<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Two more games. That's how long Ben Roethlisberger would have just as soon had…
Well, we're not as traumatized as had been predicted. Life goes on. I have to give the New England Patriots credit as a truly great team. I did not think so prior to Sunday's game at Heinz Field. I did not give enough respect to the Patriots' mini-dynasty. I'd felt they'd taken advantage of a watered-down NFL, that they were the first team to figure out football under the cap, but that they did not have the talent to come into the raucous home of a team with better strength and speed, in vicious weather conditions, and beat a team they'd embarrassed three years earlier.
That would not be possible I suspected. Look at those offensive tackles! We thought Greg Robinson-Randall was awful when they came to Heinz Field and beat the Steelers in the other AFC championship game. We still think that of Matt Light and Brandon Gorin, or Troy Brown as a cornerback, or Randall Gay, or Hank "Stinkin" Poteat. But there I go again. Disrespecting this team. Well, I'm convinced. As easy as it would be to rip the Steelers apart from Bill Cowher to Plaxico Burress to Billy the Ballboy, I must credit this great, great New England team.
Bill Belichick took the film apart and figured out the Steelers - not hard, the figuring part, and the Steelers never claimed otherwise with a rookie QB - but Belichick also lit into his team after a bad Wednesday practice "like we were 0-17," said QB Tom Brady. "It put us in the right frame of mind." So Belichick investigated, motivated and then formulated a plan to confuse Ben Roethlisberger after taking away the running game. The Steelers played right into it, but what choice did they have? Put the rookie QB on the spot in that weather? They, of course, sided to the conservative, as I likely would have. They only threw on 7 of 28 first downs. That probably needed to be 10 of 28, but it's of little matter.
Belichick has always had my respect. Brady has not. Yes, I liked what I'd seen, but never sensed greatness - until Sunday. How about pointing to David Givens as if to say "no, go back over there and score." And Brady flipped Givens the ball as Willie Williams fell down. How about the beautiful deep ball to Deion Branch? While we're there, how about Deion Branch? He didn't play in the first game and was an underrated return this time because of the overrated return of Corey Dillon.
Brady certainly is a great quarterback. Ben will be. Remember what Brady said earlier in the week: "I couldn't imagine me doing the things he's doing my rookie year." Roethlisberger simply hit the rookie wall. I wanted to deny it to myself. Credit the Jets, things like that. But he ran out of gas. Again, consider Brady's quote. Ben has grown plenty this year. I saw an idiot on TV after the game comparing him to Kordell Stewart. That's the only thing I fear with Ben, is Pittsburgh turning on him. God. This kid has five times the quarterbacking potential as Stewart had, and Stewart had plenty considering his athletic ability.
Ugh. We're talking about Kordell this morning. No, this is not a good morning. Mr. Burress certainly showed his true colors, speaking of ugly. Nice team player. Rumor has it that Art Rooney II wants to franchise him. Perhaps he reconsidered after watching that game and reading the quotes in the morning papers. Yes, Burress slipped and skidded and bounced and clanged his way to a 37-yard performance, dropping one touchdown pass in the process. Then he ripped the game plan for not feeding him more. Will Mr. Rooney still want to make that offer? Well, you have to credit his competitiveness. Rooney's that is. By planning to franchise him (instead of that being some type of fall-back happenstance), you are trying to squeeze one more year out of him because you want to add to another position. If Burress leaves, you would have to draft highly at wide receiver or seek a free agent, that's if you want to remain at this elite status in the league.
On one hand it's great that Rooney sees this. However, I hope it's not an indication of his taste in athletes. This one, as I've said ad nauseousness all season, has to play for someone else.
As for Cowher, that's 1-4 in these games. Or is it 1-5? I'm not looking it up. Yes, it's 1-4. So what happens now? Wise guys with microphones in this town all said this was a must win for Cowher. Well, what now? Are they going to fire him? No. Was it a must win? No. Can he get into the Hall of Fame? Yes. He can do it by winning next or. Or next year. Does this loss diminish the great season? That's only perception. It is what it is and the Rooneys will not let him go for a long time. Remember, this quarterback will only get better - unless this town gets funky on him. But the future is bright, even with Cowher, who perhaps was conservative in running so often on first down. As pointed out earlier, he should be able to live with his rationale. I can. He came out and gambled on fourth-and-one. As one of my friends in the press box bellowed "Noooooo!" I said yes. And was wrong. On the next snap, Brady hit Branch deep and it was 10-0. The next killer play was Rodney Harrison's interception return before the half. That made it 24-3. The nail in the coffin may have been Aaron Smith's holding penalty on a third-and-17 screen, and it was a bad call. That opened the door for the next play, the dagger, the 18-yard pass to Givens. His fumble and recovery by the Steelers was challenged, overturned, and an additional 15 yards was tacked on because of a Clark Haggans knee to a gut. The ref explained it this way: "The Patriots did not fumble, they get the ball, plus 15 yards, to the Pittsburgh 25, and they also receive the seven points coming up." Or something like that. Sad to report, the defense quit at that moment. Dillon went 25 for the touchdown, 24 of which he was not touched.
As for the sidebars: The glove? Why did Ben let idiots with microphones talk him out of doing something he's always done? The AFC championship logo? Come on, Ben, don't start lying to me at such a young age. You allowed folks to mock you out of your preference. Never do that again.
Kendrell Bell? With his limited lateral movement, he could've only been used as a blitzer, and special teams players won over the coach in that numbers game. Will Bell be back? I doubt it, but only because he'd make much less money here than he'd already turned down. Potential pouters have never been the Steelers' preference. As for his injury, I have no reason to believe he's jaking it. He'll be a fine player elsewhere. Larry Foote bounced back from the Jets game with a solid game Sunday.
Should Jerome Bettis come back? Sure. But if there's a running back falling to them in the draft, whom they really like, don't hesitate to take him. Bettis and Duce Staley are aging, but Bettis obviously has made a comeback athletically.
It's a good team with a good future, and the only solution is to plow on. The Philadelphia Eagles didn't quit. They are in the Super Bowl. I don't give them much of a chance, but they have one. When the Steelers get here again, they'll have a quarterback who'll be far more calculating and tougher to beat. It's really another beginning.
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