Monday, February 06, 2006

3rd and 28

So, uh, I've been on Mars for the last two days -- what have people been talking about? OK, just kidding. Seriously, I feel a hell of a lot better than I did, oh I don't know, 24 hours ago. At the time, I thought I was pretty happy -- I mean, Pittsburgh had just won the friggin' Super Bowl -- but after hearing and reading everybody and his brother lament the plight of NFL officiating, and how they single-handedly torpedoed any chance Seattle had of competing in the game, I didn't feel so hot. Until I watched the game again thanks to my good friend Mr. TiVo. And guess what? The officiating was as craptacular as it always is, but it was certainly within two standard deviations of the average officiating suckitude meter. In English this means that the refs didn't lose this game for the Seahawks. The Seahawks lost this game for the Seahawks.

In all honesty, I'm glad I actually didn't write down my thoughts right after the game. For one, I was about eight Ding-a-Lings deep (That's my oh-so-witty nickname for Yuengling. Huh, as I re-read this sentence, being "eight Ding-a-lings deep" sounds kinda dirty ... in an Elton John sorta way. Mental note: think up new nickname for Yuengling). Second, being so worked up about the game, my comments would've been much more emotional and reactionary than rational. It's like drunk dialing your ex-girlfriend, but instead of confirming to one person you suck, you let a whole crapload of people in on your dirty little secret.

Anyway, not only am I now sober, I'm also about as rational as I'm going to get. And, as usual, I'm extremely dangerous (not sure what that means, but it seemed like the right thing to say). Enough with the pleasantries, let's get down to business.

First things first: congrats to Billy McMoustache (Looking back, can you believe that I actually had to write this f'ing article? Jeebus.), and the Bus, and the Rooneys. Way back in September, Roethlisberger tried to tell anybody who would listen that this team could be better than last year's 15-1 squad even if they didn't win as many games. Nice call Carnac. You might have a future in this business if you stick with it. Seriously though, what a great season (somehow, your team winning the Super Bowl tends to make seasons great). I think it's fair to say that we all had our doubts way back on December 4th, when Pittsburgh got donkey-punched by Cincy, as to whether this team was going to end up with a middle-of-the-pack first round pick. Instead of folding up shop, they instead reeled off eight in a row and won the Super Bowl. And Tommy Maddox should be given credit for making the season especially interesting. Honestly, where's the fun in winning every game? Pittsburgh could've started Tyrone Carter at QB in the Jacksonville and Baltimore games and won both going away, but there's no sport in that, right? So Tommy, thanks for your contribution. Without it, Pittsburgh would've never been able to become the first six seed to run the table. OK, enough with the silliness. Time to talk shop.

Do you want to know why the Steelers won the Super Bowl? Anybody? It had absolutely nothing to do with the officiating. And it had everything to do with me being superstitious. Both Friday and Saturday I spent as much time as possible out of the house and away from the television primarily because I was ready shoot myself if I had to hear Michael Irvin, Brian Baldinger, Sterling Sharpe, Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Steve Young or Sean Salisbury say another word ... about anything. So what did I do? What any normal person would -- on Friday I went to PetSmart and tried to talk myself into buying a new aquarium -- anything to keep my mind occupied until Sunday at 6:23 PM EST. Didn't actually end up making the purchase, but I was pretty damn close. Saturday, I did more aimless driving. I'm not sure if this is a good idea because I ended up at TJ Maxx. But this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My buddy Andy is a Washington Wizards fan, and as luck would have it, I grabbed him one of the few remaining Kwame Brown Wiz jerseys. And by "few remaining," I mean there were racks of these jerseys as far as the eye could see. All Kwame, all the time. Pretty embarrassing actually. But not as embarrassing as what I paid for it: five bucks. But it gets better (and I know I mentioned something about the Super Bowl and superstitions, and I'm getting to it -- just be patient).

Close by was an even sweeter find (what can be sweeter than finding a $5 Brown jersey, right?): a Detroit Lions Joey Harrington game jersey for -- wait for it -- seven dollars! Nice work Kwame. OK, here's the point. I bought the Harrington jersey because (and see if you can follow this reasoning):
(a) The Super Bowl is in Detroit;
(b) Harrington is so bad that giving him some love has to be some kind of reverse good karma;
(c) And, amazingly, Jerome Bettis is from Detroit.
Yeah, the superstition angle doesn't make much sense to me either, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And just to make sure that I didn't double-cross my karma thing, I came straight home, put on my new Harrington jersey, but under it I wore my Fred Gibson University of Georgia t-shirt. If two wrongs were ever going to make a right, this would be it. And I knew things were working because UNC beat Clemson in my new get up.

Now with all of that settled, and the game already decided, it's pretty easy to see that the officials really had no say in the outcome. OK, the Gibson/Harrington combo probably had nothing to do with who won, but neither did the officials. Before I get started, let me just say a few things about the part of the game that didn't directly involve discussing the refs.

First, Seattle should've been up by at least 14 points (and probably 17 -- or more) going into halftime. If people want to be mad at somebody for sucking, Jerramy Stevens should be the primary target. And by the way, Stevens should send all the officials Thank-You cards for taking all the heat off him. He dropped two big red-zone passes (one, it could be argued, was a fumble; either way, he should've caught both). If he catches both of those, the Seahawks probably score 10 and maybe even 14. Instead, they had to punt.

Matt Hasselbeck is pretty damn good. That said, all the talk coming into the game was that Mike Holmgren's offense is all about tempo; that is, Holmgren gets the play into Hasselbeck right after the previous play ends. Hasselbeck hustles his team to the line, and usually snaps the ball with 10 or 11 seconds left on the play clock. Yeah, a funny thing happened Sunday. Hasselbeck was doing a lot of gesticulating and hand gesturing at the line (sound familiar?). And it looked like the Steelers defense confused him at times. He still made a lot of plays, and if Jerramy Stevens wasn't playing dodgeball with the football, either he or Hasselbeck would've been the runaway MVP.

I was also impressed with the Seahawks defense. Yeah, I know, they gave up three big plays that led to three scores, but Lofa Tatupu might be my new favorite NFL player not playing for the Steelers. The guys is unbelievable and the best part is that soooooo many "experts" (nod, nod, wink, wink) were lambasting the Seahawks for taking this guy so early last April. On the Willie Parker TD, Alan Faneca made a great block and safety Michael Boulware overpursued. And it wasn't like he overran the play by 25 yards. It was more like two feet. That's how close it was to being a one-yard gain. The Randle El hookey-dookey play was successful in part because the Seahawks starting safety, Manual, was out, and the backup, Pruitt, was apparently taking bong hits as the play unfolded. I'm not sure if Manual wouldn't have bitten on the end around, but you have to think they covered this at some point during the week, right? And by the way, all those idiots saying that Marcus Trufant got burned on that play are, well, idiots. Trufant ran 50 yards across the field because the safety blew the coverage. It shouldn't even been that close.

And I almost forgot, Josh Brown missed two field goals. One of which should've probably been a TD or at least a chip shot if -- guess who -- didn't drop another pass at the three yard line. Nothing like dropping a pass that hits you right in the hands and then getting crushed. Like my buddy Andy said, "you might as well catch it if you're going to get the crap knocked out of you." Well, unless you're Jerramy Stevens, I guess.

Now, about those calls ...

I don't want to beat this to death, because at this point, it's better documented as the O.J. trial, but without any of the intrigue (like is Chris Darden really sleeping with Marcia Clark? And is Lance Ito really naked under that robe?), but let's take a quick look, one-by-one, at the allegations.

The first one was the offensive pass interference on Darrell Jackson. It was the right call. You can't push the defender to create space for yourself. Anyone who says this wasn't offensive pass interference probably buys seven dollar Joey Harrington jersey's and thinks it's perfectly normal to do so. If you want to argue that this isn't called consistently, then I can't disagree, but to say it wasn't a penalty is wrong. And here's my question: if you look at the replay, why did Jackson have to touch Hope at all? He had him beat. If he'd continued to his left, Hope was already on his hip and there was nothing but open end zone in that direction. And you know what? A few plays later, Hasselbeck went right back in the end zone on a bomb to DJ Hackett. Bryant McFadden made a nice play on the ball, but Hackett mistimed his jump and could've come down with that ball. In fact, I'm guessing if you ask him, he'd probably say he should've had it (or at least he would've had it more often than Jerramy Stevens).

The next call was the holding on Pruitt during Peter "Just call me Desmond Howard" Warrick's big punt return that many people claimed was a phantom call. Well, if you mean by "phantom call," "holding," then yeah, I agree. Pruitt blocked Tyrone Carter at the Seattle 35-yard line and as Warrick ran to his left, Pruitt held Carter as he tried to make a play on Warrick. Just watch it. It's at the 14:44 mark of the 2nd qtr.

[Brief Big Ben Interlude]

Other than the officiating, another popular topic is whether Roethlisberger crapped the bed Sunday and tried to Kyle Boller the Steelers to defeat. Uh, no. Not even close. Ben had two interceptions, one of which was the worst pick I've ever seen by somebody not wearing a Ravens #7 jersey. After the first pick, I turned to Andy and said, "nothing like a punt on first down."

Honestly, the first pick didn't bother me. Roethlisberger made the right read (I mean, he had Randle El matched up with former college linebacker Boulware for crissakes), but just underthrew it by 30 yards or so. Stuff like that happens. It's football. But here's the thing, after the first pick, Ben bounced back to end the half. First, on 3-and-6 from the PIT 45, Ben throws the nice little Favre-esque shovel pass to Hines for a first down. He then follows that up with a 20-yard rope to Cedrick Wilson. The very next play was a great pass in the end zone that only Hines could catch. Except that he dropped it. It would've been a tough reception, but hey, this is Hines Ward. That was a big play, especially since the very next play resulted in a Heath Miller offensive pass interference call that gave the Steelers a 2nd and 20. Followed by a sack that gave them a 3rd and 28. And then Ben makes maybe the play of the first half when he runs around like a maniac, and somehow finds Hines at three, all while not crossing the line of scrimmage. (And for those of you who are begging, all the Steelers linemen were within one yard of the line of scrimmage -- just watch the replay.) So the Steelers drop a TD pass, get an offensive PI, and suffer a sack. And still find a way to convert the first down. Huh, fancy that. Imagine if Ben wasn't such a choker. He probably would've willed Hines to catch the dropped TD, or else willed Hines into the end zone on the 3rd and 28.

The second pick was dreadful, but it was still the right read. Either Ben didn't see Kelly Herndon, or he thought he was 3'5". To say he choked is just stupid. Yeah, I remember Tom Brady not having such great games against either Jacksonville or Denver, but nobody's accusing the guy of choking. This stuff happens. It's called being human.

[/Brief Big Ben Interlude]

Then there was Big Ben's disputed TD. I couldn't tell whether he was in or not. Maybe he wasn't. Maybe the side judge should've been more decisive. Maybe Jerramy Stevens shouldn't have dropped two big passes in the first half that robbed Seattle of points. Maybe the Seahawks should've gotten off the field on 3rd and 28. And lets say Ben didn't get in. Fourth and inches is Bus time. And if he doesn't get in, Seattle has to go 99 yards in two minutes.

With less than a minute to go in the half, Hasselbeck threw a bomb to Jackson. Jackson got one foot down, but his other foot grazed the pylon and he stepped out of bounds. If the rule is that the pylon is inbounds then it should've been a TD. If the rule is the WR needs to get two feet inbounds for it to be a reception, then it was the right call. How the hell the pylon can be considered inbounds is beyond me, but if that's the rule, then the refs, er, dropped the ball on that one. (So what happens if you get one foot inbounds and then jump through the end zone landing out-of-bounds? It's not a catch, right? Explain to me how this is any different because you kicked a pylon?) Another issue is whether Jackson had control of the ball as he went out. After watching replays, it sure as hell looked like he did.

In the second half, all the fuss was about the phantom hold called on Locklear against Haggans that brought back a pass that got Seattle down to the one-yard line. By the letter of the rule, this was a hold, but that's kinda misleading. Yeah, yeah, we all know that you "can call holding on virtually every play," so there has to be some discretion on the part of the refs. When I first saw the call live, it looked like a bad one. And I'd be pretty pissed if it was called on Pittsburgh. Honestly, the only two bad calls in this game were this one and the dopey "low block on a blocker who actually turned out to be the ball carrier" they called on Hasselbeck after he threw the pick to Ike (pending the "pylon rule" above, of course).

It'll be interesting to hear how Mike Pereira explains the calls this Wednesday. I suspect he'll say the officials blew the low block on Hasselbeck and maybe clarify the pylon ruling, but otherwise, he might not give too much ground on the other calls. And even if he comes out and says every call that went against the Seahawks was a bad one, that's not why they lost the game. Dropped passes, missed field goals, weird play-calling and craptastic clock management is. Especially the dropped passes. One more thing about the officiating, and this will be the last time I'll talk about it (until tomorrow, anyway): if the Colts had pulled out that game three weeks ago, that would've been the worst officiated game of the year. By a light year. And I guess it still is the worst officiated game of the year -- the only reason people quit talking about it was because Pittsburgh won the game. There were so many egregious calls in that three hour span that you couldn't run to the fridge for a Ding-a-Ling without something never-before-seen happening. And that's why all the people talking about conspiracies are really, really dumb. So the fix was in for Indy, but since they still couldn't win, the Steelers became the beneficiaries of the fix? Yep, that makes perfect sense. To further the conspiracy angle, Spooky Mulder might point out that the Steelers have been hosed more times than I care to remember through the years, which kinda pokes holes in the, uh, conspiracy angle. Whoops.

So yes, the officials suck. But that's not news. Jerramy Stevens sucks. That's not news either. The Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl, Jerome Bettis retired on top, Heels, Sox and Steelers is the biggest bandwagon web log on the planet (I mean come on, how can you have three favorite teams all win championships within 18 months of each other?), and this little here site is two years old today. Now that's news. (And that reminds me, dues are going up this year, so be prepared to pay.)