clark for something he wasn’t responsible for.   Let’s just say both Carter and Clark whiffed on making a tackle and were bailed out by, I can’t believe I’m typing this, Willie Gay.  Gay’s hustle was very important because GB sputtered and then Mason Crosby shanked his FG attempt wide right.

Things quieted down for a couple series until a sack of Ben and a good punt return set GB up at mid-field.  Rodgers completed a bunch of short passes over to Gay’s side which brought them to the Steelers 14.   From shotgun, GB spread the defense across the field which allowed Rodgers to scramble untouched into the end zone.  The Steelers answered right back when Ben hit Heath for another 28 yarder then followed with a pass to Santonio for 33 more.  Once again, a sack set the Steelers back in the red zone.   But they still managed to score on a nice looking screen pass to underutilized Mewelde Moore.

And this was just halftime!

The third quarter was relatively quiet.  The Steelers had the only notable drive thanks to a pair of screens to Mendy, who was awesome catching the ball out the backfield to the tune of 6 catches for 75 yards.   Where has this been all year, Arians?!?!   Mendy followed a 25 yarder with an apparent 14 yard TD.  However, the Football Gods got revenge for the non-fumble non-sack by flagging Miller for a bogus offensive pass interference penalty which negated the score.   The Steelers settled for a Skippy Reed FG which sent them into the fourth quarter up 24-14.

Ugh.  A fourth quarter lead.   I remember once upon a time when a fourth quarter lead was money in the bank.   Then again, half the banks in this country failed this year so maybe that’s still an appropriate comparison.  In any case, I hate fourth quarter leads nowadays because all they do is give the Origami Curtain an opportunity to torture Steeler Nation in new and unexpected ways.

It started with a 13 play 70 yard TD drive where GB converted on FIVE third downs.  Once again, not to assign blame or point fingers but the TE scored over the middle when Clark got all turned around and couldn’t make a play.  The Steelers answered with some Ben to Hines love.   A 29 yard catch-and-run set up a 34 yard FG.  The Pack answered by unleashing a photon torpedo to Jordy LaForge Nelson for 27 yards.  On the next play, GB, who only ran the ball 8 times ALL GAME (and we thought Arians was bad), gashed the defense for a 24 yard rushing TD from Ryan Grant.  I don’t know what happened there but it looked like a Black Hole opened up in the middle of the field.  More Ben-Hines love in the form of a 54 yard bomb resulted in a 43 yard Skippy boot.  That’s not a gimme at Heinz Field, folks.  That kick pulled the Steelers back ahead 30-28.

At this point, Mike Tomlin made one of the most boneheaded coaching decisions in Steelers history.   Channeling his Inner Belichick, he called for an ONSIDE KICK up by two with four minutes left against one of the best offenses in the league.  Is he daring the Steelers to fire him?   Why not just grab Pam Oliver’s mic and shout, “My defense sucks!” while you’re at it?

Predictably, the attempt failed when Ike Taylor didn’t let it roll the necessary ten yards.  Green Bay took advantage of the short field to take a 34-30 lead on a 24 yard TD pass.   Rookie Joe Burnett, who rotated with Ike and Gay regularly all game, slipped making a cut and James Jones walked in for the score.   The Packers then converted a 2 point conversion (somebody must’ve had money on the game) to take a six point lead with two minutes left.

And that’s when Big Ben turned back the clock to the glory days of 2008.  In a comeback for the ages, Ben coolly led the team down the field.  He was aided by some fantastic catches by his receivers.  Heath caught a 22 yarder along the sidelines while Santonio had a huge 32 yard reception on fourth down.  The Steelers got a break when a pick was erased by a GB penalty.

Still, this was the Ben Roethlisberger Show and Big Ben did not disappoint.  In his finest game ever, he completed 29/46 passes for 503 yards.   Most impressively, he tossed three TDs against zero INTS.   This was a new Steeler record for passing yardage and one of the best performances by any NFL QB in the past decade.  With this game, Ben has silenced all his doubters and established that he belongs right up there with Drew Brees and Tom Brady among the league’s best signal callers.

Anyway, a frantic last minute drive, aided by numerous GB penalties, ended up with the Steelers on the Packer 19.  Two incomplete passes wound the clock down to 3 seconds left in the game.   In a play that looked eerily similar to the one which brought Pittsburgh their sixth Lombardi Trophy, Roethlisberger threw a pinpoint accurate pass to Mike Wallace, who dragged his toes while falling out of bounds.  An extra point later and the Steelers pulled off a Chrismukkah miracle.

Now, I’m as excited by this win as anybody but let’s keep our emotions realistic when using the p-word (playoffs).  It feels great to see the team play like champions but there were a lot of breakdowns yesterday.  They managed to overcome them because they finally showed some heart and intensity for a change.  It was a great win, albeit one where Big Ben almost superhumanly took the team and single-handedly saved them from the embarassment of another blown lead and a sixth consecutive loss (not to mention saving Tomlin from a riot).   But a win is a win and that may be the best Christmas present any of us could have asked for.

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: 2009 Nfl Playoffs Aaron Rodgers Baltimore Ravens Belichick Ben Is Clutch Ben Roethlisberger Big Ben Big Ben Comeback Black And Gold Black And Gold Blog Captain Comeback Charlie Batch Clay Matthews Dennis Dixon Dick Lebeau Donald Driver Drew Brees Fast Willie Parker Fire Tomlin Fwp Green Bay Packers Heath Miller Hines Ward Lamarr Woodley Mike Tomlin Mike Wallace Nfl Playoffs Peyton Manning Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Steelers Pittsburgh Steelers Blog Rashard Mendenhall Ratbirds Ravens-Steelers Roethlisberger Roethlisberger Comeback Roethlisberger Concussion Santonio Holmes Steeler Nation Steelers Steelers Blog Steelers Nation Stillers Super Bowl Champions Tom Brady Tomlin Bonehead Tomlin On Side Kick Wallace Catch

  • “O”

    First of all Drew Brees is not on Big Ben’s level. Last time I checked he has zero rings. I don’t see him getting a ring this year either.If you can’t beat the Cowgirls in December then you are not a champion. I don’t care what kind of stats you can pile up against mediocre teams. How many yards you have per season. All of that means absolutely nothing without a ring.
    Their is a lot of 7-7 teams in the AFC now. So the season is not over . If we can carry this momentum the rest of the year I can say stranger things have happen.
    The real issue right now is the Defense. Or the lack of defense. The Secondary is non-existant. For the first time in a long time our defense is not as good as our offense. I’m use to it the other way around. Tyrone Carter thinks he is playing two hand touch out there. What happen to the pads popping like last year. People used to fear going across the middle on us. Now it is a free lunch.
    Last but not least Troy’s coming back. That might be what we need to put us over the top. We shall see.
    Go Steelers.

  • Cecil

    Thanks O. Your right on. Yes, we did play like champions and I agree with Chris when it comes to the p word. That game remineds me of a poster that I saw in Heinz Field during Ben’s rookie year, ” Big Ben: Godsend.” I don’t think that I’ve seen any other game that wasn’t being directed by Manning or Brady that a quarterback has totally dominated. We might make the playoffs, we might not, but all I can say is we played like champions again.

  • Frazier

    My initial reaction to the surprise onside was confusion and disgust but after hyperventilating and some thoughtful consideration, it was a brilliant call.

    How many times have we watched our opponents drain the clock on game ending interminable drives where our D just CAN’T GET OFF THE FIELD?

    I’m guessing that Tomlin was tired of watching those drives himself.

    Forget recovering the onside kick. If Ike is involved in a play, it’s going to end with a penalty or an offensive touchdown after all.

    The real genius of the call is ensuring that our offense gets a chance to win the game with more than 8 seconds on the clock.

    And that’s EXACTLY what happened.

    Kudos to Mike. Ben didn’t “save” him. His great call gave Ben the chance to save the game (and that’s what we DIDN’T have…in Chicago, Cincy, Cincy again, KC, and Oakland).

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    So I guess Trent Dilfer was a better QB than Dan Marino. After all, Dilfer has a ring while Marino just has a bunch of stats piled up against mediocre teams. I hate when people use the “Ben is better than QB XYZ because he has rings!” argument. Football is a team game and it totally neglects the fact some QBs are lucky enough to be carried by their defense or have superstar WRs while others do not.

    Ben definitely belongs in the elite category with Manning or Brady or Brees. I just don’t think having a couple rings automatically makes him better than any of them.

    And I totally agree that the defense has been atrocious the past couple weeks. How Ty Carter continues to start is beyond me. Mundy couldn’t be worse. However, it pays to remember at one point the D was allowing less than two touchdowns per game and we still lost because of red zone problems and horrible special teams. Again, football is a team effort and the Steelers major problem this year hasn’t been just offense or defense or special teams, it’s been that they can’t seem to have one game where they play well in all three.

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Frazier, I really think you’re trying too hard to be a positive thinker. I understand your theory on the onside kick and Tomlin himself made a similar explanation when asked why he did it.

    But it neglects the fact we won the game on an unbelievable pass/catch with ZERO seconds left on the clock. There’s no way Tomlin could have seriously thought, “Well, if they score fast, we’ll get the ball back so Ben can pull off a miracle. No sweat.” Besides which, how could Tomlin know he’d get the ball back with plenty of time? We only had 2 minutes as it was. If Burnett hadn’t slipped on the TD or the Packer WR was smart enough to take a knee at the 1 foot line, they could’ve ran the clock down to about a minute.

    No, I think you’re over thinking this. Clearly what happened was Tomlin had no confidence in the defense. He figured the only way to protect a 2 point lead was to not give GB’s offense the ball. He just can’t say that because that would be like walking right up to Dick LeBeau and slapping him across the face.

  • Robyn

    If Tomlin’s defense of the onside kick was that he wanted to have enough time left on the clock if they scored, then he certainly should have kicked it away. God knows the Packers had a hell of a chance to just run it back for a touchdown and only take 10 seconds off the clock.

    And I am by no means a Ben hater, but I agree with Chris. You can’t call Ben a god because he has two rings. You just need to look at his abysmal performance in Super Bowl XL to prove that point. I don’t think that’s one that Ben wants to hang his hat on.

  • “O”

    You are wrong this time chris. Your greatness is measured with rings. That is why you play for them. I would bet you Marino would trade all of his stats for a ring. There is still an empty place in his heart that only could be filled with a ring. So yes Marino is a great QB but he is clumped with the greats like Steve Largent that have zero rings. And yes Trent Dilfer was the best QB in the league for one year when he won it all. I also remember back in the day when you did not get in the Hall of Fame without a ring.So rings are a big deal, and how bad you want to make the playoffs proves it. Having two rings does make you better. Any player will tell you the same thing. This is madness. You would not tell people about having Six Super Bowl rings if it wasn’t a big deal. I don’t care how you got them either. Just like you say all the time a win is a win.

  • JRoe

    Great recap, Chris. I’m thinking Arians would be a good fit for St. Louis Rams, or better yet, Baltimore:)! I love BB (he’s my only bobblehead. so far…) but can’t he throw to a quick pass once in a while? All drama all the time, it seems like he creates half the messes he has to bail himself out of, but I wouldn’t trade him for anyone.
    Flying Circus indeed! These last 5 games have been totally out of Monty Python. This season has definitely shown me the value of TP.

  • JLaw

    I agree, excellent recap. Glad to hear and see they played like champions. Too bad for the skid cause i’d like to see a back to back. Hope you all have a good safe holiday.

  • Robyn

    “O” – Ben did not single handedly win two super bowls. The Pittsburgh Steelers won two super bowls with Ben as quarterback. You can not measure an individual’s greatness by team wins. You measure an individual’s greatness by individual stats.

  • Steelpenrates

    Frazier’s right on target–Tomlin’s call was sheer brilliance. It was clear to anyone watching that game (or any 2009 Steeler’s game for that matter) that if we kick it away we lose for sure–our defense simply could not stop them–Green Bay was GOING to score and would have used up most of the clock in doing so. Tomlin’s onside kick actually gave us 2 chances to win–(1) if Ike doesn’t panic and grab the ball early we recover in great position for Ben to take us to a hopefully insurmountable lead or (2) we don’t recover and we give Green Bay a short field and they score too quickly–which is exactly what happened–thanks in part to Burnett’s gaffe (which I aslo think Tomlin planned to facilitate a quick score–as bad as Will.i.am is–do you really put the rook on that island if you’re really trying to stop them?) I’m no Tomlin apologist–I think frankly he’s deserves most of the criticism for the 2009 fiasco–but you have to give him his due here–giant cojones and for once a clear head. Did he diss the defense–you bet he did–and who could criticize him for that?

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Thank you, Robyn. Well said and my thoughts exactly. O is right, winning a Super Bowl is a tremendous accomplishment. But it’s a team effort, not an individual one.

    It’s not fair to judge individual talent on a team effort because players only control so much. The Saints have had a crap defense so how do you blame Brees for not winning a championship? What’s he supposed to do, play linebacker?

    Further, I don’t think anybody would argue Ben was a game manager who depended heavily on the defense and running game back when they won XL. It’s ridiculous to suggest he got us there single-handedly. When you say things like “Ben won two rings” it neglects the important role the rest of the team played in those wins. And that’s not only unfair to those players but misses the fundamental point that football is a TEAM game.

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Steelpenrates (Great name), I do give Tomlin for having some serious testicular fortitude to make that call. And as much as I love Dick LeBeau, that was definitely one of the worst defensive efforts I’ve ever seen from the Black and Gold.

    However, I’m still reluctant to call the gamble “brilliant” because it was one tackle away from backfiring. If the plan was to either recover the kick or let them score quick, why did it take GB almost 2 minutes to score? And if Burnett would’ve tackled the WR instead of slipping, they would’ve burned even more, leaving us with even less time (and we needed every second).

    That said, I admire Tomlin’s willingness to recognize a situation (our D sucking) and doing something about it. Now, whether his crazy gamble was the right solution…

  • “O”

    Robyn I don’t believe I ever said Ben won the Super Bowl single handedly. I just said he is better for having the two rings. I am also aware of what position he plays. Individual stats are merely for gambling and fatasy football that is why the started keeping track of them. Brees is ok but I just don’t like him. Just like I don’t like Phillup Rivers,and Tom Brady. The longer Brees and Rivers go without a ring the better.

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, O. Clearly Robyn and I are interpreting your comments differently than you intend them.

    In any case, I would like to thank you both for being among my most frequent and interesting commentators. Even if we don’t always agree, I appreciate your interest in my goofy little site. Best wishes for a happy holiday season to the both of you.

  • “O”

    Happy Holidays to you too. Robyn Happy holidays as well. Steelers Nation happy holidays.
    Go Steelers
    By the way this is a great site, not goofy

  • Robyn

    and a belated happy holidays to you both! I got a wii for christmas, so please excuse my absence…