Week 17 Recap: Went Down Swinging

The Pittsburgh Steelers held on to defeat the Miami Dolphins by a score of 30-24. At approximately the same time, the New England Patriots were experiencing a fourth quarter implosion of their own.  Bernard Pollard, Tom Brady‘s personal kryptonite, picked off an errant pass, setting up the score which brought the Houston Texans from 14 points down to a touchdown ahead. Later in the afternoon, the Steelers postseason hopes were officially finished when Oakland QB Charlie Frye was knocked out of their game against the Ravens and replaced by uber-bust Jamarcus Russell. All told, it wasn’t even close as only one of the four teams the Steelers needed to lose actually lost. Which means yesterday’s game against the Dolphins was an exciting if ultimately meaningless victory.

For the sake of posterity, I’ll offer a recap anyway.

The game began well for the Steelers.  As painful as this is to admit, Bruce Arians has devised mostly excellent game plans the past two weeks.  I have no idea what he was thinking the previous 14 weeks but it took him all this time to realize our offense needed balance (33 rushes vs 28 passes yesterday) and that short quick patterns like screens and slants weren’t a bad thing.  The first drive of the game was a perfect example of this as a quick out pass to Heath Miller went for 37 yards after a great catch-and-run.  Rashard Mendenhall (20 carries 94 yards) ripped off a 12 yard gain setting up a quick slant to Santonio Holmes for the TD.

Miami answered right back with Rickey Williams blasting right up the middle when the Steelers D parted like the Red Sea.  I’d like to blame this on the lack of Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel but both our inside linebackers got totally taken out on the play.  James Farrior has lost about three steps while Lawrence Timmons gets pushed around the field on rushing plays.  I realize they’re paying Timmons first round money and he’s been pretty good as a third down/pass rushing LB but next year they really have to give Keyaron Fox more playing time in the base defense.  At least he can play the run.

Anyway, the Fins also completed several 10 yard passes on that drive as our CBs decided to give every reciever an 8 yard cushion yesterday.   Literally, they were in full back pedal mode the second the ball was snapped.  It was ridiculous.  Chad Henne took advantage by tossing an 11 yard TD pass to tie the score.

Stefan Logan, who had a terrific day returning kicks, brought the ball back 30 yards to start the next drive.  Our special teams have been horrific this year but I think Logan has earned himself a job next season.  It took him about half the season to get going but he’s the best return man the team has had since Rod Woodson.   The Steelers scored a TD on this drive when two Dolphins collided with each other and Mike Wallace ran right by the trainwreck for a 54 yard bomb.

In the second quarter, Henne continued to take the ten yard chunks the Steelers secondary seemed happy to give him.  The drive stalled and they settled for a FG.  Fast Willie Parker, who chipped in with 91 yards on 12 carries in what may be his last game with the Steelers, started with a 12 yard gain.  After Ben Roethlisberger had a fumble reversed on replay, he tossed a screen pass to Mendy which netted 26 more yards.  As happened too often this season, the drive stalled at the Miami 6 as a short FWP run was followed by two incompletions. Skippy Reed kicked a FG to make it 17-10.

This set up a wild series of events.   Henne’s very next pass was picked off by Deshea Townshend.   That’s the first INT by a Steelers CB this season.   I repeat, FIRST PICK BY A  DB ALL SEASON.  If that doesn’t tell you how bad they’ve been, I don’t know what does.   On the Steelers first play following the turnover, Arians went insane.  He inexplicably called for a lateral and pass by the WR.  Now, I don’t have a problem with trick plays but the WR he chose to throw the ball wasn’t college QB Hines Ward or experienced halfback passer Mewelde Moore.   It was Santonio Holmes, who I don’t believe has ever thrown a pass in his life.   So of course ‘Tone throws a duck into double coverage which is easily picked off.

Miami answered with another drive which pretty much summed up how utterly pathetic our secondary has been this year.  On a 2nd and 20, Deshea watched Henne complete a 24 yard pass in front of him.   Later on 3rd and 12, Will.i.am Gay was five yards off the WR when he caught a 21 yard pass.  A snap launched over Henne’s head took the Fins out of FG range.  Mister Woodley, who’s been an absolute beast the last half of the season, put an end to this nonsense by sacking him for the second time in the drive.

The third quarter started with WVU’s Pat White assuming QB duties for an injured Chad Henne.  White showed excellent poise in throwing every pass directly at his receiver’s feet.   Meanwhile, Mendy was busy ripping off another long run (36 yards) to set the Steelers up at the Miami 6.  Big Ben scrambled out of danger and connected with Heath at the back of the endzone for a TD.

Before the quarter expired, a scary moment occurred when White scrambled toward the sideline trying for a first down.  He collided helmet-to-helmet with Ike Taylor and took the worst of it.  While Ike seemed to suffer no ill effects, White lay motionless on the turf for several minutes.  He was given the backboard and cart treatment.  Thankfully, medical reports are he only suffered a concussion and has full movement in his extremities.

A good punt return by Logan and a 26 yard pass interference call on an attempt to Holmes set the Steelers up at the Miami 11 as the dreaded fourth quarter began.  Once again, the Black and Gold failed inside the red zone and settled for a Skippy FG.  Still, up 27-10 with less than a quarter remaining seemed to put this one in the bag.

But we know better, don’t we? Tyler Thigpen entered the game and the Steelers D promptly set about making him look like the second coming of Dan Marino.  Two long passes added to a pass interference penalty on the useless Gay moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 16.  A tricky reverse totally fooled the defense allowing WR Brian Hartline to reach the endzone almost untouched.

Following a three and out by the Steelers, Miami marched right down the field for another touchdown.  This drive, engineered by Tyler Thigpen by the way, lasted all of three plays and went for 67 yards.   Yes, Tyler Thigpen went 67 yards on THREE PLAYS.   Both our corners and safeties pretty much stood by helplessly as TT moved the Fins down the field with ease.   The 17 point lead was down to 3 in about three minutes of game time.

On the Steelers next possession, more disaster struck when Big Ben was sacked and fumbled the ball.   Joey Porter recovered the fumble which was bad enough.  To add injury to insult, Peezy landed on Ben’s arm when diving for the loose ball.  Ben managed to finish the game with his arm hanging limply at his side in between every play.  Nice of him to finally show some guts although we could’ve used this new found courage about six weeks ago against the Ravens.

Miami had the ball at the Steelers 21 and it appeared a tie was imminent.   Thankfully, Tyler Thigpen WENT ALL TYLER THIGPEN and forced a terrible throw into double coverage.  Ryan Clark put a period on his Steeler career with a well-timed INT.   The Steelers were still backed up on their 2 yard line and needed to make some plays to at least make Miami work to get back into FG range.

Ben bravely completed a few passes to move the chains.  Then FWP gave Steeler Nation a farewell present in the form of a 34 yard run.  Several plays later, he scored an 8 yard TD which would’ve been the best way to end his Black and Gold career but the score was nullified by a holding penalty on Hines.   Still, his heroics set up yet another FG which all but put the game out of reach.

The game officially ended when Face Me Ike intercepted a desperation throw by Thigpen.  Yes, I can’t belive I just typed those words either.   The only time I use the terms IKE TAYLOR and INTERCEPTION in the same sentence, the word “dropped” is usually sandwiched in between them.  Figures the secondary, although mostly playing a terrible game, would still wait until week 17 to come up with some turnovers.   Where was this at ten weeks ago?

Of course, I could say that about a lot of things.   The 2009 season will long be remembered as one of the more frustrating in Steeler history.   From the high of a 6-2 start to the low of a five game losing streak against the dregs of the NFL, it was definitely a year of extremes.  What makes me shake my head is the fact Baltimore, Minnesota, San Diego, and Green Bay are all in this year’s playoffs and all were beaten by the Steelers.  I don’t know what to think when we may have defeated this year’s Super Bowl winner yet couldn’t defeat the lowly Cleveland Browns.  Hopefully, next year the team gets a few of their personnel issues sorted out and comes back more focused and more importantly hungry for another championship.

I’m already counting the days.

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