Is it better to have hoped and lost

Patrick Smith

than never to have hoped at all?

I'll be honest. I'm still reeling from Thursday's game. The lows, the highs, the amazing plays from the Steelers, and yes, a few amazing plays from the Ravens as well, have left me feeling like a wrung-out dishcloth.

As I literally wrung out the dishcloth after the game, since my beloved family had left rather a mess in the kitchen, I realized that in many ways this game was a microcosm of the season. The slow start, literally—punt, punt, unbelievably weird false start by the kicker, or whatever the heck that was, punt. The untimely injury to the offensive linemen. I was amazed they even had another lineman dressed by the end of the fourth quarter, when we had lost two left tackles and the center. The runs up the gut for a yard or two. The drops by Emmanuel Sanders. I hate to say it, Manny, but you're missing a lot of balls this season, and we really could have used some of those catches. The defense being at least occasionally gashed by a previously ineffective opposing running game.

But, just as during the season, hope was building during the game. By the middle of the fourth quarter, it was beginning to look as it the Steelers were gaining some traction on the hated rivals. The numerous false start penalties on the Ravens offense made it seem as if the Steelers D was starting to scare somebody a little bit again. And once again Jason Worilds was unbelievable. Flacco made some hasty throws because of pressure in his face.

There were differences in this game from earlier in the season, both in a good and a bad way. The Ravens looked like a much better and more complete team than the one we faced, way back in October. But on the other hand, the Steelers' offense is improved all out of recognition. Mostly.

Here's one indication that things have improved on the offensive line. In the box score for the Ravens defense, here's what we see in the Sack/Interception/Forced Fumble lines for the defense:

0.0/0/0

That's right. Elvis Dumervil, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Jameel McClain, Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, et al, combined for no sacks, no interceptions, and no forced fumbles. Jason Worilds had two sacks and a forced fumble by himself. (To be fair, the stat lines for the rest of the Steelers defense look just like that of the Ravens).

The Steelers were one made 50-yard field goal away from winning the game, or one caught pass in the endzone (Sanders, I'm looking at you) away from tying the game and forcing the Ravens to either score in just over a minute or go into overtime.

But as I sit here now, I wonder if I wouldn't rather have just been able to shut the TV off at halftime and go to bed. Things weren't great, but they certainly weren't bad enough to count the Steelers out. If the Ravens had been up by 30 points, I might have decided it just wasn't our night and bagged it.

Instead, I was forced to watch in alternating joy and disbelief as Heath Miller took a touchdown into the endzone, only to see the refs take back the call and spot the ball at the half-yard line. But it was nothing to the feelings I had as I watched Le'Veon Bell walking into the end zone untouched, and then watched him lay inert on the field eight minutes later, losing his helmet, consciousness, and the second touchdown at the same instant.

I watched with joy as the offensive line gave Ben Roethlisberger all day to stand in the backfield, and then watched with increasing disbelief as one lineman after another hobbled off the field, to be replaced by increasingly inexperienced backups. It's never good to watch someone practice snapping the ball on the sidelines.

Would I really have preferred the Steelers to have lost the game irrevocably in the first half if they weren't going to win it in the second half? Probably not. But I sure as heck would like to have some confidence that they will be able to field a team in Week 14 who have enough experience to be able to find the field on their own.

Steelers-Ravens is always a bloodbath (and speaking of which, thanks, NFL TV, for showing Jacoby Jones puking in full color.) But I think tonight's game takes it to a new level, both for injuries and all-around strangeness. Obviously, as Mike Tomlin would say, the Steelers' playoff hopes just took a nosedive by virtue of losing. The more interesting question is, would they have had a chance even if they won?

The next few days will reveal how serious the injuries sustained were. Some of them did not look good. Thanks for nothing, guys. You made me care again after the numbness induced by 0-for-September. You've won too many to vie for great draft position, (at least I assume so,) and you still haven't touched .500.

But you also showed a whole lot of heart out there. And so finally we come back around to my original question, and the answer is, heck yes! For all I know, Week 12 may have been the last game this team wins this season. But they showed me something in the last few weeks.

Like so many bandwagon fans did, this team could have turned belly-up and floated through the rest of the season. But they didn't. They could have shrugged their shoulders, said we've lost too many critical players and we're too far in the hole, and we might as well try not to get killed.

Instead they have given us some really great football the past few weeks, including, yes, a good chunk of tonight's game. Short week, two road division games within five days, hostile environment, insane crowd—they all took their toll, especially in the first half. But the Steelers rose up and showed us what they are capable of, and for that I am exceedingly grateful. Sleep well tonight, guys. And if at all possible, wake up better tomorrow.

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