There's a special feature in the PZB this week. Not football-related, but it's still packed with enough information to suggest Pittsburgh is poised to break out of their three-game losing streak in a big way.
I had a beer with a fellow travelling Minnesotan at the Buckeye Bar in Port Columbus International Airport. We joked with the college-aged Buckeyes-obsessed bartender, shared a few laughs at Cleveland's expense, while the calming beer-buzz got me ready to board the cattle car headed home.
We approached the gate, and through the dark, we saw the plane, but with it, two police squad cars, followed by a long line of vehicles; trucks, Chevys, Hondas.
My new friend clearly is more versed in airports than I (although I travel a bit), and he mentioned something about having "seen this before."
I asked if it was a funeral, and another traveler gathered around our expanding group of onlookers.
"Honor guard," he grunted.
It wasn't as if he said it loudly, or that everyone could have heard it, but there was a pall that overtook everyone. Within the next 10 seconds, seemingly out of obligation, every person in the gate was gathered by the window. Staring, observing, perhaps reminiscing. A hearse slowly made its way to the plane we were about to board. I couldn't take my eyes off it, not having a clue whether the coffin was coming out of the plane, or if they going to place it on board.
A single mother held her two daughters close to her, all three in tears. It wouldn't make sense for them to know whomever it was this procession was for, but it was as if they did.
We all did. Somehow or other, whomever it was, we knew him or her.
The honor guard lined up with a sense of purpose, in full uniform, and marched proudly yet solemnly toward the plane.
It was noticeable in their gait; it was the least they could do.
A soldier returned home without his or her life. I tear ran down my cheek as I could hear the young girls sobbing, asking their mother what was going on. The mother didn't answer. The emotion was so thick in the air no one dared move.
We stood at full attention, watching the casket draped with an American flag be wheeled out of the cargo bay of the plane.
The only thoughts I had were that I wasn't moving until that casket was out of my sight, and what that soldier was thinking in the final moments of his or her life.
Maybe about family. Maybe about God. Obviously that person wasn't thinking about me, but I felt obligated to honor this person in what little way I could; I wasn't going to move until that casket and that flag were properly placed in the hearse.
Strangely, it seemed everyone else had the same thought. The gate attendant didn't even interrupt this small honor for that soldier.
I hoped the last thought this soldier had was about the honor and respect he would be paid upon his tragic return. I prayed that he or she know that he was honored by 150 stranger travelers. I prayed that the soul of that person was able to see 150 people standing at attention, honoring his or her sacrifice.
I hoped this person knew his or her heroic return stopped the actions of 150 people waiting anxiously to get home. I hoped he or she was aware of the sobering moment we all had, and in that, he or she was given the sense of honor and pride they dedicated themselves to.
Most of all, I hoped when this is published, a soldier or family member of a soldier reads it, and is comforted by the fact that at least 150 people inside Gate C54 at Port Columbus International Airport honored that returning soldier.
And I can't imagine anyone will forget it.
Opponent Web Sites/Forums
This is one of the bluntest, funniest headlines I've ever read.
In email/IM conversations with Site Commander Blitzburgh and my buddy Keith from Steel Curtain Rising, I learned something I thought I already knew; it's tough to win every week in the NFL.
Seems simple, but with the amount of games Pittsburgh has won recently, and in comparison to other teams that can't do what we do each week, it's a helluvan accomplishment to suggest we're bitter to the point of agony over a three-game losing streak.
I can't say I'm happy about the loss, but one thing I can't get out of my head is just how much fun that game was to watch. Obviously, I want a win as much as the next Steelers fan, but watching the future main contributors to this great rivalry - Ray Rice, Lawrence Timmons, maybe even Dennis Dixon - was tremendously enjoyable.
We hate Baltimore, of course. Frankly, though, I'd rather see Baltimore win than Cincinnati. Get your pitchforks and torches ready, cuz you're going to kill me for suggesting this, but we lost to a great team, a great coach and a great franchise.
We were so close to winning, much like the Ravens were in three games last year (well maybe two and a half games). Unlike Kansas City, the Steelers put up a commendable effort, and came close to beating a formidable opponent on their soil.
I'm not hanging my head over this loss. Iron sharpens iron, after all. My hat's off to the Ravens, that one is just another chapter in the story of the best rivalry in football.
We'll see them again in Pittsburgh, hopefully, with our main guys. I'm looking forward to it.
Opponent Spotlight: Nnamdi Asomugha
The advantage the best player on a bad team has is massive exposure. It's tough to talk about anyone else. But frankly, very few players can boast being at the level Asomugha is at.
It's difficult for the average fan to truly apply value to defensive backs. Asomugha is the prototype example of that. Is the fact that he's the only defensive back in the league who's played more than 400 snaps and been targeted less than 25 times (24) due to his ability, or the dozens of holes that exist on the Raiders defense?
Truthfully, it's probably both.
Why throw at Asomugha when you can throw at his counterpart, Chris Johnson (77 targets in 749 plays, 7th highest total in the league)?
Regardless of the reasons behind it, the fact is teams will not throw at Asomugha, hence the reason he barely has any statistical accomplishments this season (1 INT, 1 pass defensed).
Working with only half the field hasn't prevented teams from putting whooping on the Raiders, though. The Raiders have given up 13 pass plays of over 40 yards (2nd highest in the league) and they are 3-8 going into Sunday.
Because of all this, expect the Steelers to take an Ignorance is Bliss stance; they have nothing to gain by challenging one of the league's elite defenders, but his ability to lock down half the field alters Pittsburgh's wide-open passing attack.
Steelers Spotlight: RBs Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker
Mendenhall has to be licking his chops in watching film. Oakland allows 4.6 yards per carry and has allowed a league-high 17 rushing touchdowns. Add in the fact QB Ben Roethlisberger is returning from a head injury that kept him out of Pittsburgh's last game, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Mendenhall to have a career game.
Is 216 yards possible? That would give him 1,000 for the season. Oakland surrenders 161 rushing yards per game, but it's typically a cadre of backs instead of just one. Jets rookie Shonn Green put 144 on the Raiders earlier this season, and Thomas Jones added 127 more. Enter in Parker, who's had 11 carries in the past two weeks, vs. two carries in the team's previous three games.
This seems to be a game where Pittsburgh will look to reach the 40-carry plateau, and potentially have two 100-yard rushers. Oakland's linebackers do not tackle well, and the front seven allows chunks of yards after contact.
Mendenhall rushed 24 times against a stacked Ravens box, gutting out 95 yards. All evidence suggests a considerably higher yardage total in 24 carries against the Raiders. If Pittsburgh is dominating the game, it's not likely Mendenhall will have that many carries, but Parker and third-down back Mewelde Moore could both crack double-digits as well. This is all assuming none of them place the ball on the ground, which Oakland has been able to force 11 times this season.
Either way, with a QB who says he should be good to go, Pittsburgh will likely place this game on the shoulders of its offensive line (which will have LB Chris Kemoeatu back) and its talented group of backs.
We need that funk. We need that energy. We need #1 P-Funk, so spin it, you goofy bastard.
I See You
I see you, Dennis Dixon. Your numbers certainly weren't enough to earn Player of the Week or anything like that, but I see you because of two non-statistical measurements: you played with a sense of calm and patience in a game where very few passers are calm and patient, and with how hard you took that loss.
You had 100 percent confidence in yourself and your ability to help this team win, even when no one gave you a chance before the game. Your focus and your ability to shrug off mistakes were admirable, and you earned your varsity letter in that loss.
There are plenty of NFL-level QBs who would have thrown that same interception. It was a great defensive play call, and it was executed very well. While many Steelers fans are willing to give you a mulligan on that, considering your touchdown pass and run in that game, but you held yourself to a higher standard after the game, and put the loss on your shoulders, much like any great leader would.
Wins are all that matter to you. Steelers fans are going to remember this loss for a variety of reasons, but we aren't going to say "we lost because Dixon played a terrible game." We're going to say, "we had a bunch of injuries, and went into a hostile environment without several key starters, and almost pulled out a win."
There's something to take away from wins and losses, but what we know is you earned a seat at the table this past week. We're looking forward to seeing you again.
- Since 2005, the Steelers are 13-6 in December
- Oakland has won two straight over Pittsburgh (2006, 2002)
- Pittsburgh has 20 rushes over 10 yards to the right side of center
- The Steelers are 2-3 when the opposing QB passes for more yards than Roethlisberger/Dixon
- The Steelers are 3-1 when an opposing receiver has the game-high receiving total
- Troy Polamalu has 3 of the team's 8 INTs this year (23rd in the NFL)