Got this e-mail from JJ moments after Shaun Suisham (!) converted the game-winning field goal in overtime: “Well, that wasn’t fun.” Pretty much sums up the final 40 minutes or so because at halftime, with the Steelers leading 13-0, I figured Pittsburgh was just getting warmed up and Buffalo was in the process of checking out.
Instead, the Steelers’ defense had trouble getting off the field in the second half, and the Bills finally got some traction out of the Patriots’ blueprint for matriculating the ball down the field. It’s easy to point to the final three periods as proof that the Steelers’ defense is fatally flawed, but here’s the thing: there’s only one Tom Brady. And even though Ryan Fitzpatrick had some success completing short passes, that’s exactly what this defense is designed to do.
It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. And let’s be honest: a lot of weird stuff had to happened for the Bills to even have a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. For the second consecutive week there were some questionable penalties against the Steelers (and I’m not even talking about the Deebo roughing-the-passer call) and a that’ll-never-happen-again freak catch-and-run by Fred Jackson. Pretty sure hot routes to the running back wasn’t Chan Gailey’s recipe to scoring TDs going into this game.
But unlike last year, the Steelers have found ways to overcome penalties and poor play. Eking out an overtime win against a 2-8 outfit isn’t how you’d draw it up, but as Mike Tomlin says all the time, “You don’t get style points.” (And I’ll be honest: the Bills are the best 2-8 team in NFL history.)
Whatever. Pittsburgh’s 8-3 and will play for the division lead next Sunday night. In the meantime, onto the high(low)lights:
* After watching the Steelers offense plod through their opening possessions in recent weeks against the Pats and the Raiders, it was nice to see them march down the field on their first drive against the Bills — mostly on the ground — control the clock, and punch it into the end zone on a Mendenhall touchdown.
That all went out the window in the third quarter, but credit to the offense for regrouping in time to make some big plays down the stretch. None bigger, perhaps, than Big Ben’s 3rd and 17 scramble for 18 yards — on a bad wheel, no less (note: no word on if Ben’s toes are broken — still waiting official word from Bill Cowher) — following an iffy holding call on Chris Kemoeatu that negated a 42-yard Mendenhall run a few plays earlier.
A year ago, Roethlisberger probably gets sacked for a 15-yard loss and Greg Warren snaps the ball over Daniel Sepulveda’s head into the end zone on the next play.
* By the way: Shaun Suisham’s new nickname is Skinny. As in: Skinny Skippy. He was 4 for 4, all beyond 40 yards. The 41-yard game-winner was obviously huge, but you could make an argument that his 48-yarder in the fourth quarter — after Manny Sanders dropped a HUGE pass that would’ve moved the sticks — was even bigger.
It’s amazing how quickly things change: in August, Suisham was a journeyman who struggled with consistency and Jeff Reed had a legit case for a long-term deal that paid him like one of the league’s best kickers. Three months later, Suisham has Jeff’s job. And if Reed were still on the team I’m pretty sure there’s no way he converts four times Sunday.
(Sorta related: we whinge all the time about coaches being way too conservative when it comes to jettisoning dead weight on the roster. There are a lot of things we can accuse Tomlin off — piss-poor clock management tops the list, I think — but it’s not that. Essex has been replaced by Foster, Randle El has given way to Sanders, and Skinny is the new Skippy.)
* I don’t watch the defensive backs on every snap (or, hell, every series), but I feel safe in writing that Ike Taylor is having a Pro Bowl season. And William Gay, who had a 2009 effort against the Pats two weeks ago, was solid Sunday, particularly when he replaced an injured Bryant McFadden opposite Taylor in the second half. In fact, Gay was in tight coverage on the Troy pick near the Steelers’ goal line.
Related: I love Anthony Madison, special teams ace, but I’d prefer to never seen Anthony Madison, sub-package defensive back, on the field.
* It’ll be interesting to see what the NFL Gestapo decides to do with James Harrison. He was flagged for leading with his helmet on a hit to Fitzpatrick (and watching the replay, there’s no way officials don’t call that … at least against Deebo because I saw the Dolphins’ Kendall Langford do virtually the same thing against the Raiders’ Bruce Gradkowski during the four o’clock games).
But here’s the deal: Deebo is a “repeat offender” and the league has threatened to suspend players who repeatedly break the rules. So would they suspend Harrison for the Ravens’ game?
Common sense says no, which means that Harrison is screwed. At this point, nothing surprises me. Upside: the 2010 Steelers are all about overcoming adversity. So we’ll see.
In the interim, I’ll take the W. And before I forget: a very special thanks to Stevie Johnson for extending Thanksgiving through the weekend. I owe you one, dude.