Week 17 Recap: New Year, Same Old Browns

In a constantly changing world, it’s nice to know there are some things you can count on.  Politicians will lie, birds will poop on your windshield minutes after you’ve washed it, and the Cleveland Browns will always stink.

The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up the second seed in the AFC and a first round bye by laying a 41-9 pasting the hapless Brownies.  As I’ve said before, last year’s Thursday night debacle may have been the best thing that ever happened to us.  It gave Steeler Nation a reason to believe in a Rivalry which had become pointless, it fooled pitiful Clevelanders into thinking their sad franchise was in the same universe as the Steelers, and, most importantly, it ensured the Steelers would never take anybody lightly ever again.  What we saw yesterday was a team which has come full circle from that embarrassment of a little over a year ago.

Troy Polamalu returned to the line up and his presence paid immediate dividends.  Colt McCoy’s second pass of the day was batted by his own man right into Troy’s waiting arms.  It’s amazing how a rather pedestrian secondary looks so much better than they are when Troy is out there.  On the Steelers first play following the turnover, Ben Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace with a 56 yard touchdown bomb and the route was on.

Big Ben hit the Flash with a 41 yarder on the Steelers next drive, setting up a one yard TD plunge by Rashard Mendenhall.  Mendy would bang home another one yarder later in the 2nd quarter as the Steelers scored touchdowns on their first four possessions.  Following a sweet diving interception by Ryan Clark, Ben hit Heath Miller at the pylon for another score.  After being slapped around for thirty minutes, the Browns’ balls finally dropped, forcing us to settle for a FG to ruin the streak with ninety seconds remaining in the half.

The passing game looked fantastic with Ben hitting eight different receivers while going 15/22 for 280 yards.  Wallace had another 100 yard day while Hines Ward and Heath provided steady hands over the middle.  It was rookie Antonio Brown‘s turn to shine as he caught 4 balls, including a nice 26 yard catch-and-run along the sideline.  The rushing attack was a little rough as Mendy finished with only 36 yards on 14 carries.  As painful as this is to say, I think going forward the Steelers will have to become more of a pass-first offense.  The patchwork line seems better at pass blocking than run blocking (Ben wasn’t sacked once) and, while I like Issac Redman, the team’s loaded with weapons at wide receiver.

The Steelers defense played a magnificent game with only a garbage time touchdown against third stringers marring their day.  Ziggy Hood had his finest effort of the year, recording four solo tackles (two for loss), a sack, and narrowly missing the quarterback a couple other times as he was a disruptive force all afternoon.  Lawrence Timmons was all over the field as he seems to be getting back to early season form.  The secondary held up well with William Gay playing in relief of a limited Bryant McFadden.  The Browns only managed one meaningful 80 yard drive which stalled at the Pittsburgh 2, where Eric Mangini decided to show the hostile crowd his mangina by kicking a field goal on fourth down.

At least you can always tell people you were on The Sopranos, Genius.

You could just hear the howls of protest from whining Yinzers when Ben and company came out to start the third quarter already up 31-3.  Big Ben capped off his nearly prefect afternoon by engineering a thirteen play 77 yard drive which consumed over seven minutes.  It was mostly pass plays which shows you can control the clock without running the ball.  The drive ended with a bit of TRICKERATION when Antwaan Randle-El took a reverse, stopped, and fired a bullet to Hines standing all alone in the end zone.

From that point on, it was a preseason game as rookies and back ups held the pitiful first team Browns mostly in check.  Jonathan Dwyer saw his first action of the season and looked okay.  Byron Leftwich didn’t fare as well, getting sacked twice and looking a bit confused at times although he can still fire the pigskin.  Part of the problem was superstar rookie Maurkice Pouncey left the game with a stinger so he was stuck with Doug Legursky as his center.

What more can I say?  I know I joke a lot about Pittsburgh Paranoia and stuff but Steeler fans tend to be a pretty optimistic bunch.  I remember when I was a kid and Mark Malone was behind center for the Black and Gold and overhearing my Dad and uncles saying, “You know, they just need a couple more players…”  If that’s not crazy optimism, I don’t know what is.  But between the most tumultuous off-season in Steelers history, the quarterback mess to start the season, a very challenging schedule (we ended up playing 6 playoff teams), the injuries to an already mediocre offensive line, and the Ginger Dictator and his zebra striped minions attempting to screw the team over on a weekly basis, I don’t think even the most die hard Steeler fan could’ve envisioned we’d be sitting in this position at the end of the year.

I had a bad feeling when the Steelers kicked off the year on September 12th.  Here on January 3rd?   All I can say is, “I’ve gotta a feeling….”

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