Now, that was a good old-fashioned beat down. The 35-3 man-handling of the Oakland Raiders was long overdue for the Steelers and their fans. It was the perfect tonic after last week's thumping at the hands of New England.
Like everyone else, I was simply at a loss for words with some of those calls that went against the Steelers this past Sunday.
The most famous one being the roughing the passer call on Harrison that overturned Ike Taylor's rare pick six.
Some have said that the Powers That Be are against the Steelers and are conspiring to make them fail. I don't necessarily agree with that. Why would the NFL want one of its highest ratings grabbers to not advance as far as they can each and every season?
But when you look at some of those calls the other day, it makes you wonder. I mean, Ike Taylor was called for pass interference after he supposedly cut off the receiver's path on a play in the first half. But later in the game, there was clear face-guarding from an Oakland defender who was covering Mike Wallace in the end zone, and nothing was called. And what about that phantom "pulling a player off the pile" call in the 3rd quarter that sabotaged yet another Steelers' drive?
Back to the personal foul on Harrison. What's going on with the officials now reminds me a lot of what was happening back in the 80's during the league's first era of instant replay. Back then, if I remember correctly, the replay official in the booth had the right to review any play at any time and the officials on the field seemed very hesitant to call anything. Today, with more emphasis being placed on protecting players, officials appear to be going overboard and are calling everything and aren't giving the defensive players the benefit of the doubt. Harrison's hit on Jason Campbell clearly wasn't flagrant and to say otherwise is insulting our intelligence. I expect that there will be an apology or two coming down from NFL headquarters this week. And if there isn't and Harrison is fined, well, maybe that conspiracy theory is right, after all.
But enough about that.
I thought, coming in, that Oakland's offense was the perfect match up for the Steelers. Oakland loves to run the ball and the Steelers love to stop the run. I was listening to sports talk radio on Saturday night, and the host was going on and on about how the Raiders were going to run all over the Steelers since both Smith and Keisel would be missing from the lineup. I guess he forgot that Smith and Keisel have missed a lot of time this season and nobody has really been able to run on Pittsburgh's defense.
As it turned out, no running for Oakland. I believe they had something like 50 yards rushing as a team, and about 25 of them came on a draw play late in the game. And I knew Jason Campbell wasn't going to be able to do anything, and he looked quite pathetic trying to get rid of the ball to avoid Pittsburgh's ferocious pass rush. Where was that last week? But I digress.
I was a little worried when Steve Gradkowski came into the game because he was responsible for torching the Steelers last season in that infamous loss to the Raiders. But there was no Troy last year. Gradkowski was moving the Raiders downfield for an apparent score late in the 3rd quarter. I started to have flashbacks of last year's 4th quarter collapse against Oakland, but Troy put an end to those thoughts when he picked Gradkowski off and it was Game Over.
On offense, I was a little more worried about Pittsburgh's ability to score. The injuries and shuffling on the offensive line are beyond ridiculous at this point, and I didn't think they would be able to keep Ben healthy. But surprisingly, Oakland's formidable pass rush barely got to Ben the entire day. He had a nice, clean pocket for most of the game and the only real shot he took was Richard Seymore's punch to the face after Ben's touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders.
Pittsburgh's running game wasn't that effective. Mendenhall had about 50 yards on the day, but take away a questionable holding call or two and those numbers would have looked a little more respectable. Speaking of running the ball, how about Ben taking off on a few long runs? When Ben scored on that 16 yard touchdown run, I was pumped. I don't know what it is, but there is something about Roethlisberger scoring on a long touchdown run that gets me excited.
All in all, it was an impressive day for the Steelers, and an important victory to keep up with the rest of the big boys in the AFC.
I can't wait to see how this playoff picture is going to unfold. The Patriots, Jets, Ravens, Steelers and Colts are all legitimate Super Bowl teams, and it wouldn't surprise me if any of them made it.
This AFC playoff pool is going to be a monster. If you assume that the winners of the North and East divisions get the top 2 seeds and byes in the playoffs, that would mean that, more than likely, the 2nd place teams from those divisions will get the wildcard spots.
Can you imagine a 13-3 or 12-4 team like the Jets or Steelers going on the road to play the 9-7 or 8-8 AFC West winner in the wildcard round? When was the last time a home team was a double-digit underdog for a playoff game?
If ever there was a season to get the bye, it's this year. Most years, finishing 12-4 gets you a first round bye and maybe even the number 1 seed. This year, it might get you a 6th seed and a wildcard game against Peyton at his place.
There is never an easy path to the Super Bowl, but that's especially true this season.
The team that comes out of the AFC will have to EARN IT.
As far as the NFC is concerned. It's your usual. There are a few good teams, but the rest aren't really worthy playoff contenders, just teams lucky to be competing in the weaker conference. Remember when the NFC was far and away the stronger conference? I actually thought the tide might be shifting a little with the Giants and Saints winning two of the last three Super Bowls. And it looked like the Vikings and Cowboys would be super-heavyweights again this year and give the conference some much-needed star-power, but that hasn't been the case.
If the Saints or Packers make it to the Super Bowl this year, that would make for an epic battle no matter who they face from the AFC. I think they're right up there with the top teams in football. But it seems that the best team or teams in the NFC rarely make it, so don't be surprised if it's Chicago or Tampa that represents the NFC this season.