All puns and joking aside related to Candlestick Park’s adventures with the power company, the Pittsburgh Steelers were truly powerless last night. There were a ton of questions regarding the health of Ben’s ankle, and they were all answered with turnovers and fizzled out drives by a quarterback who could barely get out the pocket let alone step into a throw.
There was really nothing that went the Steelers way last night – the icing on the cake in the form of Lawrence Timmons getting called for unsportsmanlike conduct for using leverage during a field goal attempt. That phantom call put the game out of reach because the Niners scored a touchdown just seconds later. And quite frankly, the game completely rested on Ben’s ankle and it gave way early on. Big Ben’s ability to scramble is his greatest strength. Take that away and it’s like chopping of Drew Brees’ right arm and asking him to throw for 300+ yards and three TD’s. Practically insurmountable.
Without the powered punch of Roethlisberger, the offense had slim chances of overcoming a 10+ point deficit. The thing that really killed the Steelers was the field position. Four times the Steelers were pinned inside the 20 – three times inside the 10. Aside from the first drive of the night, the Steelers never started beyond their own 30. In fact their average start was their own 15. That’s a direct result of great punting from Andy Lee and getting no turnovers themselves. The Niners defense is intense and is way up there in the turnover ratio. It’s really hard to consistently drive 80+ yards every single series and expect to get a TD. The Steelers had their chances, but the hobbled Ben forced some passes and was errant on others – a direct result from a guy who knows he can’t scramble and needs to rush his throws. Suisham’s missed field goal hurt bigger than they could have expected that early in the game – but it did.
Props to the offensive line for protecting Ben as long as the did. But eventually they got tired and even Ben’s favorite, Max Starks, began making dumb mistakes and allowed Smith to run all over him. The bright spot of the evening – Big Ben is the toughest SOB in the NFL. No other QB would be able to play on an injury like that. The fact that he was able to run a no huddle and amass over 300 yards passing is quite incredible. And word has it that he never shot up – just two Tylenol and two Advil. That was even confirmed by his trainer.
Unless by some flippin’ miracle and the Ratbirds lose another boner over the next two weeks, the Steelers will land as the 5th seed. That’s not entirely a guarantee either. The Steelers still need to perform well, but they more than likely can do it with the arm of Charlie Batch against the Rams and Browns. Bummer because I was hoping to see some great offense when I go to the game next week. Well well Johnny “Gatorade” Harbaugh, yuck it up while you can but don’t blow it. We’ll see you in the playoffs at some point.
For now it’s back home to face the Rams on Christmas Eve day. All I’ll be asking for Christmas are two wins and a healthy team. There’s no reason to panic, Steelers Nation. This team has seen adversity all season long. They will find a way to overcome it.