First things first: good teams overcome atrocious officiating. I’m always blathering on about how the refs don’t matter … but good god, man. It started early with the silly roughing the passer penalty on LaMarr Woodley and by the end of the day the Steelers had been penalized 14 for 163 yards. And still won by 32 points.
The game was over by halftime. In fact, I thought Oakland’s best chance to compete involved Bruce Gradkowski under center but by the time Jason Campbell was pulled early in the third quarter the game had pretty much been decided.
(You can read JJ’s thoughts from the game here.)
Whatever, I’ll take the 35-3 beating, and like Pats fans last week, will happily announce that my team is back. It’s a nice feeling, especially since I was starting to think there was something to this Curse of 6-3. Instead, Big Ben got his first big lopsided win of 2010 and he did as much damage with his feet as he did with his arm.
And with that, onto some other random observations:
* We’ve been talking about this since preseason and today, for the first time, Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown got a hat. Sanders dropped a nice Big Ben pass on the second possession but hauled in a nifty touchdown in the second quarter. Brown also had a big catch for 21 yards and a punt return for touchdown that was (rightly) called back for two blocks in the back. But more than that, Brown gives the Steelers something they haven’t had since Randle El’s first stint in Pittsburgh: a punt returner who can do more than fair catch. It’s refreshing to think that the Steelers are actively trying to improve the special teams instead of hiding it. (By the way, how far has Tony Hills fallen on the depth chart that he’s inactive on game day when the Steelers have the motliest offensive line in tackle football? Answer: the next move will involve him cleaning out his locker and getting a part-time job with Skippy at the Monroeville Sheetz.)
* Despite the rotating door that has become the Steelers o-line, they collectively did a swell job of keeping Ben upright. Richard Seymour saying “Eff it, I’m going to the locker room for some hot wings, I’ll see you guys in a couple hours” right before halftime certainly helped, and the Raiders rushing four most of the afternoon did too. But we’ve seen the fat five guys in front of Roethlisberger struggle in similar situations in the past.
* I hesitate to even write this because injuries are obviously random. Either way, here goes: the Steelers have to stop getting hurt. That’s all there is to it. We’re at the point where Pittsburgh will be signing o-linemen off the street. Of course, as JJ points out on a weekly basis, having a roster full of C- linemen isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.
* As happens every Sunday, my buddy texted me during the game. He made a good point after Ike’s pick-six was called back because Deebo tackled Jason Campbell in an intimidating manner: that interception and touchdown could cost Taylor a trip to the Pro Bowl. Not only has he earned it, he’s quietly having one of his best seasons in the NFL. But more than that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers, half joking, put an incentive clause in Taylor’s last deal that paid him $10 million dollars for a interception returned for a touchdown. So thanks, Tony Corrente. You just cost Ike his eight-figure bonus.
* More special teams love: Anthony Madison was downfield and in the punt returner’s face on every punt that I can remember. And if he wasn’t in on the play he did his part, maintained his lane, and let his teammates clean up. I’m beginning to think that Bob Ligashesky was basically the Steelers’ version of Creed Bratton.
* Random on top of random: congrats to Brian St. Pierre for throwing a touchdown against the Ravens Sunday. Pretty sure that was the highlight of his day.
* Every week I marvel at the fact that Rashard Mendenhall hasn’t fumbled and today that streak finally ended. Thing is, I can’t complain because if you’re going to put the ball on the turf you might as well do it late in the fourth quarter against a team that had already given up.
* Santonio Holmes had another game-winning catch for the luckiest team on Earth, but Mike Wallace continues to get better every week, particularly when it comes to making plays in the middle of the field. And while — to paraphrase Rick Pitino — Holmes ain’t walkin’ through that door, Wallace, Sanders and Brown can go a long way to fill that void.
Related: that was the most complete performance by Roethlisberger that I can remember. A lot of that has to do with that patchwork o-line holding steady (and, for the life of me, I have no idea why the Raiders didn’t blitz Big Ben silly given what happened last Sunday night), but you have to credit him for making sometimes tough throws (and, perhaps more importantly, pulling the ball down and running for a first down or touchdown).
* The Steelers head to Buffalo at 7-3. Like a year ago, the schedule is there friend. Hopefully, this time around we’re not forced to endure a give-game losing streak. So far so good on that front.