Now, wasn't that fun?
Not as fun as, say, 38-0, but great exciting football at a historic venue, in ideal (for Lambeau) conditions, between two storied franchises with a lot on the line. I'm sure someone at the networks or the league wishes it had been the 'A' game instead of the 'B' game this afternoon. Go elsewhere for an analysis of all the various playoff permutations. Just know that going into the last week of the regular season the Steelers remain, amazingly, relevant for the possibility of a playoff berth. So who do I think were the winners and losers for the week?
Neal Coolong. If you had to choose one game to attend and you had an option of what the weather conditions would be... Well, let's just say that Neal will probably be remembering this one fondly for a very long time. And knowing Neal as we all do, he'll have material to write about until Valentine's Day if he so chooses.
Brett Keisel. If you're The Beard and you think you're taking your final bows as a Steeler, you could do a lot worse than a sack and a fumble recovery in the final minutes. (Also props to another 'old', 'washed up' guy in Troy Polamalu who had the strip). Business principles may dictate a parting of the ways, but he just made it harder for all of us to face the possibility that next week may be the end.
Le'Veon Bell. His first hundred yard effort, breaking an embarrassing drought in that department by the Steelers offense, plus scoring the winning points and making the head coach look good in his vote of confidence in you earlier in the week; all these things easily cancel out his first career fumble. (Plus there shouldn't have been any points that resulted from this, but I'll deal with that soon). Handing the ball to the fan was pretty classy too.
Antonio Brown. We've reached the point where we just expect great from him now. No one seems to be able to cover him in the passing game, no one seems to be able to reliably cover him on punts. Every time he touches the ball opponents get heartburn. Its reached the point where they have to cheat to stop him or hope that he stops himself. Pro Bowl should be fait accompli. He really does deserve All Pro consideration at this point.
Ben Roethlisberger. Ben just keeps on rolling. Ran for one score, passed for two. We'll forgive the interception. That was a good play by Hawke. Another one who goes to the Pro Bowl if there is any justice in the world.
Mat McBriar. (With honorable mentions to David Paulson and Special Teams coach Danny Smith) Really nice fake punt and pass, as well as some pretty good kicks thrown in as well.
Offensive Line. Ben was sacked once, and there was a 100+ yard runner. The last few weeks has not been a fluke. These guys are for real now. And did you notice that none of them got hurt today.
Matt Spaeth. Season stats; one catch, one touchdown. Pretty good percentage.
Cortez Allen. Pick six. Nuff' said.
Steve McLendon. I give him credit for the blocked kick. Let's ignore what I consider the BS call that wiped it out.
Stevenson Sylvester. Like this team, a guy who was written off months ago. To be playing significant minutes in a significant game and to make a decent accounting of yourself has to be acknowledged.
Mike Tomlin. They coached this game aggressively and it made a difference.
Steelers Nation. Thoughts about the Steelers should figure positively in the celebrations, hustle and bustle of the next week. While the best we can hope for as a regular season record is exactly that of last year, the tone is very different. The arrow is pointing up in so many areas. The team is still (Still!!) in the hunt for a playoff berth, something that was not the case last year. And the odds have come down from 'damn near impossible' to 'merely ridiculous', its still possible. And what a goof that is. On one level it really doesn't matter at this point. To imagine that this season could deliver this level of engagement and joy at this late point is remarkable in and of itself. If today ends the good news for 2013, for me its enough.
Game Officials. Is it just me, or does it seem that the Steelers are disproportionately subjected to meddling by league officials in our games. Last week it was Garvin. Two weeks prior to that it was all that nonsense in Baltimore. Today, the defense makes a goal line stand, then blocks a field goal attempt and then the officials give the ball back to the Packers for a do over. I'm sure there is some obscure rule that accounts for this (There better be!), but, I mean, damn! I for one am sick of these guys. And did you happen to notice that defenseless kickers made two touchdown saving tackles for the Packers today?
Outside Linebackers and Emmanuel Sanders. This position group seems to have come down with a brutal case of offensive line disease. Woodley on IR, Jones ill, and Worilds out. Sanders was on his way to a pretty good day with a touchdown reception and a long kick return, and then he goes down.
Steeler Scrooges. It was a bad day for all you haters out there. Its going to be all that much harder trying to persuade the world that Tomlin/Haley/LeBeau/Colbert/Ben/the Rooneys need to be run out of town when the team may not have a losing record and might actually make the playoffs. So work hard this week with the voodoo dolls and the incense, and remember that you retain the considerable tactical advantage of not feeling particularly compelled to make sense. So start working on those tortured rationalizations and hope for the worst with Cleveland.