December 17, 2007

The Playoffs?! I Just Hope We Can Win a Game!

THERE ARE FEW THINGS more frustrating in life than having one's football team not only lose positive momentum, but start screwing the pooch so badly their incompetence threatens to undo all the good work they've done in a season. My reaction to the Pittsburgh Steelers' loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday can be summed up in the immortal words of Jim Mora:

"We threw that game. We gave it away by doing that. We gave 'em the frickin' game. In my opinion, that sucked. What's that? The playoffs?! Don't talk about the playoffs! Are you kidding me?! The playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game!"

I mean, my God. Our vaunted defense -- which normally strikes respect and fear into even the strongest team -- fell apart like a house of cards yesterday. Not only did they allow Jacksonville to go up 22-7 in the third quarter, they fell apart when our offense finally caught fire and tied the game up at 22-22. You'd think, after that type of momentum shift, the defense would be able to hold. Oh, no. The defense couldn't stop the run to save their lives and Jacksonville marched down the field and got the go-ahead touchdown.

You know Pittsburgh's loss was really bad when a Cleveland Browns fan -- whom I shall not identify to protect his standing among the Browns faithful -- sends you a note saying, "Sucks about the Steelers (I guess)." I mean, let's face it -- watching Pittsburgh lose is one of the few joys Browns fans have in this life. But come on. Not only is Pittsburgh now in real danger of losing the AFC North title, we're in real danger of getting shut out of the playoffs.

You see, unfortunately, the evil Tennessee Titans somehow remain in the Wild Card hunt. Right now, they're on the bubble -- ranked No. 7, they stand one game behind Pittsburgh and Cleveland for the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. Pittsburgh has the No. 4 seed at present, while Cleveland stands at No. 6 -- we own the tie-breaker over the Browns. But our poor play yesterday puts us in jeopardy of ending up at No. 7.

Right now, the Titans are at 8-6, while Pittsburgh and Cleveland both stand at 9-5. As I understand it, the Titans can make the playoffs if they win both of their remaining games and they get some help from the other teams. For instance, if Jacksonville loses both its upcoming games -- not bloody likely -- Tennessee will be in the playoffs. But if Pittsburgh loses both its upcoming games -- again, not very likely -- the Titans will be in the playoffs too.

But the other scenarios are more problematic. If Cleveland wins both of its games over the next two weeks -- a real possibility -- and Pittsburgh loses to Baltimore -- it will put Cleveland atop the AFC North with an 11-5 record. Pittsburgh, at 10-6, would then face a Titans squad with a 10-6 record, and the Titans would probably win the tiebreaker based on the strength of the teams it beat. That would leave Pittsburgh on the outside looking in -- and what a disaster that would be.

The good news is that Tennessee has to play Indianapolis -- at Indy -- the last game of the season. A loss to the Colts would render all these questions moot. (They play the New York Jets next week in Tennessee, but a loss there is far less likely). Also, if Cleveland loses to Cincinnati in the Battle of Ohio next week, that could also save us, but rooting for that outcome would mean rooting for the Bengals, and that's morally unpalatable.

The long and short of it is that Pittsburgh MUST WIN these final two games -- the first against the St. Louis Rams, the second against the Baltimore Ravens. I hate to say it but I'm not sure either of these games are gimmes -- even if they might have been that way just a few weeks ago. Hopefully, Pittsburgh will get its act together and soon, and not only for its fans.

Coach Tomlin is not amused.

What was interesting about yesterday's loss, though, was that we Steelers fans weren't alone in agonizing over our team's performance. I know this because I was at Billy's Sports Bar here in Manchester, and could hear the groans from all the New England Patriots fans wondering why their team was performing so poorly against the New York Jets. The Pats fans I know are somewhat concerned about their team's apparent willingness to ease off the gas during games in which they are heavily favored. That's because these are Classic Trap Games in which a bit of luck can result in the underdog winning outright.

Also, you should have heard the Buffalo Bills fans yesterday. Boy, did they come out of the woodwork -- the Bills fans outnumbered the Steelers faithful in the special Steelers room, and as a result the sound was switched over to the Cleveland-Buffalo game. I didn't mind this because I wanted to see that game as well, and it was played in Classic Blizzard Conditions, which is the best weather for football. But the Browns shut off the Bills' lights and as a result the Bills' inability to do anything on offense produced plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

So I guess it could have Just Been One of Those Days. The trouble, though, is that doesn't leave us any margin for error in the next two weeks -- and God help us, we're playing again on Thursday. And we'd better do better than we did on Sunday, or else we're not going to have a post-season.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at December 17, 2007 07:50 AM | TrackBack

Ben, I used to think you were a die-hard Steeler fan. Then I read about this guy:

Now that's dedication!

Posted by: Chris Weinkopf at December 17, 2007 02:45 PM

Now THAT is an amazing story -- although in some ways it doesn't surprise me a bit!

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at December 17, 2007 05:14 PM

Sorry Ben, that must have sucked....I think you should be more optimistic though, for this reason. I don't think you gave the game away yesterday as much as it was Jacksonville playing a great game. Sometimes you lose when a team outplays you. Most of the credit should go to them rather than blaming Pittsburgh for handing it away. That said, the same effort yesterday would be enough to beat hapless St. Louis and Baltimore. 11-5 ye shall be, as they will step up regardless. An injured Roeth is still a great Roeth.

My god, the Lions are awful. All I can really say about that.

Posted by: simon from jersey at December 17, 2007 06:09 PM

I certainly agree the Jaguars played a great game. However, a big reason they played a great game is because our defense FAILED to do what it was supposed to do: namely, crush them with complete and utter impunity. So in that regard I have to blame my team for not getting the job done -- even if JAX came in and put in a great effort.

I agree that I should be optimistic. But I can't. Not when Cleveland and Tennessee are playing as well as they are.

The Lions have really been hot and cold this year and I am hopeful they'll do better and be more consistent next year.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at December 17, 2007 08:53 PM
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