Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Three Down, One to Go

So my wife and I were driving up to see her family last Friday night, and knowing that there was no chance the Steelers-Browns game would be shown locally in upstate New York, I had already made plans to go to a bar to watch the festivities.

(As a quick aside, little did I know that "bar" in this case was a euphemesim for "really seedy place that serves alcohol and also happens to have a few televisions showing NFL football.")

Well, about halfway into the drive, I find out that we're all going to church at 3:30 Saturday, which means that I'll miss the last quarter of the game (and maybe the season). My wife assured me that it would be OK to miss church and watch the game at the sports bar, while she and the rest of her family headed off to Mass. I'm pretty dense about most things, but I got the distinct impression that if she had completed the "go ahead to the sports bar" thought, it would've gone something like, "... And when you get back from watching that game, you'll find a pillow and a blanket in the garage. I'll bring the leftovers out to you there, and don't disturb the dogs. Enjoy."

That, and the idea of my wife having to explain to friends of the family that her husband couldn't make it to church because, "he's watching a very important football game against the Cleveland Browns," made my decision an easy one. Instead, I stayed in the house, listened to three quarters on the internets, and caught the final quarter when I got back from church. And just to make sure I don't miss "seeing" a game this season, I orderd a copy of the Steelers-Browns whuppin' to view at my leisure (And here, "leisure" is pronounced in the Queen's English; the same way you'd pronounce "pleasure.") And the fact that Pittsburgh squeaked out a 41-0 win, probably means I should go to Mass more often.

... Even though I didn't see the game, it was a lot more enjoyable to listen to Pittsburgh's radio guys: Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin. Hillgrove is a very good play-by-play guy who now doesn't have to spend most of the broadcast talking over Myron Cope. Ilkin, a former Steelers' lineman, does a very good job of explaining why things happen on the field, instead of just making crap up (Hello Randy Cross).

Other than the 41-0 drubbing, the highlight had to be listening to Hillgrove and Ilkin describe the Browns fan who thought it would be a good idea to run onto the field and try and tackle Verron Haynes during the 4th quarter. CBS has a policy of not showing idiots running around the field during games, so they didn't mention it, but thanks to Hoagie, I got to see the James Harrison hip toss.

A couple of things stand out as I watched the video. First, where the hell is Verron going? He looked like Randle El dancing around on a punt return when he tried to avoid the dopey Browns fan. I'm guessing he was more surprised than anything to see some idiot wearing sweatpants and knee socks running around the field, but either way, his teammates probably won't let him forget about this any time soon.

Second, how great was it that after Kenard Lang pushes the fan, he stumbles over to the Steelers' sideline, turns his back to the bench, and Harrison calmy walks up behind him and throws him to the ground. There's nothing like seeing a nerd in sweatpants and knee socks flailing helplessly as maybe the meanest guy in the organization gives you a two-ball sandwich. I can only hope that Harrison said something to the effect of, "Hey dude, you better get used to having a grown man's ass in your face, because this is what prison's going to be like. Except without the nifty yellow tights."

Finally, it wasn't on the video, but during the radio broadcast, both Hillgrove and Ilkin said that Clark Haggans held up Harrison's arm a la Rocky after the cops sorted everything out. Somebody should give him a championship belt or something.

... A while back I mentioned that some of the natives wanted upgrades at middle linebacker, running back, and even head coach. I've always liked Larry Foote, but his play the past two weeks have been nothing short of Boller-like (and that's in a good way). And in case you missed the last play of the game, here's the lick (which I found here) Foote put on Browns' TE Aaron Shea. (And pay special attention to #92 of the Steelers after the hit. I don't think he's trying to help Shea up.) Willie Parker had a nice little day against the Browns, and now that the Steelers' offensive line and running game are starting to click, there's been very little talk about firing Cowher. (I guess the worst thing that can happen to Pittsburgh is to get back to the AFCC and lose. Then Cowher will really be a failure. [/end sarcasm])

... I caught the highlights of the game on NFL Network, and it was good to see Charlie Batch air one out, and Quincy Morgan make a nice play on the ball. I thought it was particularly funny that Morgan got up and started pointing at his helmet to let the Browns fans know that he no longer plays in Cleveland (just in case the sight of him tackling Browns players during kickoffs wasn't enough of a hint). This one play only exacerbates the "Quincy Morgan should eventually be the #2 guy" argument, and Antwaan dropping the first pass of the game doesn't help his case. Since telecasts seldom give you end zone views, it's hard to tell if Antwaan just isn't getting open, or if he's open, but Ben just doesn't feel comfortable throwing him the ball downfield. Or maybe it's neither. Maybe Roethlisberger is just as comfortable with Randle El as he was with Plax. It just doesn't look that way during games. Whatever. It's a good problem to have.

... This was discussed in the comments, but I too wonder if Ike Taylor has forgotten how to catch a football. It sounded like the Steelers could've had something like eight interceptions, but found a way to drop each one of them. Ike had maybe the most amazing interception I've ever seen during last year's Halloween game against the Pats, so I know he can catch. Still, the good news is that the defensive backs are in the right place, and are making plays. Yeah, dropping easy picks is frustrating, but if you want to make yourself feel better, just think back to the 2002 starting lineup that included Chad Scott, DeWayne Washington, Lee Flowers and Brent Alexander. There's a reason that team finished near the bottom of the league in pass defense, and it had very little to do with dropped interceptions.

... Apparently, if the Chargers win Saturday's matchup against the Broncos, the Steelers are in, even if they lose to the Lions 41-0. And it looks like Denver might rest some of their starters, since they'll get a bye either way. Which means that Pittsburgh might rest some starters too. And just like last year's Bills' game, that's fine by me. Unlike last year though, the Steelers won't get any time off, so any concerns about being rusty are a non-issue here. If Ben only plays a few series, I'm with DJ Any Reason about who should be pulling a Rudy Ruettiger. Tommy Maddox. This is a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, it means that Charlie Batch won't get hurt on the sidelines unless James Harrison decides to body slam him. Second, Maddox will get a chance to string together a few good plays and hopefully get a few cheers in what very well could be his last home game. Plus, I'd love nothing more than to see a Maddox-Garcia matchup because there's sure to be a lot of scoring -- on defense. Honestly, if these two were announced as starters, the over/under would be upwards of 120. I'd conservatively set the "total interceptions returned for touchdown" line at 7. Just put both those guys in the no-huddle shotgun and let them air it out. If this game doesn't mean anything in the standings, it might as well be entertaining. Hey, I'm just thinking of the fans here.

OK, that's all I got.