The end is near.
Of the Pittsburgh Steelers regular season, that is. And now, riding the blustery trade winds of momentum following their heart-traumatizing victory over the Baltimore Ravens by a score of 31-27, Pittsburgh will coast to the 2016 finish line with a virtual bye week against America’s favorite patsies, the Cleveland Browns.
Or will it be a meaningful game after all?
Pittsburgh will be taking the woeful Browns on while wearing a blind fold, hopping on one leg, and having one arm tied behind their backs as Coach Mike Tomlin will be sitting his celestial stars. You can be sure as well he will have a fast yanking trigger if any of his other starters as much as break a fingernail.
Then, of course, the Browns are boasting their first winning streak of the season. Yes…there is that.
And playing in front of the home crowd, the Pittsburgh faithful will be demanding a commanding performance. Right?
There lies the rub of the Steelers public relations team. How do you make this game exciting?
I mean, doesn’t it have all of the trappings of a preseason game…and we do know how much Tomlin cares about those, don’t we?
But have no fear. We’ll take this into the spin room and pump you with adrenaline. ‘Cause in reality, this game matters a great deal…as does your weekly Spin:
Déjà Vu All Over Again
After a grueling, and impressive six game winning streak, the Steelers are back where they were when they barnstormed the beginning of the season to a 4-1 record. They were high atop all of the NFL rankings and were considered one of the main Super Bowl favorites. Now…ten games later…after much twisting and contorting and a series of make-or-break and potentially season ending must-win games…they are back to where they were early on in the season. Note to selves: Avoid four game losing streaks in the middle of a season.
Missed It By…That Much
What a difficult week it must be in Ravensland. Following an impressive late game rally by icy-nerved QB Joe Flacco, Baltimore came oh so close to being the darlings…and among the most feared opponent…in the playoffs. Now it’s their journalists and fans who are questioning their coach’s retirement plan, and are issuing a call for major philosophy shifts in the organization. That could have, so easily, been Steelers Nation. Just managed to keep that horror show an arm’s length away.
About That Arm
With nine seconds left in last week’s game, WR Antonio Brown further cemented his footprints in the Steelers sidewalk of stars by virtue of an outstretched arm. Oh…so many things could have gone wrong on that play! But they didn’t and Brown made a play that will be a defining moment in his storied career. As great as Brown’s career has been, it will be these scarce, golden film reels in time that Steelers fans will remember for their lifetime. These are memories like WR Lynn Swann’s acrobatic catch against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X. LB Jack Lambert’s head slamming of Dallas’s Cliff Harris after the safety made the mistake of mocking Pittsburgh’s kicker Roy Gerela. Steelers legendary CB Rod Woodson pointing to his surgically repaired knee in the face of WR Michael Irvin after breaking up a pass in Super Bowl XXX. Then, of course, there is LB James Harrison’s 100 yard interception return in Super Bowl XLII. Harrison proved these moments for the Steelers time capsules don’t need to be in the Super Bowl. In fact, they don’t even need to a real play. Remember his tackling of the streaker in Cleveland? How could you forget? That was his “Hello NFL” moment. Then there are the negative memories. Like sadly, RB Jerome Bettis’s fumble against the Indianapolis Colts in a must win game. Fortunately, it was QB Ben Roethlisberger’s “Miraculous Tackle” that saved Bettis from having his miscue haunt his career. Of course, these plays were even greater since they occurred in the same year the Steelers won (or at least participated in) a Super Bowl. So yeah…Antonio Brown’s play may be one remembered for a long, long time. But probably only if it’s part of a Super Bowl season.
The Biggest Fear
In taking down the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers accomplished something nearly as important. They won a close game. For the entire season, the Steelers either lost or won by a comfortable amount of points. Heading into the playoffs, it was important for the team, and Big Ben in particular, to face the fire of a last minute victory.
The Defense Never Rests
There is one thing that should not be discarded easily. That is, that the Steelers defense swung and missed…and badly…on an opportunity to close out the game against the Ravens. This is a young, up and coming defense, that is demonstrating it has some depth in its ranks. But it’s also been a defense that has been inconsistent. Do you really trust this defense against QB Tom Brady? This is why the game against the Cleveland Browns should be one where Pittsburgh’s coaches and players strive to completely shut out their opponent. Having this unit tuned up to playoff grade should be a higher priority than injury aversion. The Browns will be the perfect tuning fork. Maybe you don’t need to worry about momentum into the playoffs with a veteran like Roethlisberger. But you certainly do with this young defense. Play ‘em. And play ‘em hard.
The Backup Quarterback
This is a great game to learn something about our backup quarterback. No, not the backup to Big Ben. We’re talking about the backup to QB Landry Jones. I mean, of course, Jones gets the start. And it’s important that he gets ample playing to be ready should he need to answer the call in the playoffs. But aren’t you just a wee bit curious to see what QB Zach Mettenberger looks like in a Steelers uniform throwing deep to WR Sammie Coates?
Fresh Coates Of Paint
Speaking of Sammie. Is there not one more critical outcome for the Steelers offense this weekend than getting the perplexing wide receiver back on the field and confident? If Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley made Coates the primary receiver on every passing call Sunday, you would get no complaints from me.
Is there no more deserving player than RB DeAngelo Williams to get the spotlight on Sunday? With the Steelers making it into the playoffs by the slender tension of a thread, should Williams be getting more credit for the wins he contributed to at the beginning of the year when RB Le’Veon Bell was on timeout? Here’s to hoping that Williams gets 200 yards at Heinz Field this Sunday.
Now That’s Revenge
As disappointing as the Steelers four-game losing streak was this year, Pittsburgh is in an enviable position to strike back against all of the teams they fell prey to during their slide. During their losing streak, the Steelers lost to the Ravens, against who they already drew sweet revenge. They will face the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card Round and can send those fish swimming home as well. Then the Steelers may have a shot at going to Foxborough and taking down Coach Bill Belichick. Wouldn’t that be something? Finally, if these dreams of vengeance somehow all come true, the ultimate Redemption Sunday could happen in front of the world against the Dallas Cowboys. Pretty good plot twist, eh? Couldn’t have written it better myself.
Uh Em…What About This Game?
Oh yeah. The Brownies. Now there is a team with something to lose. The overall number one draft pick, that is. Well…actually, they will do everything in their power to secure the 2017 top choice. But they are the Browns, so they’ll struggle even when they are trying to lose. Expect it to be more entertaining than it should be in a preseasony way. Steelers 24, Browns 17. Oh…and Happy New Year, my friends!