On Friday, I wrote a column outlining why I worried about the Oakland Raiders game. By Sunday afternoon, I was looking rather foolish after the Steelers had their way with Al Davis' team, and very happy I was wrong.
Some thoughts on the Flag Fest disguised as NFL football on Sunday, with illustration courtesy of Shaun Suisham:
1. I've already discussed the traveshamockery of the game that Tony Corrente officiated on Sunday, but I thought I would bring it up once more since it's obviously the biggest storyline coming out of the contest.
I'm not always the most sympathetic guy in the world towards the plight of James "Jimmy" Harrison, however, I thought he was absolutely being targeted by Corrente and his crew on Sunday. I can now understand why Harrison was so confused by the new rule enforcements a few weeks ago, because I have no idea how he's supposed to make a play anymore without getting flagged and/or fined.
Unfortunately, Harrison wasn't the only Steeler to feel the wrath of Corrente. There were three other 15-yard penalties dished out on Sunday, to Ryan Clark (unnecessary roughness), LaMarr Woodley (roughing the passer), and Trai Essex (personal foul), plus a 27-yard pass interference call on Ike Taylor. Once the game was over, the penalties were tallied and it was noted that the Steelers were flagged 14 times for a team-record 163 yards. It's also worth noting that the Raiders had only 182 yards of offense, so they got quite a boost from the zebras, although it helped little on the scoreboard.
On the afternoon, 21 penalties were assessed between the two teams. The fans in attendance were clearly annoyed, especially during a ridiculous sequence during the third quarter when flags were thrown on four consecutive plays. For a league so micromanaged, is this what the NFL really wants their product to look like? A game where Tony Corrente and his merry men get the most face time? I think (and hope) not.
2. Officiating aside, this was a surprisingly easy win for the Steelers. Let's go through the reasons I outlined on Friday as areas of concern:
-Steeler injuries coming into the game. The Black and Gold had a lengthy injury report of players nursing various wounds, including Hines Ward, Chris Kemoeatu, Troy Polamalu, and Lawrence Timmons. All four players suited up and contributed to the win.
-The Raiders' ranks of 2nd in the NFL in rushing offense and 2nd in pass defense: Darren McFadden, leading the NFL with 108 yards rushing per game, went for 14 yards on 10 carries, so I think we know who won that battle. And DB Nnamdi Asomugha ended up sitting this one out, so Big Ben went wild to the tune of 275 yards, 3 TDs, and even 55 yards rushing, adding another TD on the ground. When you can negate a team's strengths so overwhelmingly, a win should be as easy as it looked.
-Momentum: The Raiders had won three straight, the Steelers had lost two of three and looked awful against New England. So much for the value of streaks.
3. The Steelers quietly racked up 162 yards rushing on Sunday, led by Rashard Mendenhall's 59 on a lousy 2.6 YPC. It was not his finest hour, but as noted above, Roethlisberger made great use of open space and had an unusually effective day on the ground, albeit coming in only three carries.
4. The bitterness between the two teams was apparent early in the game, and boiled over when Roethlisberger whispered sweet nothings into Richard Seymour's ear shortly before the ex-Patriot slapped Large Ben to the ground. I suppose that's why Mike Tomlin chose to keep his foot on the gas in the fourth quarter, rubbing it in and running it up in tacking on 14 points to a 21-3 lead.
I have no beef with that strategy in pro football. I'm from the school of thought that, "If you have a problem with it, you should stop it from happening". However, I question the wisdom of exposing the likes of Roethlisberger to injury on a day when he already took one cheap shot too many. I'm just glad he didn't get any funny business aimed in his direction during that fourth quarter.
5. I'm running out of words to describe WR Mike Wallace, who scored a touchdown purely on speed in that fourth quarter. It was his eighth touchdown of the season and gave him his fourth 100-yard performance in 2010.
As far as other receivers, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, the talented rookies, combined for 56 yards receiving and one score, while Brown tallied 66 more yards in punt returns and one touchdown called back on a penalty.
And yes, I did quite enjoy Antwaan Randle-El getting one shot to return and throwing up his trademark
white flag fair catch. I like the guy, I really do. I just can't understand why he totally gave up on being an effective return man. That niche made him millions of dollars over the years. Come to think of it, maybe that's the reason. He sees no need to risk his health at this point in his career.
6. 64,987 were in the house on Sunday. But how many of those were disappointed after they bought their tickets and realized they can't boo Jeff Reed, which was why they bought their tickets in the first place?
Kidding aside, Shaun Suisham had an under-the-radar debut, hitting all five PATs and not launching into any post-game tirades. If he can respect Pittsburgh cops and Sheetz restrooms and keep his mug off the internet this week, he'll really be on the right track.
7. It was a great day for the special teams as a group: Dan Sepulveda had a 45-yard average and put four punts inside the 20, the kick-return unit held Oakland to 16.6 yards per, and the punt-return unit allowed only 17 yards on four run-backs to Nick Miller. As Mike Tyson would say, "I take my hand off to you."
8. D-fence! D-fence! It was great to see that group playing with some emotion after last week's lifeless mail-in against New England. Six sacks, two picks (actually three and a TD, but who's counting), a fumble recovery, seven tackles for a loss, eight passes deflected, five QB hits, three points allowed, 11-for-14 stopping the Raiders on third down, and allowing 14 yards rushing to the game's YPG leader. Now that's the Steeler defense I know and love.
9. Around the AFC North, Baltimore kept pace with the Steelers with a 37-13 win over the Brian St. Pierre-led Carolina Panthers in a game that was waaaay too close than it should've been. The Panthers were actually within a touchdown of the Ravens in the fourth quarter, but St. Pierre imploded and threw two pick-sixes in a span of 11 seconds.
The Cincinnati Bengals, up 31-15 at halftime against the 1-8 Bills, watched helplessly as Buffalo scored 35 unanswered in the second half en route to a 48-31 loss. Both teams now sport matching 2-8 records and are surely scouting the top prospects in the 2011 draft.
Finally, the lovable losers in Cleveland came up four points short in Jacksonville, losing 24-20 and squandering a late three-point lead. The Browns are now 3-7 and looking forward to NBA season. Or perhaps not.
10. Next week, the Browns host Carolina, and Cincinnati takes to the road for a Thanksgiving night meeting with the Jets that's sure to put you to sleep if the tryptophan hasn't. But this division is a two-horse race, and the only other horse we're interested in is Baltimore, which hosts the pesky Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday. Has anyone else noticed how Baltimore made Buffalo and Carolina much more difficult games than they should've been recently? I don't know how sold I am on this team.
11. As for the Steelers, they travel to Buffalo for a Sunday-afternoon bout with the aforementioned Bills, who are riding a two-game winning streak.
Like I warned about the Raiders, Buffalo is not a team to be taken lightly. They may be 2-8, but their last three losses were all by three points, with two of them in overtime. And those three losses were all against division leaders or co-leaders: Baltimore, KC, and Chicago. In short, the Bills have gotten better as the season's gone on, and it's up to the Steelers to stop that trend.
Buffalo's got a QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick with an 18:9 touchdown-to-INT ratio and an 85.5 QB rating who should be an interesting matchup for the Steeler secondary. Their skill position players aren't exactly intimidating, unless Fred Jackson or Steve Johnson strike fear in your hearts. Personally, I think they sound like computer-generated video game names, but they actually combined for 266 yards of offense against Cincy. Unfortunately, I know very little about them. I don't watch a ton of Bills games, and I missed most of Jackson's games at Coe College.
12. It's Sad Trombone time!As you know, the Sad Trombone goes to someone who deserves no sympathy and in turn gets mocked by internet tough guys such as myself.
This week's Sad Trombone goes to Everyone in America Cheering For the Raiders' Return to Prominence.
I've heard the rumblings for a few weeks, and it really gained steam last week: the talking heads hoping that the Raiders had turned the corner and were once again relevant. They were all over the place...on TV, on radio, in print, on the net...just waiting for Tom Cable's team to come into Pittsburgh, beat up on the slumping Steelers, and pull an upset for the second straight year. One problem: the Raiders never showed up.
Maybe it was the cross-country flight and jet lag that did them in. Maybe it was the loss of their shutdown corner's services for the afternoon. Or perhaps it can be blamed on the collective psyche of a team so vividly illustrated by Richard Seymour's meltdown. But the Raiders looked like they showed up a day late for a Big East game against Pitt, not a division contender ready to make the leap to NFL relevancy.
So for everyone hoping the Raiders would beat the Steelers, enjoy a Sad Trombone to start your week.