First, the Record:
Other than the W-L column, here is the first Harmonic Convergence for this week, if you will—a nice tidy 9-3 record for the inner year teams, bookended by 7-5 for the outer year teams.
But before I continue to the Game 12 review, what did I mean by each team having their Signature Win? I'm referring to the games quoted by Hombre de Acero in this week's Five Burning Questions. His first question was which game the reader would consider to be the game in which the Pittsburgh Steelers lived "The Standard is the Standard" best: October 2007 @ Seattle, October 2008 @ Jacksonville, September 2010 @ Tennessee, or December 2012 @ Baltimore. His point was, all of the games were won in adverse circumstances, missing multiple important players. I would argue they also alerted the league to the fact there was something special about that year's team. The 2007 team won the division but ultimately failed to get beyond the Wild Card round. The 2012 season is still in question. But as we know both the 2008 and 2010 Steelers made it all the way to the Super Bowl, despite a few hitches along the way.
I would add the November 6, 2005 game at Lambeau Field vs. the Brett Favre-led Packers to the list. The Steelers were missing Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis, and Willie Parker was injured during the first half, leaving the entire running game resting on the shoulders of Duce Staley. Charlie Batch was making his first start since December 2, 2001. (He was playing for the Lions in 2001.) The 2005 Packers weren't the Packers of recent history. They only won two games that season. But most of their losses were by a very small margin. (Other than an opening loss of 17-3, their losses were by 2, 1, 3, 3, and 7 points prior to the Steelers game. They had a win as well, of 52-3.) The Packers had an excellent defense and an offense which struggled with injuries all season to several of the receivers and all of their running backs. The Green Bay defense managed to prevent a single third down conversion for the Steelers. And yet the Steelers found a way to win, mainly thanks to their defense.
Thus I would contend all of the teams have had signature wins at this point. The 2005 team went on to lose three games in a row under Tommy Maddox and then a very rusty Ben Roethlisberger, but it was one of those games which tells a team they are capable of persevering under adversity. They went on to win the rest of their games, including the Super Bowl.
Whether last week's game was a signature win for the 2012 Steelers may be in question if they do not build on it, either because of some other major injury or whatever circumstances should occur. But I believe it showed the heart and the guts of the team, come what may. The team overcame a great deal of adversity to pull out a win nobody thought they were capable of.
Jonathan Dwyer was interviewed yesterday morning and asked about the offensive line. The questioner wanted to know why he thought they were able to perform so well despite a major reshuffle including a rookie right tackle making his first NFL start. I loved his answer. The locker room was pretty noisy, as usual, and Dwyer gestured toward the center of the room and said
I think it's the bonding they have. You can just tell—look at them right now. They're always beside each other, they're always clowning and joking around. They're a tight, close-knit group. That off-the-field thing translates on the field.
Enough about Sunday—let's look at what happened in the previous seasons.
It was a bad day for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was an incredibly good day for Bengals fans, who saw the team assure themselves of a winning record for the first time since 1990. And if it weren't enough for long-suffering Cincinnati fans, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas—or, more precisely, a lot like there would be more than one post-Christmas game, as this win gave them a two-game lead in the AFC North.
Carson Palmer threw three touchdown passes. Ben Roethlisberger, who was being monitored by team physicians right up until kickoff to determine if he was healthy enough to play, threw three interceptions. He also threw three touchdown passes with a splinted, possibly fractured thumb, racking up his biggest passing day since entering the NFL. It wasn't enough, though. Cincinnati captured their fourth December road win in their previous 27 games.
A jubilant Chad Johnson, no, Ocho Cinco, no, wait, he was still Johnson then was interviewed after the game. Despite a five-catch, 54 yard game, Johnson was wearing a Terrible Towel and was quoted thus:
It used to be Pittsburgh's time. Now it's Cincinnati's time.
Hines Ward didn't agree, but he was realistic:
We've put ourselves behind the 8-ball as far as the playoffs go. I think we've got to win all four of our games left.
Although this was a very exciting win for Pittsburgh, given they had not beaten the Patriots in Foxborough since 1997, it came with an asterisk, as the team was led not by Tom Brady but by his backup, Matt Cassel, as Brady was out for the season.
It was still no small accomplishment. It was the first time the Patriots had allowed 30 unanswered points since the beginning of 2003. Furthermore, the team only lost five games all season, and Cassel quarterbacked all but the first game. The Steelers were very possibly the team who kept the Patriots out of the playoffs. They did not lose another game in 2008, and yet were the first 11-win team since 1990 to not make the playoffs. It had to make it all the sweeter for Mike Tomlin, who said after the game:
We heard a lot of talk about it being a rivalry. It hasn't been much of a rivalry until you win some. That's what we talked about coming up here.
The Steelers had an edge of over 10 minutes in time of possession. The win was a team effort, though. The Pittsburgh defense was clicking on all cylinders by the second half of the game. They had four sacks (plus one in the first half,) five takeaways, and only gave up 81 total yards. (The Patriots had gained over 500 yards in each of their two preceding games.) It was the 13th straight game in which the Pittsburgh defense had held the opposing team to under 300 total yards. They also held New England to a single third down conversion, on 13 attempts.
They [the officials] said don't leave your feet. If anybody watches the other games we played, I don't turn any of them down. It's not like I'm trying to be cheap. If anybody comes across, it's my job to tackle him, it's my job to hit him. The ball got tipped; he said I shouldn't have left my feet. But I don't really know how to control that. I talked to Kevin Faulk and some other guys, I told them I apologize. I couldn't find Welker after the game to tell him I wasn't trying to be dirty, it was just football.
With this win Ben Roethlisberger tied Otto Graham, Dan Marino, and Tom Brady for most wins by a quarterback in their first five season. James Harrison, with 14 sacks, and Woodley, with 11 1/2, set a club record for most combined sacks by two players.
In a Steelers-Ravens game with the division lead on the line, the Steelers managed to be the last team with the ball, and they won by the usual three-point margin. (Is there any other rivalry in all of football in which the margin of victory is consistently so small? Maybe I'll find out and do a post on it in the offseason.)
It did not look as if things would end so happily for Pittsburgh. They were forced to punt to Baltimore with less than five minutes left to play, trailing by four points. They had to kick off to Baltimore with 2:51 left in the game, nursing a three-point lead.
The game had not begun in a particularly promising manner, either. The first half series for the Steelers ended in punt, punt, punt, interception, punt. The score at halftime? 7-0, Baltimore.
Ben Roethlisberger was a bit of a sitting duck, as the loving attentions of a couple of Bills defenders the previous week (after the sack, and after the whistle) had apparently aggravated a pre-existing fracture in his foot. Roethlisberger was wearing an outsized shoe to accomodate a steel plate. If the Ravens' defense felt bad for Ben, you would never know it, although perhaps Haloti Ngata's blow to Ben's nose during the first series was compassionately intended to help take his mind off the pain in his foot. The official saw it differently—despite the fact the blow broke Roethlisberger's nose, he declined to flag it, stating Ngata was "just trying to make a play."
So how did the Steelers avoid the seemingly inevitable loss when the Ravens got the ball back at 4:43 in the fourth quarter? Two words—Polamalu and Woodley. Polamalu forced a fumble recovered by Woodley, who ran it back 19 yards to the BAL 9. This led to one of the all-time great post-game quotes, delivered by Ravens LB Terrell Suggs:
Everybody watching TV at home, everybody in the stadium, you all know if you see 43 at the line, four-minute offense, he's coming. It was just like, I hope we have a plan. It just didn't feel good when I saw that hair at the line.
After two incomplete Roethlisberger passes, Isaac Redman was mistakenly sent onto the field. (It was later revealed the player to go out was supposed to be Mewelde Moore.) It's a good thing, too. Isaac Redman has long been one of the best backs in the league in Pro Football Focus' Elusive Rating. He took the short dumpoff from Roethlisberger, broke two tackles, and ran into the end zone.
With this loss the Ravens had their nine-game home winning streak broken. Head Coach John Harbaugh was his usual self in his post-game remarks:
Obviously, it was a tough loss. Basically, we gave the game away at the end. We should have won the football game, and that's disappointing.
And everyone wonders why Mike Tomlin doesn't feel inclined to snuggle up to Harbaugh after games. Speaking of which, you will want to check out this call between Tomlin and Harbaugh. Fortunately someone must have tapped the line.
Roethlisberger's broken nose was hardly the only victim of the usual Ravens-Steelers slugfest. Todd Heap strained a hamstring, Heath Miller sustained a concussion, Flozell Adams sprained his ankle, and Daniel Sepulveda had his knee blown out, forcing kicker Shaun Suisham to punt for the rest of the game. There was punting a-plenty, too.
In a sort of eerie echo of 2010, the Steelers returned to M & T Bank Stadium last Sunday. The Ravens had not lost there since the 2010 game described above. Pittsburgh fielded a team led by their third-string quarterback. Pittsburgh won.
On to the statistics.
Astonishingly, despite the poor passer ratings posted for Games 10 and 11 by the back-ups, the 2012 Steelers are winning the average passer rating competition for the second week in a row against the closest rival, the 2005 passers. It is interesting the season with the lowest average, pretty much all year, has been the 2008 team, in which Ben Roethlisberger started every game. (Mind you, the spread is only about eight points, with the lowest average being 80.5 and the highest 88.7.) And luckily I did not feel obliged to add Antonio Brown's -210.0 passer rating for the game. (That figure, BTW, is real—but it is the Pro Football Focus QB rating.)
It's also interesting how little spread there is in the offensive averages, considering the very different circumstances of each season.
The top chart is for Game 12, the bottom one the season average.
Here's one of the convergences I mentioned. Notice something odd about the chart? It begins at 22.0 points and ends at 22.4 points. The 2005, 2010, and 2012 Steelers are tied at 22.25 points. In other words, the total points for those three team are 267. The 2008 Steelers trail this figure by .08, or 22.17 points, as they have accumulated only 266 points. The only way to make the difference appear at all on the chart was to make the spread less than half a point.
Every defense except the legendary 2010 defense gave up more than 100 yards rushing this week. While the 2012 defense is the weakest rush defense of the four, the average is hardly embarrassing. The 2012 Steelers are the No. 5 defense in the league in rushing yards given up.
On the other hand, the 2012 Steelers are the No. 1 defense against the pass, and at 2000 total yards are 268 yards ahead of their next closest rival, San Francisco. (That comes to more than 22 extra yards per game.)
The Takeway/Turnover Differential is likely to remain painful for the rest of the season. But they don't give out trophies for the best TA/TO differential, either...
The 2012 club still has the best ratio of yards given up to yards gained, even though it is a negative one. As long as they don't give up any more touchdowns, I'll take it.
Finally, the Point Differential. Still not good, but at least the 2012 team is headed back up. That's one trend I definitely hope will continue.
If this chart starts to converge as well in the next few weeks I'll be a happy camper.
I ended last week's post with "Let's hope there is something more cheerful to report next week." Well, there was. Here's hoping the cheer continues. Go 2012 Steelers!