Usually the previous week's game is pretty far down the list of priorities when we get around to Checkdown time. Even that horrendous episode in Cleveland had become old news by the following weekend. But on rare occasions a game has such a profound impact that it colors everything that happens in its wake. It's been precisely that kind of week. There is injury news, both good and bad. There are playoff calculations to consider. There was real tragedy to and a resulting debate on rights and priorities. Last week we began by looking forward to Baltimore, this week we begin by looking back to Baltimore.
Disclaimer: I'm a Batch guy, have been for years. So if what follows spills into hyperbole and fawning please forgive me. Let's set the stage shall we. The Steelers have been invited as the special guest of honor at the coronation of the Baltimore Ravens as AFC North Champions. Their role is to be, under the direction of their third string quarterback, tortured and ritually slaughtered in front of the second largest crowd in the history of the Ravens franchise.
Steeler Nation is reduced to a posture all too typical for this season; peeking through partially covered eyes wondering what creative ways this team will utilize to disembowel themselves. The Steelers embraced this challenge with enthusiasm the previous week in Cleveland managing eight turnovers, a truly obscene display of ineptitude made even more amazing by the fact that they needed each and every one of these mistakes to secure a six point defeat at the hands of the Browns. Let the Inquisition begin! What kind of coaches do we have running this outfit? Fire all the running backs, everyone of those butterfingered b*****ds! And speaking of butterfingers let's not forget the receivers. Go Mendenhall! And take Wallace with you! But the greatest displeasure was reserved for the quarterback. We told you that SOB was too damn old! Heads rolled in the Pittsburgh locker room. But at the end of the day Ben could not convincingly lie his way back into the starting lineup. So that was it then. Meanwhile in Baltimore they're filling the buckets of Gatorade. This is gonna be sweet! Ravens fans begin visiting this site to get a head start on the gloating.
And then they played the game.
In typical Steelers/Ravens fashion the opening kickoff dissolves into a fight. Not unusual, I said the Steelers were inept, not punks. Then they tried, they really did, to maintain form. Interceptions were thrown, wide open receivers were overthrown, balls were fumbled for no good reason whatsoever, Ike Taylor, the guy who doesn't even miss practice breaks his leg. Kelvin Beachum is playing right tackle. Troy is sort of wandering around. And just when you thought Harbaugh was gonna scream 'Pour that Gatorade on me' Heath Miller happened. And then James Harrison. And Cortez Allen, and Keenan Lewis, and Jonathan Dwyer, and Ziggy Hood. But most of all Charlie happened. And then at the last possible moment, Shaun Suisham slipped in the dagger (directly into Ray Lewis' behind, or so it seemed). And then Ben and Charlie had a moment, as they say and we all went away happy.
Play with me for a moment here. Let's say that Pittsburgh figures out a way to battle from here and win their seventh title. How crucial would this win be viewed in relation to that success, and how would it be seen in Steeler lore ten, twenty, forty years down the road? They would be rolling Charlie Batch's old bones out every time they added a few new rows of seats to the stadium (and in forty years he really would be old, not just football old) to sustained applause. Many of you would be regaling your grandchildren about this one. It may still stand the test of time without the championship ending. I'm thinking about a game played on a Saturday night nearly fifty years ago against this same franchise where no one gave the Steelers a chance of winning before they delivered a beat down to a Cleveland team that would go on to win the NFL Championship (pre Super Bowl era) that year.
In the end the game speaks to the essence of what draws and keeps us attracted to sports. It was about resiilence and redemption. The flaws and foibles just made the end result more charming. I've talked to a lot of people who harbor no great affection for the Steelers (or hatred of the Ravens) who absolutely loved this game.
And if things unfold a certain way over the last month of the 2012 season, Pittsburgh and Baltimore might meet for a third time next month. Like Neal Coolong told me the other day, "You just KNOW it's going to happen."
Anthony Defeo and Neal Coolong are among many who root for a rubber match. The NFL, CBS and anyone who has skin in the game of sports entertainment would be crazy if they weren't burning incense to see that come into fruition. Drama, violence and genuine hate. Great television.
Tomlin and Harbaugh
And we got a little bonus action at the end. A Harbaugh and Schwartz having a handshake issue could be dismissed as a misunderstanding. When the other Harbaugh has an issue with Tomlin that's a pattern. Whatever veneer of civility that existed between these two slipped, and somewhere Mechem is smiling. Normally I'm all for sportsmanship and all that stuff, but frankly, I'm kinda into this. Neal has a good piece about the details of this. And its noteworthy that those in the Pittsburgh based media and Steeler Nation who have been giving Tomlin grief of late have circled the wagons on this one. I would just suggest one small change going forward. I don't have any real problems with Tomlin on this going forward. The man can handle himself just fine. But sometimes he's bit cooler about things than might be ideal. How about a designated hand shaker. Wouldn't you like to see Harbaugh try this kind of stuff with Bill Cowher? In imagining such a confrontation all I can see is chin.
Bottom line. Enough with the niceties. A Ravens fan challenged Ryan Clark to a fight. Ed Reed was less than respectful to Batch after the game. There is no point in trying to pretend that there is anything elevated about this. Nothing would please me more than to meet Baltimore in the playoffs and strangle their dreams. Then we can pull a backhoe out to the 50 yard line of their own stadium, dig a trench and bury the corpse right then and there. Great television.
Looking forward the big news is the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The joy and relief that might ordinarily be associated with this has been tempered somewhat by past statements like "life threatening" as characterizing the situation. The reports from players and coaches is that Ben is looking good and able to make the full range of throws. Technological assistance is also forthcoming in the form of a specially constructed vest that will provide some extra protection. \
In addition to Ben, Willie Colon will be returning to the lineup. Ike Taylor joins the ranks of the wounded with a leg fracture. LaMarr Woodley, Mike Adams and Byron Leftwich continue to be unavailable due to their ankle and rib issues respectively. Troy and Antonio Brown suffered no setbacks last week and their recoveries continue. It has been the consensus in recent weeks that the team is getting healthy (or would that be healthier?). But if that is happening it is occurring in a fitful, two step forward, one step back manner. The team's prospects will probably be effected by whether they can avoid further injuries in December.
With Taylor down, Allen is the next guy being asked to step up to a starting role. He played well in Baltimore, and he and Curtis Brown will be continuing with the responsibilities they took on last week.
The Chargers come to town with their own problems and controversies. They will miss the playoffs this year and questions are arising concerning the future of the team's leadership, especially head coach Norv Turner. Will they be dispirited or will they be fighting for their jobs?
The Steelers place kicker was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week based upon his role in the Steelers win against the Ravens, including the game winning field goal as time expired. Suisham also kicked the game winning field goal in the overtime win against the Chiefs.
Unfortunately all the news of the week was not good. Rita Rooney, daughter of owner Dan Rooney and sister of President Art Rooney II passed away this week in Boston. The funeral will be this weekend.
A pall was cast over the league with the murder/suicide involving the Kansas City linebacker and the mother of his three year old child. Amazingly, at least to me, were the number of fans who acknowledged that the incident heightened their awareness that the men who play this game are human beings with human problems. The decision by the league to go forward with the Chief's game against the Carolina Panthers was a source of controversy as Jason Whitlock and Bob Costas lodged their dissent in their respective forums.
The Steelers linebacker, no shrinking violet when he wants to express himself weighed in as well as the conversation expanded into a larger discussion about gun control. When he wasn't solving the problems of the world he had some interesting observations on Ben's return the state of the defense and his own health
The NFL Commissioner also gave his take on the decision to go forward with the game as scheduled. He also made headlines in revealing that the league is considering rule changes that would eliminate kickoffs after touchdowns, presumably as a player safety issue.
The Immaculate Reception
The 40th Anniversary of this game will take place later this month. Here is an article of one fan's experience of that day.
Batch vs Flacco
The last word will come from the humor site The Onion and their take on Charlie Batch's heroics this past Sunday.