Before you do anything else, start your NFL Sunday with a moving and inspirational read about Aaron Smith's son's battle with leukemia. It's not that you needed a fluff piece about Smith to remind you what a great man and teammate he is. We all knew that, and the trials and tribulations he and his family are going through only cement in our minds and hearts what we already know about him - even by just watching the television or reading about him.
But in that article we get a small taste of why this particular group of Steelers players shouldn't be counted out until the final snap of the season. They're a close pack of brothers. They care for each other. Their leaders - Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin as coaches and Aaron Smith, Troy Polamalua and others as players - are men and leaders they can believe in. They are grateful to be around each other. And most importantly, at least in terms of what takes place between the lines on Sundays, just about every last one of them plays for each other and for the organization, not for personal glory.
I was reluctant to think we had a good chance against Baltimore all week long. Quite frankly, I had the same feeling I had leading up to the San Diego, Dallas, and New England games. Not once did I think we were a long shot to win during our 4-game winning streak. But, it was just not until recently that I realized that, flaws be damned, we're following a resilient football team that finds ways to win ugly, no matter the opponent, no matter the location, no matter the injury situation or any other uncontrollable variable.
But I'm on board for this week. Sentimentality, intangibles, and chemistry aside, it's a tall order for Joe Flacco to lead his team to victory with the stakes this high. Against this defense. Surely we'll have our bumps and bruises on the offensive end, but we've been able to connect on some big plays against the Ravens in recent memory, and I'll be the first to say right here that Ben Roethlisberger is going to outplay Joe Flacco today. I sure hope we have some more big plays in the vertical passing game in us, because there' just very little reason to think the running game is going to be overly effective. When it's all said and done, I think (rather, I hope) we'll have even more evidence that this is a special football team not to be doubted, flaws be damned.
Like the weeks preceding this one, this is not a must win. But due to our schedule and due to Baltimore's somewhat unexpected mid-season surge, here we are in week 15 having won 4 in a row still not able to feel comfortable just yet. One more win though and we've just navigated one hell of a gauntlet of games in this league. And with a win in Charm City, we're AFC North champs. The prize is in front of us, and with this particular group of men, I think they'll find a way to seize the opportunity and keep the team's positive momentum going for at least another week.
Stick together boys. One more inch.
This is our first half open thread. I'll be here during the early games and throughout waving my towel. Join me! These kinds of games are why we love the National Football League.
I like who we have as leaders. One time, Steelers. AFC North champs by day's end.
*** For all y'all looking for a stream of this game. Try here, it's usually a flawless stream, and I'm almost 100% sure it's coming from some PA market.