Saturday, January 4, 2014

O for Ohio: Steelers miss playoffs again


"I went back to Ohio
but my Steelers were gone
no division title
there was no playoffs
Super Bowls had disappeared
and some favorite players
The Steelers had been pulled down
reduced to mere bystanders
A, O it's O for Ohio . . ."

Maybe it's me?  The Steeler Face has lived in Ohio during five football seasons--and in none of those have the Steelers made the playoffs.  From 1998-2000 the Steeler Face resided in Athens, Ohio and the Steelers finished 7-9, 6-10 and 9-7 respectively--and sat out the postseason each time.  The Steeler Face returned to Ohio (this time, Cincinnati)  in 2012 and the Steelers have finished 8-8 the past two years and have missed out on the playoffs for consecutive years for the first time . . . since 1998-2000.


"So I went back to Ohio
but my Steelers were gone
I watched on the TV
but they were not on
I was stunned and amazed
as playoff memories
just swirled past me
here in Cincinnati
Oh, no, I'm still O for Ohio . . ." 

Nonetheless, the Steeler Face is finding it hard not to be optimistic about the near future after watching the Steelers win 6 of their last 8 games to close out the 2013 season, after a horrendous 2-6 start.  This team never quit fighting and somehow found a way to make it interesting, and with two weeks to go, Pittsburgh needed 8 different things to happen to sneak into the playoffs and 7.99 of those things did.  Too bad that it was too little too late.


"I went back to Ohio
but my Steeler Nation pride
had been paved down the middle
by an NFL that had no pride
Bengals in Ohio
replacing Steelers in playoffs
but 'We-dey' fills the air
from Athens to Cincinnati Ohio
I said, A, O, I'm O for Ohio . . ."

The only thing that didn't go the Steelers way was Kansas City's 24-27 loss in San Diego.  Yeah, we could grumble about the illegal formation on KC's missed FG at the end of regulation, or the miss itself, or the touchdown that was taken away by a whistle that was never blown in OT--but the blame lies entirely in Pittsburgh.  The Steelers simply put themselves in too big a hole to climb out of despite the valiant effort at the end.  If the Steelers are going to dwell on anything it should be the Dolphins game--and not Antonio Brown's toe stepping out of bounds--but the 34 points the Steeler D allowed to a Miami team playing in the snow and wind at Heinz Field--a Miami team that would only score 7 points in its last two games of the season against the Bluff-alo Bills and N.Y. Jets.  That Dolphins game was a killer.

Still, Steeler Nation should be proud of the way this team fought back, especially after the Miami game that left Pittsburgh with a 5-8 record and almost no hope.  The cacophony of calls for Tomlin's firing, Big Ben being traded and Haley's public execution have thankfully gone away.  Let's face it--Tomlin has never had a losing season, neither has Big Ben, and the no-huddle offense worked beautifully in the second half of the season.

Big Ben completed 28 touchdowns against 14 interceptions and passed for 4,261 yards, Le'Veon Bell rushed for 860 yards (breaking Franco Harris' rookie record for the Steelers) and 8 touchdowns, Jericho Cotchery caught 10 touchdown passes and Antonio Brown (along with Troy Polamalu) made the Pro Bowl.

The big question marks for the Steelers in 2014 are all on defense:

-- Will Troy Polamalu be back?  Yes, he still has a year left on his contract, but it is for $10 million.  Troy is a perennial pro-bowler and had an amazing comeback this year.  He still has it.  I hope the Steelers find a way to keep him--whether it is by extending his contract, asking him to restructure his contract, or just paying him the damn money.  The Rooney's would do well to remember what happened after they prematurely gave up on Rod Woodson and let the future Hall of Famer depart via free agency in 1997--Rod picking off three passes in a single game as a member of the San Francisco 49ers . . . Rod winning a Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens . . . or playing in another Super Bowl as a member of the Oakland Raiders.  Ugh.

-- Will Ike Taylor, Lamar Woodley, Brett Keisel or anyone else on defense be back?  Who cares -- keep Troy.

-- Will Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau return as defensive coordinator?  Who cares -- keep Troy.

-- Will the Steelers rebuild the defense via the draft?  They should, and more importantly, they should keep Troy.

Other off-season story lines to follow:

-- Will Jerome Bettis make the Hall of Fame?  He should -- it is more than about damn time.

-- What is the future of the The Steeler Face?  I'm sorry that I had a hard time keeping up with the blog in 2013.  The Steeler Face will take time to consider how to reshape the effort in 2014.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Let's just f@cking play . . . ": Steelers STILL alive in NFL playoff scenario


The fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers (who started 0-4 and 2-6) can even be mentioned in the same sentence as "playoff scenario" in the final week of the NFL regular season is remarkable.  Despite injuries, bad play calling, ineffective playmaking and the ever present Steeler-hating-officiating, this team has still managed to fight its way back by winning 5 of its last 7 games.  Should we expect the Steelers to make the playoffs tomorrow afternoon?  Of course not.  Let's shed any such notion of "expectation" and just get the win against the Cleveland Brownie-Elves and celebrate another season of Steeler football--playoffs or not. 

That said--go Bengals, go Jets and go Chiefs...because (in addition to a win against Cleveland) the Steelers need the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers to all lose tomorrow if they are going to miraculously claim the AFC's last remaining playoff spot as the 6th-seeded Wild Card.  What Steeler fan can resist a little scoreboard watching if Pittsburgh still has a shot (no matter how faint) to make the playoffs?  All I'm saying is -- do it without any "expectation" that they'll get in.  Expectations suck -- so don't have any.  

Instead, let's savor what was the most satisfying win of an otherwise frustrating season -- the Steelers' 38-31 victory at Green Bay last week.

There were good signs about this one even before kick-off -- Heather of Steeler Nation's Michigan Bureau reported seeing a Steeler-themed plane in Detroit while en route on holiday travel, as well as hearing "Renegade" upon arrival.


At halftime the Steelers trailed 10-14, but the second half was nothing short of electrifying.  It all began in the third quarter with the Steelers set to punt on 4th and 2 from their own 43 when special teams coach Danny Smith made Pittsburgh's best play call of the year -- a fake punt.  Matt McBriar took the snap, scrambled right, and had the presence to hold back with two oncoming rushers breathing down his neck before passing 17 yards to David Paulson.  A personal foul penalty tacked on another 15 yards and the Steelers had a first down at the Packers 13.  On the very next play, Ben Roethlisberger scrambled for 13 yards and his first rushing touchdown since 2010 to put Pittsburgh ahead 17-14.  The Green Bay Packers had officially been served.


The Steelers could have taken control of the game on the Packers next possession when on third-and-6 Pittsburgh sacked Matt Flynn.  However, offsetting fouls (holding against Green Bay and illegal hands to the face against Pittsburgh) gave the Packers a do-over, which they converted.  Green Bay moved the ball further and a punt pinned the Steelers deep at their own 2-yard line.  Le'Veon Bell fumbled and now the Packers were set up for a gift touchdown.

However, the Steeler defense made its best stand of the year -- in years, in fact -- by pushing Green Bay back and forcing a 23-yard field goal attempt that was BLOCKED by Cameron Heyward and recovered by Ryan Clark, who established possession, made a "football" move, lateraled the ball to a teammate who couldn't catch it, before it was knocked out of bounds by Ziggy Hood.  Inexplicably, Steeler-hating-officiating awarded possession of the ball to Green Bay and Coach Mike Tomlin was not allowed to challenge.  Of course, Green Bay scored on the next play and it was 21-17 Packers.  The momentum swing could have been soul crushing.  Green Bay and the NFL's Steeler-hating-officiating had officially served the Steelers back.  So now, it was on.



Another sign: Memories of January 15, 2006.

The morning of the Steelers/Packers game I happened to watch an episode of NFL's Greatest Games that featured the Steelers 21-18 playoff win against the Colts in 2006.  The ridiculously-awful call that went against Pittsburgh in Green Bay immediately reminded me of another ridiculously-awful call that went against Pittsburgh seven years ago during that playoff game at Indianapolis when a Troy Polamalu interception was wrongly overruled by NFL Steeler-hating-officiating.  While the play was "under review" Bill Cowher in his finest moment as Steelers Coach took his defense aside (assuming that--despite the ruling on the field, ample videographic evidence confirming the same, logic, reason, fairness, application of basic NFL rules, and the facts--the call was going to go against Pittsburgh anyway) and delivered this message:

"Let's just f@cking play, no matter what happens, regardless of what happens, we move on and we play."

That message came to mind as the Steeler Face suddenly channeled his inner-Joey Porter from 2006 on the next Steeler possession as Bell ran for 25 yard and leaped a Packer defender in the process before Big Ben threw an 11-yard TD strike to Matt Spaeth (remember him) to put the Steelers back on top 24-21.  "CHEAT THAT!" -- came the echo of Joey Porter.


On Green Bay's next possession, Cortez Allen intercepted Matt Flynn and ran 40-yards for the pick-six to move Pittsburgh's lead to 31-21 late in the third quarter.  


"CHEAT THAT!  CHEAT THAT!" 

If memory serves (and it doesn't clearly) the jar of liquor-soaked cherries used to cap off each Steeler score had been exhausted somewhere around half-time.  The Steeler Face (infused with the spirit of Joey Porter) had improvised by topping off shots of Stoli vodka with the remaining cherry juice (assuming the liquor used to soak the cherries was the same).  Mrs. Steeler Face later informed me that the last batch of cherries were soaked with Makers Mark, meaning I had now slammed at least three toxic mixes of cherry juice infused with bourbon, topped with vodka.   Liquid courage said "f@ck it" -- the 21-point Steelers third quarter was worth it.

Green Bay tied the game at 31-31 in the fourth quarter, but I kept in mind Cowher's words, and kept the faith.  With three minutes to go in the game the Packers were backed-up at their own 5-yard line on 3rd-and-13.  Flynn was scrambling for a first down when Troy Polamalu FORCED A FUMBLE that was recovered by Brett Keisel.  Pittsburgh took possession at the Packers' 17 and with 1:25 left, Bell scored the go-ahead TD for a 38-31 Steelers' lead. Bell finished the day with 26 carries, 124 yard rushing and 2 TDs. 

Enjoy this one Steeler Nation -- and remember, have no expectations about making the playoffs.  After an 0-4 and 2-6 start this season was over--dead in the water--over.  So, as far as I'm concerned, this week is "free football".  The Steelers still have something to play for in its last game -- awesome.

Another sign?

While driving my sons back from play rehearsal last night we heard "Renegade: on the radio . . . and cranked it . . . here we go Steelers, here we go!

Santa -- thank you for last weekend -- now can we have the Steelers win again while the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers all lose?




Polamalu, Troy Polamalu . . . and what can Brown do for you?

Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown were elected to this year's Pro Bowl.  Steeler management -- please keep Troy--and remember always what happened when you dumped Rod Woodson.








Monday, December 16, 2013

You ask for a Christmas miracle . . . Santa gives you the Cincinnati Bungles



After last week's heart-wrenching loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Steeler Face promised to analyze the reasons for Pittsburgh's struggles this year, but I didn't.  As the week wore on it seemed the reasons were obvious enough, and quite frankly, I lost heart.  And then, the Cincinnati Bungles--the gift that keeps on giving--emerged at Heinz Field before I had found the time to type a single word.  All week, as a resident of Cincinnati, all I heard were Bengals fans that wanted to trash talk when they spotted me in Steeler-wear.  And, I have learned that exactly two words are sure fire Bengals fan repellant: "Super Bowl."  As soon as you say those two words -- suddenly, they don't want to talk anymore.

So what do you want for Christmas?  Here is the Steeler Face's list:

-- The Ravens to lose to the Lions and Patriots, or the Lions and Bengals, or the Patriots and Bengals.

-- The Steelers to beat the Packers and Browns.

-- The Jets to beat the Browns and Dolphins.

-- The Dolphins to lose to the Bills and Jets.

-- The Chargers to lose to the Raiders, or Chiefs.

If all of that happens--the Steelers will be in the playoffs.  If not, then what we've come to expect since September will happen... the Steelers won't.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Another disappointing loss should hasten soul searching for Steelers

It was December, it was snowing, it was Heinz Field, it was Pittsburgh, and the Steelers were playing for their playoff lives against the visiting warm-weather Dolphins.  Steeler Nation had great expectations at kick-off, but were left absolutely disappointed by the game's end as Miami won 34-28.
No divine intervention this season

In a cruel final twist, Pittsburgh briefly appeared to pull off a miracle win on the game's final play with a series of lateral passes and Antonio Brown scampering for the end zone.  Alas, it was revealed that he barely stepped out of bounds before reaching the end zone--leaving the Steelers out of reach of even divine intervention.

Besides the game's final play, there were plenty of remarkable performances by Pittsburgh in this one.  Big Ben surpassed Terry Bradshaw for most touchdown passes all-time by a Steeler QB.  He made (yet another) valiant effort throwing for 3 TDs (and now has 11 touchdown passes against 0 interceptions in the last 4 games).  Troy Polamalu (remember him) had a pick-6, and made a notable effort to run back a missed field goal as time expired at the end of the first half.

There were also plenty of frustrations -- dropped passes and missed tackles were chief among them.

. . . and neither should you be

However, at 5-8, Steeler Nation (from top to bottom) needs to do some deep soul searching.  Where did it all start to go wrong?  How did we get here?  How do we change this?

The Steeler Face will break it down later this week . . .





Sunday, December 1, 2013

Steelers hanging on . . . barely: Week 14 scoreboard guide

This image just about says it all.  The Steelers (5-7) are Rick Deckard in this scene from Blade Runner.  They're going to fall unless one (or some) of their opponents bail them out.  Pittsburgh must win at home against the Dolphins (6-6) and watch the scoreboard for the following games:

Vikings (3-8-1) vs. Ravens (6-6): Please let the Vikings pull off this upset.

Colts (8-4) vs. Bengals (8-4): Yes, it i still a long shot for the Steelers to win the AFC North, but WTH, it is not over yet, and this "is" the Bungles we're talking about.  Go Colts.

And while we're at it . . . let's thin the herd of 5-7 teams around the Steelers: go Broncos vs. Titans (5-7); go Raiders vs. Jets (5-7); and go Giants vs. Chargers (5-7).


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving horror continues for Steelers

What is left to say after the Steelers disappointing 20-22 loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving night . . . 



I'm not mad that the NFL scheduled the Steelers for two consecutive road games within 4 days; I'm not mad that Emmanuel Sanders dropped a game-tying 2 point conversion attempt; I'm not even mad that the pass was thrown to him; I'm not mad that Le'Veon Bell had a touchdown taken away because a Raven defender knocked his head off; I'm not even mad that no flag was thrown on the play even when it would certainly have been thrown against a Steeler if the situation was reversed; I'm not mad that Shaun Suisham blew a field goal try; and I'm not even mad that ALL of the national coverage is focusing on whether or not Coach Tomlin tried to interfere with Baltimore's receiver trying to run back a kick-off.

What pisses me off is that Steeler Nation had to sit through more ineffective play calling (Bell to the left, Bell to the right, and Bell up the middle on 3rd and stupid--was literally the first three play calls on the night from Todd Haley) . . . BEFORE we go to the no-huddle (which IS effective).

Thanksgiving horrors past:

1998: Steelers lose 16-19 in OT because Phil Luckett blew the coin-toss.

1983: Steelers lose 3-45 to the Lions.  Cliff Stoudt.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

It is on! Steelers, Ravens, Thanksgiving, playoff implications . . .

The Steelers and Ravens have each been served, so now it is on . . . Thanksgiving night, national television.  The Steelers and Ravens are both 5-6 and are fighting for their playoff lives.  The Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions--suffering a hangover, while the Steelers didn't make the playoffs last year, started 2-6 this year, but have reeled off 3 straight wins to make themselves relevant again in the 2013-14 NFL season.  That is . . . IT'S ON!



My Steeler anxiety-ometer this week . . . "goes to 11"