It is still unclear whether this team will make the playoffs this year or how far they'll go if they get there, but if you didn't love what you saw in Baltimore last night and appreciate it as a stand alone experience then I challenge your credentials as a football fan and a member of Steeler Nation.
Every week Neal Coolong does an excellent job of identifying winners and losers from the week's game. I'd like to expand on that list.
Assistant coaches Carnell Lake and Sean Kugler. We haven't paid much attention to Lake this year, probably because so many were highly critical of the secondary play in the early portion of the season. But the argument can be made that this was the most impressive position group in the game, and this is without their best cover corner (Ike Taylor) absent from the group for the balance of the evening. In spite of giving up a big touchdown pass, Cortez Allen played very well in place of Taylor. And let's not forget a tremendous play made by Taylor that led to his ankle injury early in the game. It is indicative of how well Keenan Lewis has been playing of late that his effort seemed unremarkable. And it is a salute to the play of Will Allen that no one much noticed those periods of the game when either Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark weren't on the field.
So, if back in August someone had told you that we would be going into the big game against the Ravens, in Baltimore, with an offensive line consisting of Kelvin Beachum at right tackle, Maurkice Pouncey at left guard, Doug Legursky at center, Ramon Foster at right guard, what would be the state of your digestive track? Did Beachum have a Pro Bowl caliber game? Of course not. But with solid run blocking, no false start or holding penalties, he produced a competent performance in a circumstance that could not be more challenging. He drew high praise from his teammates and he should earn the appreciation of fans, many of whom questioned his inclusion on the roster at end of the summer. Pouncey has never played at guard in the NFL and acquitted himself well. While the players deserve more than their share of the credit, some props should be given to Kugler who has prepared the men in his room to adapt and perform at a high level. When you consider what they achieved against one of the better defenses in the league without Willie Colon, David DeCastro, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert, it shouldn't be viewed lightly.
Ziggy Hood. Remaining on the theme of players for whom we have had low opinions and expectations, you cannot overlook the fact that Hood contributed a sack and a fumble recovery to the effort.
Troy Polamalu. I wrote this past weekend to not expect much from Troy and that is pretty much what we got. A solid effort in a somewhat limited role. But the victory here is that he got through the day with no setbacks. Eventually, we can expect that we will get from him what we got this week from...
James Harrison. Some big plays from him after a period when he just seemed to be a shadow of his old self. He's coming on and with the return of Troy this is great news for the defense moving forward.
Shaun Suisham. BTSCer John Stephens has been, self acknowledged, one of Suisham's biggest critics. This is understandable given that he, like I live in the DC Metro area and witnessed his tenure with the Washington Redskins. And I have to say, and I think that John would agree that having seen the Redskins Suisham and the Steelers Suisham I have conclude that one of these guys is an imposter. The Redskins Suisham was a walking, talking antacid commercial, the Steelers Suisham is a machine. Leading up to his game winning field goal my only concern was whether the offense would somehow turn the ball over. That speaks volumes.
Heath Miller. Where I watched the game a fan began to cry out plaintively in the first half, "Throw it to the white guy!" The Steelers eventually got the message and that white guy had a great, great game, arguably the best of what has been a great, great season. You can have your Gronkowski's and Gonzalez's, if Miller isn't in the Pro Bowl this season it will be one of the great travesties of justice that we have seen in some time.
Jonathan Dwyer. It wasn't a great day for the running backs, but a solid effort nonetheless, and big step forward from the disaster of the previous week. Dwyer had a couple of great runs, particularly his touchdown run in the third quarter that pulled the Steelers even and back into the game. Isaac Redman contributed a few quality runs as well. And neither player coughed up the ball.
Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Colon, David DeCastro, LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor. When I mentioned in the sweet initial glow of victory that this was a great day for Charlie Batch, Robin, who was sitting next to me corrected me, saying that it was a great day for the Pittsburgh Steelers, precisely because they proved that they could win a big game without Ben. She was absolutely right. Of course, paraphrasing comedian Chris Rock who once said that just because you could drive a car with your feet doesn't mean it should be done; this doesn't mean we should disregard Ben. But what this does do is allow for Ben, and the other players listed to not have to necessarily rush back into action, perhaps before they are really ready to do so.
Mike Tomlin. As last evening's game headed into the fourth quarter the folks around me including people who could only be described as diehard Steelers fans expressed some surprise that Pittsburgh was still in the game. I don't think it is cynical to say that not many outside the Steelers locker room gave this team much of a chance of winning this game. Tomlin shouldered, and was saddled with, much of the blame for last week's game against Cleveland. He has to get an enormous share of the credit for preparing a team with a lot of young untested players and with key personnel injured to compete successfully with players like Charlie Batch, Kelvin Beachum, Jonathan Dwyer and Cortez Allen playing key roles. The game announcers said that this may be one of the most significant wins of Tomlin's tenure. I'm inclined to agree.
Charlie Batch. As fans celebrated Suishams game winning field goal, most missed a poignant moment as Batch, in tears, shared a long embrace with Ben Roethlisberger. We were reminded this week in a tragic manner that this game is not played by cartoon characters or robots. Many of us make the, perhaps, understandable mistake of thinking that a large salary, and accompanying celebrity status solves all problems. Tell that to the Kansas City Chiefs. In the wake of the recent big Powerball drawing studies came to light that establish that the happiness index of big lotto winners is really no greater than anyone else. All the preceding to say that I stood watching a man dealing with the emotions of coming to the end of the line of doing something that he loves and going out a winner. Many will not have much sympathy, he had a long run and made a good deal of money, what else would he possibly want? Charlie Batch validated his presence on this team and in the NFL. In addition to that moment with Ben my takeaways in this game was his block for Dwyer on his touchdown run, and as the clock counted down to the two minute warning, standing in the huddle and laying down the law to his teammates as to what they had to do to get the ball in position to win the game. Was the performance perfect? No. He made a couple of bad decisions, threw a couple of bad passes and contracted Roethlisberger disease (held the ball too long) on a few occasions. But he, as a third string quarterback did what most first string quarterbacks couldn't do; go into Baltimore and get a win. I suspect the good people of Pittsburgh will appreciate that for quite some time.
Can't really dwell on this. Sanders and Wallace made some mistakes, obviously, but they also made some key plays that helped the team win. I wasn't real fond of some of Haley's decision making early, but I think he called a good fourth quarter. But these are just quibbles. It was a good day. Let's leave it at that.