Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

It was the best of times, it was the not-so-good of times. A Thanksgiving week where the Steelers don't quite get over the hump.

It was a lot to ask. A team with some serious weaknesses has to go on a five day run against two division rivals, all in desperate straits, on the road in both cases, and win out. The Steelers didn't quite get it done. If you are like some who can only find satisfaction in playoff runs and championships then it must be devastating (and frankly I feel sorry for you because the nature of the beast is such that you will always experience more disappointment than satisfaction). I acknowledge a degree of disappointment, if for no other reason that they came tantalizingly close to getting it done. Pittsburgh could have been the toast of football for the next few days. there could have been all kinds of conversation about the possibility of deep playoff runs and maybe even miracles.

we're talking purgatory here;

But looking at it from the other side, there are lot of different ways of getting to purgatory and the path the Steelers chose was not as bad as I imagined when I wrote those words a week ago. What we got was as solid a win as we've seen over a year and then..

As Suisham's kick sailed between the uprights as time expired, newcomers to this rivalry like Velasco and Whimper leaped up and down around like little kids. The images of Ben and Tomlin showed men who were a bit more contained, not just with the understanding that it was just one step forward in a journey of many miles, but also with the knowledge that they would have to do this all over again on Thanksgiving night. Things were settled...for today. And that's part of the joy of football at its best as well.

Pretty prescient I think if I do say so myself. There is something of a remarkable reliability about Steelers/Ravens. Yes, if Pittsburgh had done A, B, or C then perhaps they might have won. And the Ravens could have countered with X, Y, or Z. That's just the way it is with this rivalry. And indeed, in spite of it all it was joyful; in my opinion football at its best for this day and age. It would be wrong to judge this week a success, but equally wrong to label it a failure either. When you consider where the heads of many reading (and writing) this were after London, you'd have to have a pretty screwed up sense of perspective to not find a great deal to celebrate and be thankful for as Steelers Nation, players, fans and all other parties alike take a break from our labors and settle down to enjoy the remainder of the holiday football orgy, connect with family and friends, and just rest a bit before having to attend to the challenges of December and the fourth quarter of the season.

Awards and achievements

For a team that friend and foe alike would define as struggling, the level of individual achievements being garnered is pretty impressive. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was named AFC Offensive Player for the month of November. In addition, he is poised to pass Terry Bradshaw in taking the franchise lead in touchdown passes thrown. He even got some special teams consideration.  Ol' 'washed up' Troy Polamalu was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Receiver Antonio Brown continues to lead the league in receiving, and is in position to set a new team record for receptions as well. Worilds and more quietly, Timmons continue to impress

Punishments

As expected, William Gay was fined by the league for his hit on the sack of Cleveland quarterback Jason Campbell on Sunday. (Strange. That game seems so far away now) I think I speak for many when I say we'll take it. Two takeaways here. First, is the fact that the play of Gay has been one of the real unalloyed bright spots of this season, something that cannot be emphasized enough given the shabby way that the Nation has been treating this guy. Some on this site and elsewhere have stepped up and acknowledged that their negative critiques and comments directed at this young men have often been excessive. More need to do so. Second, this play and the entire ending goal line sequence of the Ravens game points to troubling aspects of the how the game is being officiated. The Gay fine and the Bell non touchdown are examples of how difficult it now is to reconcile the nature of what this game is and has been with some kinder, gentler version that may make some sense in a rule book, but appears somewhat nonsensical in application. The end of Thursdays game was as much Steelers vs the officials as it was anything. And though Pittsburgh finally managed to score, look at the cost in time personnel (Bell and Velasco) and opportunity.

Head coach Mike Tomlin may also be fined for possibly personally meddling in the execution of a kickoff return. I admit to rooting for the notion that his actions were deliberate in that it would add some texture to his badass reputation, and would put him company with Bill Cowher as Steelers coaches who have difficulty standing on the sidelines watching passively as disaster befalls their teams. (Remember Cowher in Jacksonville) By all accounts it drove the crowd in Baltimore crazy which would be justification in and of itself. And as we have pointed out on this site, it probably had no real effect on the outcome of the play.

Le'Veon Bell

Sometimes its hard to discern the long term impact of events. To fully appreciate what transpired this week we may have to look beyond the implications for the 2013 horse race and look at how the table is being set for years to come with this franchise. The short term consequence of Bell's horrific run/collision was a likely concussion and a frustrating reversal of a touchdown. But if you understand the culture of Steelers Nation then you know something a lot more important transpired.

In 2011, Ben suffered what appeared to be a severe ankle injury in a the first half of a game against Cleveland. It was assumed that he was on his way to the hospital at half time with his availability for the remainder of the season being in doubt. Surprisingly, shockingly, Ben returned to field after the half and played the rest of the game. At that moment something changed in the relationship between Roethlisberger and the Nation. Up to then there was still some fallout from the whole sexual assault issue in Georgia. The embrace of Ben was a bit tenuous in some quarters. I remember the reaction of many on this site as Ben took the field, all was forgiven. Ben had been transformed into something we refer to as a Steeler for life.

I believe that moment came for Bell when his helmet flew off and he fell to the turf unconscious this past Thursday. No one can know whether Bell is destined for greatness or if circumstances will conspire such that he will be affixed with that dreaded label of 'bust', but one thing is irrefutable; he is now a Steeler for life. This means he will enjoy a level of support and loyalty that players like Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace could only dream of. There is something deeply ingrained in the culture of Pittsburgh that responds intensely to self sacrifice. It can be seen in the mythologies and fables that define the region and its people. Bell was already having the kind of day on a national stage that would have enhanced his standing around the league. That last play will create a bond for the rookie running back with the Nation that those outside may not completely comprehend. Like Ben, he may have grown up in Ohio, but he's a Pittsburgh Guy now.

Worilds

The breakout emergence of outside linebacker Jason Worilds continues. He was named Steelers Digest Player of the Game for Baltimore, and probably could have earned similar for his work against Cleveland. Speaking of a player who had been regularly maligned by some fans, some of who now might show some class by repenting in public, Worilds can now be comfortably counted among a list of players (Cam Heyward being another prominent example) who had been prematurely dismissed as lacking but are not just proving to be adequate, but also show flashes of star quality performance. Staying on the theme of long term impacts, what are we to make of the situation at outside linebacker? What do you do with Worilds? Do you pay him? Do you swallow hard and let him go? And if you keep him what becomes of the Woodley who when healthy is still one of the best in the business, as well as the up and coming Jarvis Jones? A nice problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. (Could LeBeau dial up a scenario where all three were on the field at the same time?) The other winners here are Colbert and the Steelers front office that doesn't look nearly as incompetent in their personnel choices as has been alleged over the last several months.

Offensive line

So someone please explain to me how it is that Pittsburgh has just played three games against some of the more formidable defensive fronts in the league, Ben got sacked once, maybe hit not much more than that, they average nearly thirty points a game and there is no parade scheduled or even just a big party for the offensive line? What may be even more impressive is that they are accomplishing this while still dropping like flies as they always seem to do. Yes, they are not perfect, they do not run the ball so well, but the offense may well be the strength of this team at the moment, and that should not be viewed in a strictly relative sense. This crew may not always score, when they do they may not always score touchdowns, but they consistently show the capacity to move the ball. The line is showing that they are both competent and nasty. Ben has stayed clean, and like the franchise quarterback that he is, when Ben stays upright and clean then winning is always a distinct possibility.

Add Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert to the list of players who were written off at one point or another who, now that they have had time to develop and mature are showing that the team wasn't crazy or stupid when they invested in them. We didn't have enough time to turn on David DeCastro, and now, too late, he's playing at a Pro Bowl level. And what will become of Mike Adams? Are we sure about him? True he's not doing so hot at the moment, but not as bad as some of us are in the player assessment department.

Velasco

He deserves special treatment, a tribute to who saved this line after Maurkice Pouncey went down in the first game of the season, and who is now lost for the remainder of the year himself.

The fact that this guy was sitting in church and not on a football field the first week of the season tells you a lot about what ails the NFL in terms of how its economic structure serves to drive a lot of quality players to the margins. During today's broadcast Velasco was mentioned as being thought of as the MVP of the offensive line by his teammates. That sounds about right to me. All things considered his story is rather remarkable.

Rebecca Rollett also chimes in with a piece on Velasco in her series of character articles. Perhaps the most harmful outcome from the week could be his injury status going forward (would you go with Wallace or do you call once again on Beachum?) Maybe the greatest testament to his play is that some have floated to possibility of getting rid of Pouncey and haven't been immediately laughed off the site (whether they deserve to be is another topic).

Maybe its just disbelief, but after all that has been said about the offensive line over the past few years, don't you think they deserve more than just a little credit for what they have been producing lately?

Sanders

I guess someone has to wear the goat horns and Emmanuel Sanders helpfully raised his hand. He certainly could have played better on Thursday, and it was an important catch he dropped, but I'm not so sure it was the best choice for Ben, and I think to a certain extent we're just reaching. If you have to blame anybody he's a good a choice as any...and Haley of course. He's always guilty of something.

The film room

As always don't take my word or the that of the media at large or even your own lying eyes as to what was going on out there. Paper Champions and Steel34D provide the weekly tutorials.

Being thankful

We didn't forget that it was Thanksgiving here at BTSC. Neal CoolongHomer J and Rebecca Rollett stepped a few steps away from the fray to deliver some much needed perspective on what has turned out to be a pretty good holiday weekend all things considered.

Enjoy the rest of it. I'm sure there are plenty of leftovers.

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