Monday, November 06, 2006


On December 28, 2003, in the final week of the 2003 NFL regular season, the Steelers traveled to Baltimore for a Sunday night showdown at 6-9, firmly out of playoff contention, while the Ravens had already clinched the AFC North at 9-6. As such, the main focal point of the game was whether or not Jamal Lewis could eclipse Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2105 yards. Lewis entered the game with 1952 yards on the ground, needing to pick up 153 yards to accomplish the feat.

Bill Cowher, proud man that his is, revolved his entire game plan around preventing Lewis from reaching the mark against his football team. The Ravens, likewise, planned on doing everything they possibly could to surpass Dickerson. The game slogged to overtime, highlighted by three Tommy Maddox interceptions and a fake-punt touchdown pass from punter Josh Miller to then-backup safety Chris Hope. Lewis only managed to net 115 yards despite an additional period of play, and the Steelers ended up dropping the game, 13-10.

That game, just over two years and ten months ago, was the last time I've ever had to watch a meaningless football game. Now, thanks to the worst string of bad karma (or whatever you want to call it) I've ever seen, I'm going to have to suit up and watch meaningless football for the next eight weeks.

Mike Shanahan said sometime in the past week something along the lines of, "How on earth are the Steelers 2-5? That's something I'll never know the answer to."

Wrong, Mike Shanahan. You should be more than familiar with the answer to that question now, after watching the Steelers shred your vaunted defense, the same defense that made the Tom Brady-led Patriots offense look like high schoolers. The Steelers marched up and down the field at will against this defensive unit, to the tune of 499 yards. Yes, one yard shy of 500 yards against supposedly the best defense in the AFC.

How does a team lose despite outgaining a team 500-330 and owning a 9-minute advantage in time of possession? The same way the Steelers have lost games all season despite handily winning the statistical battles; turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. And like the other losses, it hasn't been simply the amount of giveaways, but the timing and location. Yesterday was a microcosm of why the Steelers haven't been able to win this season; the Steelers turned the ball over four times inside Denver's 10-yard line. That's a minimum of 12 points needlessly erased in a game the Steelers lost by 11.

A summary of the Steelers' season can even be fractalized to one individual play yesterday. Down 31-20, the Steelers got the ball back with just under 5 minutes left in the game. Ben Roethlisberger, who made about six really poor throws yesterday but was absolutely brilliant the rest of the time, engineered a drive that got the Steelers, once again, inside Denver's ten-yard line. The two-minute warning stopped the clock, and on the first snap after play resumed, Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward on a slant at about the five. Ward, in typical Hines Ward fashion, was determined to get inside the end zone at any cost. Running towards the goal line, he saw John Lynch coming low at him. The only way to break the plane would be to go over the top of Lynch, which Ward tried to do. Unfortunately, he didn't see Al Wilson come high from the opposite side, his helmet jarring the ball loose about half a foot shy of the goal line.

And that was the Steelers season, neatly packaged in one play.

All I can ask for the rest of the season is that we please, please sweep the remaining five divisional games. As long as the Bengals, Ravens, and Browns, are kept in their place, I can extract some form of grotesque satisfaction from this horrid season.

And at the very least, I have this to warm my heart:

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