STEELERS (10-5) 41
RAMS (3-12) 24
PENGUINS (17-15-2) 5
BRUINS (18-12-4) 4
OVERTIME - SHOOTOUT
PITT (11-0) 65
DUKE (10-1) 64
FIRST CAREER FIGHT
Was it everything you thought it would be? Yes, and then some. We could obnoxiously gloat over the fact that several of our teams enjoyed success simultaneously, but then that would make us Boston. And even they couldn't beat Pittsburgh last night.
I said yesterday that this could be the biggest Thursday night in Pittsburgh televised sports history. Looking back on it, here's what we got to see:
1. Sidney Crosby's first NHL fight, against former Penguin Andrew Ference.
2. Undefeated Pitt beats previously-undefeated Duke in overtime on a Levance Fields 3-pointer with four seconds. This in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden.
3. The Penguins blow a 4-0 lead, then redeem themselves with a shootout win against the Boston Bruins.
4. The Steelers defeated the Rams and are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot with a Cleveland or Tennessee loss.
5. NFL rushing leader Willie Parker breaks his fibula and is out for the season. The Dump Truck steps in and goes for 167 yards of offense.
6. Pitt's Mike Cook will probably miss extended time if not the entire season with a knee injury.
7. Ben Roethlisberger had a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
8. Dejuan Blair had 15 points and 20 rebounds.
9. Sid finished with a "Gordie Howe Hat Trick".
10. Daniel Sepulveda ended up with a higher passer rating than Marc Bulger.
I don't know about you, but I was switching back and forth, up and down on the dial the entire evening. So there will be no full recap of any one game in particular, just some thoughts on this glorious occasion, dubbed by ESPN this morning as "Steel City SportsCenter":
--Huge win for the Panthers. HUGE. It was their first meeting with Duke in 28 years and it was in the familiar setting of MSG, the Panthers' home away from home.
I must admit, when the Panthers were down by 16 in the first half, I was not feeling good about the way this evening would go. They were turning the ball over like Ben Roethlisberger in 2006. They were down by 12 at the half, actually tying a school record for the largest halftime deficit overcome in a game. The Panthers also came back from 12 down at halftime to beat Saint Francis, Pa., in 1983, according to the PG.
But give credit where it's due: Jamie Dixon held this team together, gradually they cut down the defecit, and they were in a position to win the game at the end. Levance Fields poured in 21 points; Blair was off-the-charts good, with his 15 points and 20 boards; and Sam Young, with 17 and seven, rounded out the Panthers offense. In fact, outside of that trio, no other Panther scored more than four points.
It was a forgettable game for Ronald Ramon, with his anemic 1-7, four-point night. Pitt three-point-shooting in general was awful, unless you consider 3-for-19 (.158) acceptable. And oh, the turnovers. Before his horrendous injury, Mike Cook committed five of them, tying Fields for the team-high and narrowly edging the four TOs of Young and Blair. But the Panthers dominated the Dookies on the boards (49-31) and ultimately proved to be the tougher team. Not to sound cliched (is that phrase now consider a cliche?), but I believe Pitt just wanted it more.
Duke may have a roster full of McDonald's All-Americans, but Pitt has a nice mix of veterans and youth, experienced and fearless at the same time. Could this be the year they get over the hump? It's still early, but a game like last night gives us hope.
--The Steelers game was tough to watch, and I'm not just talking about that horrible announcing team of Gumbel, Faulk, and Deion. The offensive fireworks were nice, but the loss of Parker will probably put a fork in this year's squad. Losing Parker really limits the offense, especially on play-actions. The Dump Truck was impressive in relief (123 rushing, 44 receiving, 2 TDs), but the depth at that position is now very compromised. Behind Davenport sits only Carey Davis and Gary Russell. That's it. John Clayton is reporting that the Steelers may reach out to Verron Haynes (the probable choice) or Kevan Barlow (not a chance), but surprisingly makes no mention of the potential acquisition of T.J. Duckett.
When you're describing a team lacking Parker, Aaron Smith, and Ryan Clark, with an iffy offensive line and a shakier-than-ever defense, that doesn't sound like a recipe for a championship. I'm not saying it's not possible, but the odds are now severely stacked against the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger was his usual self, with a perfect passer rating, 261 yards, and three touchdowns. All that without any starlets in the stands, artificially boosting his persona and making people believe he's better than he actually is. How does he do it? (P.S. - if you haven't noticed, since my last crusade of preaching that Ben is better than Carson Palmer seems to have paid off, now I'm taking on Tony Romo. The guy has never won a playoff game - in fact, he cost the team a playoff game - and he's absolutely killed his team in two games this year: the five INTs in Buffalo and the disaster on Sunday against the Eagles. But sure, he's the third-best QB in the league. Funny how everyone knocked Peyton Manning for not winning in the postseason but Romo gets a free pass.)
It was nice to have San Antonio back in good health, with four catches for 133 yards. Even Nate Washington got into the mix, catching two touchdowns. That's a welcome change from Washington's usual performance of not catching two touchdowns. Heath Miller was nearly invisible from the ledger, but Hines added 6-59, and all in all I'd say it was a solid night from the pass catchers. Unless they dropped some passes while I was flipping between games.
Was anyone else tired of hearing the announcers call the Steelers the league's #1 defense? When the Steelers were nursing a seven-point fourth-quarter lead over another lowly team, I was really tired of hearing about it. I'm glad to see the Steelers finally intercept some passes, because I thought a rule was passed in which they were no longer allowed to catch a ball thrown by the other team. The Steelers have 11 interceptions on the year. 11! For comparison, Antonio Cromartie of San Diego has 10. Celebrated playmaker/Pro Bowler Troy Aumua Polamalu has ZERO.
It was nice to get a win, which puts the Steelers on the verge of the playoffs, but it was an extremely costly evening.
--The Penguins win was extremely rewarding, mostly because Boston teams don't seem to lose at anything these days. It was also rewarding because if the Pens would have lost, there would probably be some fans on suicide watch after squandering that 4-0 lead.
The Crosby fight was simply surreal. Finally, FINALLY, Crosby dropped the gloves. And of all people, it was former Pen Andrew Ference that ultimately became Sid's first victim. The teams will meet once again on Sunday in Pittsburgh. However, I don't think Sid and Ference will meet in a rematch.
Ty Conklin stopped 37 of 41 shots, but most importantly stoned two Bruins in the shootout. As first career starts go, it could have been worse. It was nice to get him in the W column. On the offensive side, Geno lit the lamp twice, Sid had the aforementioned Howe Hat Trick, and Colby Armstrong added three assists.
The Pens next road game has a little bit of fanfare. Luckily, there's no Pitt or Steeler game going on at the same time.
Random notes from the trifecta:
--Pretty good month for the ol' Pitt athletic department, no?
--I felt horrible for Mike Cook last night. I'm guessing that last night will be the final time he plays in a college game, and that's a sad way to end a college career. Don't think that Cook going down didn't inspire Levance Fields (Cook's best friend) in the OT.
--Every time I watch a Mike Tomlin press conference, I feel like I'm watching a guy playing a football coach in a movie. Every word sounds so thought-out, every phrase so intricately crafted...is he secretly auditioning for Remember the Titans II?--I was on the NHL's web page for the Ice Bowl, and through a few clicks eventually got back to this AMAZING video from the 2000 NHL All Star Game. It's Lemieux, Gretzky, Howe, Jagr, Lindros, Kariya, and Bure in the Emmy-nominated "Pond of Dreams". It gets the rare Mondesi's House five-star recommendation.
--By the way, if you didn't understand the "two losses" in the title, I was referring to Fast Willie and Mike Cook. Thought I'd throw that in before I got emails on it.
An in-person recap of Pitt-Duke from "Cecil from Cecil":
"Mondesi: I have no pictures to present to you and your readers. This is an old-fashioned kind of recap. Not unlike the one you'll read in the PG on Friday. Just know that this was the best Pitt Hoops game since Brandin Knight & Co. thumped UConn in the 2003 Big East Final......and I was there.
The place was packed. 75/25 Duke fans. My seats were very good, about 20 rows up across from the Duke bench. There were a fair number of people rooting for Pitt around me (read: Duke-haters who went to G'Town, Maryland, or wherever), but very few Pitt fans.
Pessimistic Pitt fan that I've grown to be over the years, I was convinced that the 8 minute sabbatical our guys took late in the first half would ultimately cost them the game. But that wasn't the case. Then I was positive that the absence of Dejuan Blair, after his fouling out, would all but guarantee a Pitt loss. Again - I was wrong about these Panthers.
Simply put, this is a different team. Blair, as a true frosh, is a more dominant force than Aaron Gray ever was, and the 2007-08 Sam Young is one of the best players in the country, as evidenced by his new jump shot.
Pitt fans, when that 3-ball from Fields went through the net, I jumped up and down with fervor unseen since Antwaan Randle El threw that famous pass to Hines Ward on that special day. This victory was worthy of such a celebration!
From the get-go, the young players seemed intimidated by the MSG setting and the older players seemed to be intimidated by the Dookies. All of that meant nothing in the 2nd half and our Panthers won a game for the ages (thereby setting in motion the Pittsburgh Tri-Fecta, with the Pens and Steelers also winning later in the night!). All in all, it was a night for the ages. Hail to PITT!!!!
Cecil From Cecil
P.S. Mondesi, when do you begin to cover the Penn State hoops team? Fair and balanced, right??? LOL...."
BONUS COVERAGE II:
10 Reasons the Steelers Season is NOT Over from Jason in Pullman, Washington:
1. Davenport has a higher yards per carry average. His average has never been below 3.5 yards per carry. As a Steelers, it has never been below 4.6. Yes, this is partially due to limited carries and specialty situations. Remember, many of those are on 3rd or 4th and one, where he is going straight up the middle. That’s a good average considering his role.
2. Davenport is not as good a receiver as Parker: this is true. But, as a big guy, he is a better blocker. With the holes in the offensive line this season, a bigger back on passing downs might be a godsend for Ben. He could be put on hit and release routes, or screens for big games.
3. Davenport will never break a big run: I hate to throw Bettis into the mix, since Parker is constantly criticized for not being Jerome Bettis. But seriously, the strength of the Steelers on their last Super Bowl run was that they kept their defense off the field. Thus, the defense played better because they had fresh legs, and the offense played well because they kept opposing defenses off the field. Opposing offenses scored less points because it is harder to get into a rhythm when you don’t get the ball much. Davenport will force the Steelers to become more methodical; if successful, they will control the clock and grind their way downfield. It helps to have a fresh pair of legs this late in the season. Big backs also tend to do well in December and January.
4. Pittsburgh now throws the ball to set up the running game. The talking heads have observed this, and it seems to be true. Parker needs room to run the ball; as a bigger back, the Dump Truck might not.
5. Without Parker, Pittsburgh will probably throw shorter passes to augment the running game. This will result in fewer turnovers, more ball control, and feature Ward/Miller more often. I can’t think of better people to give the ball to if you want them to hang on to it.
6. Polamalu is healthy, and Smith the Prophet finally got benched. The Hallelujah chorus comes to mind.
7. Though not perfect, our defense played a little better against the Rams. DE Smith’s replacements are getting some time on the field, and will improve. We’ve faced some great running backs lately, with a lot of injuries on defense. The holes on defense might not be as bad as the media thinks.
8. Big Ben is having a great year. He finally has Holmes and Ward at the same time; Spaeth and Miller are both in the lineup as well. He won’t have to throw to Dwight Stone’s heir apparent, Nate Washington.
9. Dick Lebeau is our defensive coordinator. If he can’t find a way to fix our run defense, then it can’t be done. Since we’re always good against the run, it must be possible. Therefore, our run defense will get fixed.
10. If we lose in the playoffs, Davenport can always defecate in the opposing teams locker room. That will ensure the 2007 Steelers place in history.