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5 Long Thoughts on the AFC Championship

Looks like we've got one more game to look forward to in the 2010-11 season, and I'm not talking about the Pro Bowl.

Some thoughts on the Steelers' eighth AFC Championship victory, a 24-19 win over the pesky New York Jets at Heinz Field:

1. By my count, the Steelers have played two incredible halves in the 2011 NFL playoffs. 

How good were they? They were so good, they enabled the team to overcome numerous miscues in both the AFC Championship and last week's victory against the Ravens in the other two halves. That being said, I believe this team still hasn't played a full 60-minute game to the entire extent of their abilities in the postseason, yet finds itself in the Super Bowl. That can be only a good thing.

2. Let's go over the good parts of the AFC Championship:

-The Steelers' goal-line stand: a signature moment for the defense, and the type of series that's defined this team.

-Big Ben-to-Antonio Brown for 14 yards on 3rd-and-6 late in the fourth quarter; that's two playoff games and two huge plays for Brown; as for the play itself, mark it down as another trademark Roethlisberger moment late in the fourth quarter of a big game.

-The call to pass on 3rd-and-6 in the fourth; Bruce Arians could've gone run and played it conservative, but that defines the cliche "playing not to lose". Tomlin/Arians/Roethlisberger was aggressive and it paid huge dividends. And for extra guts, it went to Brown and not a veteran like Ward or Heath Miller.

-The Steelers' rushing attack; I must say, I did not anticipate 166 yards on the ground against this Jet defense. 

The Steeler line, sans Maurkice Pouncey, was tremendous in run-blocking. And Rashard Mendenhall had one of the most productive days of his career, capping it off by what looked like him humping Ben Roethlisberger's leg. I'd love an explanation of that moment.

-The Steelers' opening drive: 15 plays, 92 yards, 9:06 elapsed. And it would've been a three-and-out if not for an illegal use of hands penalty on Antonio Cromartie. I'd say that was a rather costly penalty.

-Roethlisberger executing a game plan that featured 19 passes and 43 runs; it wasn't a style designed to showcase Ben's abilities, but he ran it to a "T", and he made the throws he needed to make at the times he needed to make them. His playoff record now sits at 10-2.

-Dick LeBeau's D played a tremendous game, with their unit responsible for yielding a reasonable 17 points. They once again shut down the opponent's rushing attack, impressive considering New York boasted the league's fourth-ranked unit on the ground.

LaDainian Tomlinson, the Jets' leading rusher in 2010, had 16 yards on nine carries and once again came up short in the playoffs. In 10 career postseason games, Tomlinson has topped 100 yards once, and that was in a 2006 loss. Shonn Greene was whooping it up an awful lot but only touched the ball nine times. As a whole, the Jets backs left a lot to be desired.

Santonio Holmes royally burned (or should I say "baked") the Steelers once, but had only two catches for the game. Braylon Edwards touched the ball just three times, and Brad Smith was truly limited in his production. The Steeler defense did a solid job of bottling up the Jets' playmakers, both on the rushing and the receiving side of things.

-The Ike Taylor sack/forced fumble and William Gay recovery/return/touchdown was your typical, run-of-the-mill, enormous postseason play from the Steeler defense. Looking back on it, that score turned out to be the difference in the game.

-Rex Ryan's headset slam after the Antonio Brown catch will make Steeler highlight reels for years and years and years.

-Other than the Shaun Suisham kickoff that went out of bounds, the Steeler special teams unit played a great game and did not allow the back-breaking big play. The Jets averaged a little more than 10 yards on kickoff returns, while the Steelers averaged nearly 18. Suisham made his kicks, Kapinos did his job, and no one on the unit earned goat status (although Antwaan Randle-El would've had the Jets recovered his fumbled punt return).

-Penalties and refs did not play a major factor in the outcome. And that's saying something when Ed Hochuli and his biceps are in charge. 

-It was neat to have the star of TV's #1 new comedy (Billy Gardell) and rap's newest superstar (Wiz Khalifa) in the house and waving towels, given their Pittsburgh roots. TV, rap, football, hockey, college basketball...I think America can admit that Pittsburgh's where it's at these days. 

-Mike Tomlin's postgame speech/yell was tremendous. And it's always nice to see Ambassador Rooney in the house and accepting a trophy and spot in the Super Bowl. That never gets old.

3. And now, the bad parts:

-Steeler receivers were nearly a non-factor. Hines Ward: 2 catches, 14 yards; Mike Wallace: 1 catch, 6 yards; Emmanuel Sanders: 1 catch, 20 yards; Antonio Brown: 1 catch, 14 yards. Say what you will, but Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie make quite the dynamic pair of d-backs. 

-Roethlisberger's stat line shows 10 completions and a 35 rating for the game. That's not going to help his standing in the Hater Community, whether I like it or not. But as I said earlier, I think this team still has one more opportunity to hit their 2010-11 zenith, and that will be another chance for Roethlisberger to silence the Rod Woodsons of the world as well.

-The safety in the fourth quarter was weak and the Steelers are incredibly lucky it didn't come back to bite them, let alone result in a Jets touchdown. After such a momentum-changing goal-line stand, they really blew an opportunity to decisively slam the door on New York, as if a 24-0 lead didn't already give them such an opportunity.

-The 19 unanswered points surrendered to the Jets were rather alarming, but all's well that ends well., I suppose. Once it was all said and done, this game reminded me of the 2009 Steelers-Chargers game, when the Black and Gold built a 35-21 fourth quarter lead that got whittled down to 35-28 late. It was a scare, but they survived, much like Sunday.

-The injury to Pouncey; let's keep our fingers crossed that he can play in the Super Bowl. Right now, the word is that his status is unknown. With him in the lineup, I highly doubt the safety happens.

-The two Steeler inteceptions were costly, but not of the killer variety. The first one was basically a change-of-possession, while the second put the Jets at their own 14 and ultimately resulted in a three-and-out. 

-Troy Polamalu was in on a few plays, but his name wasn't called too often. I wonder at what percentage he's actually playing at.

-Ike Taylor dropped the 1,500th interception of his career, give or take 1,000. So congratulations to #24 for hitting that milestone.

4. Looking ahead, the Packers will be our final roadblock before hoisting a seventh trophy, and they're a worthy adversary. The early line is Green Bay (-3), and I love that. The Steelers thrive as underdogs. I can hear Hines Ward talking about it already.

From a fan point of view, I'd imagine this could be the biggest Super Bowl ever. Pittsburgh and Green Bay represent two of the league's most popular teams, and their sizable fan bases will both descend on Cowboys Stadium to make it an event to remember. I have a feeling the teams will, too.

The game will most likely come down to the QBs. The Packers will more than likely struggle to run, and therefore lean on Aaron Rodgers and their talented stable of receivers. Defensively, the Packers boast the league's fifth-ranked pass defense, which should challenge Big Ben and his pass catchers,  coming off a quiet AFC Championship. 

With Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, AJ Hawk, and Charles Woodson, the Packers are not short on big-name talent, but don't expect the Steelers to be intimidated. That's not a word in their vocabulary. I see a very exciting Super Bowl in our future that will probably hinge on 1-2 big plays. But we've got a long time between now and then to break down the game.

5. Finally, 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.

The winner is an easy choice: former Steeler Santonio Holmes. Holmes started this week talking about how he would get back at the Steelers for trading him, and ended Sunday night speaking out about playing time and the Jets' gameplan. Same old Santonio: one big play, lots of baggage. I'll take the team that's going to the Super Bowl without him on the roster, thanks. And to his playing time plight, let me offer this: a big, loud, Sad Trombone.

Check back often at MH this week for frequent updates on SB45, as well as some other news I hope to be unveiling at some point in the next few days. Your emails and commentaries are encouraged leading up to the big game.

Mondesi's House: The Director's Cut (more links, commentary, etc):


Bababooey said...

Freakin' CBS and their commentators..Anyone notice how Phil Simms sounded so dejected during the first half of the game, and after the Jets started to pull it together AFTER 3 quarters of football his attitude completely changes in favor of the Jets. I mean there was no hiding who he was in favor of. Asshat.

Great win, though. Steelers have to play 4 FULL quarters of ball against the Packers to bring home a win.

Unknown said...

I wasn't as high on Ben's performance yesterday. His runs were huge and the reason the Jets D wasn't as effective as it was against Indy and NE......but he made some shaky throws, uncharacteristic of his recent big game resume. Deep ball to Wallace, goal line bat down, two picks.

Borsk said...

1 pick was after Mendenhall popped up a catch-able ball after tripping. He missed on a couple deep throws, but had an incredibly strong game.

He ran for a TD and threw for none so it tanked his rating with the picks. All of the NFL Network "experts" pretty much shared Dan's thoughts exactly. Any time he had to make a play, he made it, and has now only lost 2 playoff games.

Koz said...

My favorite Ben play was the one he didn't make. Late in the game, I forget the exact situation, but I think we were still up 14 points. We had like 2 negative plays in a row and he was surrounded and going to get sacked.

For a split second, it looked like he was going to try to shovel pass or pitch it off, in a Favrian act of lunacy.

Thankfully he just absorbed the sack.

okel dokel said...

I hate to say this but I was not thrilled when we let up the field goal to end the first half. I wanted the Jets to leave the field feeling the Steelers foot firmly on their collective throats.

Some thoughts;

*@ Kevin - I agree about Ben. But this is how Ben is - he always follows a big game with a so-so one. His passing was off all day, especially the long ball. However, he always comes through in the clutch and his persistence on third and fourth down is definitely a difference for the Steelers.

*@Bababooey - I loathe Phil Simms but I feel there has been a general disdain for the Steelers media and internet wide. People are "tired" of them winning and feel they are undeserving in light of Ben's off-field issues. Jealousy can be so ugly.

*Sean Kugler - Two 2nd team tackles and a back up center. Definition of a patch work line and they come prepared every week.

*Is Troy injured or is is just the scheme - he had a couple of noticeable plays, but nothing "baby Jesus" like. Perhaps they are bringing back the scheme from earlier in the year and letting Ryan Clark do more roaming. He seems to be sitting back a lot, but he is probably their best coverage guy - especially when you have to rely on Bill Gay at corner. BTW - Bill Gay was real good yesterday.

*Great sad trombone - I am "so over" Santonio. His glare on that first down catch had me yelling for some one to "smack him upside the head." He did score a TD but Ike fell and Troy was at the line, so he knew he would be open.

*Are the Ravens really considering bringing in Plaxico - wow, they are really getting desperate to beat us. I bet he signs with the Jets to replace Braylon "I'm ascared" Edwards.

give me the brandy said...

Ben was better than his stats show, considering his multiple runs for first-downs and a touchdown and the two huge throws on the last drive. Also the first INT was not his fault. It was not his best game overall, the second pick was a terrible throw that should have been a touchdown and he also missed Wallace and Miller on passes that should have been TDs.

All in all, the Steelers won, and that's it. We need Pouncey back for the Super Bowl.

Unknown said...

Look, we all love Ben and what he brings to the table....and we all get mad when national people don't get it and leave him off lists. But, if we try to make his case based off last nights game......i'm just not buying it. He missed some throws, it happens. If he plays a great game in Dallas we won't have to try to spin it.

Borsk said...

"and we all get mad when national people don't get it and leave him off lists"

By all accounts last night, the national guys were giving him all the credit for winning that game: ESPN and NFL Network.

Unknown said...

Did Jim Nantz actually think Sanchez's arm was going forward? He was actually worse than Simms with the anti-steeler bias....

Mendenhall played his ass off, the defense was great, the o-line did its job, and Ben made the plays when we needed them. Even BA seemed to call a good game.

Bababooey said...

I couldn't tell who's voice it was at the time b/c I was in shock that either Nantz or Simms thought Sanchez's arm was going forward. Either way the biased was pathetic.

SantoGold said...

(1) I think Phil Simms is pretty objective when calling a game. With the Jets down 24-0 and needing to keep things interesting, he needs to talk about what the Jets have to do to get back into the game.

(2) Leave well enough alone department: The crappy "new and improved" Lamar Hunt trophy. Did someone use an erector set to build that thing? I'm guessing Goodell has an aspriring-sculptor nephew who needed a commission and got the job.

(3) Agree that Ben was better than his stats showed. He looked large and in charge the whole game.

potus said...

Here is a question on the Sanchez fumble (I was at the game and have not seen the broadcast): didn't the ball go backwards? It appeared on the brief replay that they did show on the big screen that he let go of the ball on the 20 and it landed around the 19. All that they appeared to be reviewing was arm motion. Even if his arm was going forward (which it did not look like) if the ball went backwards then it is still live, correct? Anyone else notice this?

Borsk said...

Everyone seems to think that, but Tunch made it pretty clear today that in that situation (ball deflected by a sack) it counts as an incomplete pass no matter where the ball goes. Even if he pumps,tucks it,and loses it(tuck rule), it's an incomplete pass.

potus said...

@Eric- Thanks for the clarification. Doesn't seem to make any sense at all, but as an NFL rule I guess that is par for the course.

Steve said...

Eric - But it wasn't an incomplete pass, if it was they wouldn't have been allowed to return it for a TD. His arm was starting to come forward but his hand was empty. That's the whole meaning behind the term "showing empty hand".

BurressWithButterflywings said...

@ Steve,

Exactly, that was the prime of example of the empty hand play you always hear about. The ball was knocked loose before his arm came forward.

Simms and Nantz hate the Steelers. Lest we forget " the Steelers would need an out of body experience to beat the Colts" during the run to SB XL as the Broncos beat the Pats and Simms was already giving St. Manning the SB.

Steve said...

Yup. As far as Simms goes, it's always been known he along with Collinsworth are about as anti-Steelers as two announcers can be without wiping their ass on TV with a Terrible Towel. I could always understand Collingsworth being biased but for Simms' habit of always taking the low road against the Steelers, I don't get it. I just figure somewhere at sometime, a Steelers fan must of F'd his girlfriend or something.

Borsk said...

The play was ruled a fumble on the field, that's why they were allowed to return it.

Call and talk to Tunch/Wolf, I'm just repeating what they said and I tend to trust their judgment on the rules.

I just watched the replay of the Packers/Steelers game from last season last night and the identical play happened in that game. Ben got stripped by Clay, the ball fall down, Clay fell on it, ruled a fumble. Reviewed, overturned as an incomplete pass, ball back to Pittsburgh.

Koz said...

You guys are cute with your "these announcers hate the Steelers" talk.

C'mon, really? Maybe you've been listening to the radio broadcasts for too long, but you can't expect these guys to Yoi! and Double Yoi!, you know.

By the way, since I mentioned it, I think the Steelers radio broadcast is very well done. The trio has a high level of enthusiasm for the home team, which you would expect from a local radio crew, but doesn't say "WE" when referring to the team (something the Colts announcing team does constantly which drives me crazy). They also aren't afraid to criticize the Steelers when appropriate or admit when the other team makes a good play. Bravo to Hillgrove, Tunch, and Wolfley.

Borsk said...

There is nothing I hate more than an announcer saying "we". Bill Fralic does this during Pitt broadcasts and it makes them un-listenable.

Bababooey said...

Koz, unless you're Helen Keller its clearly evident while watching and listening to the announcers on a nationally televised game how they're against the Steelers. They don't "have it out for them", they just have a negative tone in their reference.

Prime example was when the Jets came out during the second half and showed signs of life. Simms and Nantz were all on Sanchez and Rex Ryan and how much of a brilliant performance it would be for them to come back. And it didn't seem like commentating, but sheer fanhood. In the first half their voices showed dejection and negativity they way the game was going.

Borsk said...

Stan just talked about this again. If it's a forward pass attempt, it's incomplete. It doesn't matter where the ball lands.