I'm a bit behind schedule (seems to be a common theme this last few weeks), so I'll forgo my usual lengthy recap type post and instead just lay out ten thoughts about Sunday's victory by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the rival Ravens. We'll see what shakes out next week, but even if the season ends next week, the Steelers have ensured that they'll finish their sixth consecutive season without a losing record. Hopefully the season ends with a W and a playoff berth, but I'm somewhat comforted by the fact that this bizarre up and down season will at worst result in a .500 record. For as hyper competitive as this league is, that's not such a bad 'floor'.
* For once this season, the Steelers were the beneficiaries of most all of the 'breaks' during the 23-20 win at Heinz Field. It's hard to argue that not being penalized as much as your opponent is 'lucky', but the Steelers definitely benefited from Baltimore being penalized 11 times for 113 yards compared to just 4 times for 20 yards. One such penalty came on a 17 yard touchdown scamper by Willis McGahee that was called back because of offensive holding. Several plays later, a 15 yard unnecessary roughness call against the Ravens put them out of field goal range. That's at least 3 points left on the board. Then, the Ravens really left the door open for Pittsburgh when Derrick Mason dropped an easy touchdown in the back of the endzone. The borderline future Hall of Famer let the ball hit his face mask and it ricocheted away with no Steelers defender really involved whatsoever in the drop.
* Nick Eason! What a game for the backup defensive lineman. He was only credited with 2 tackles and 0 sacks, but I could have sworn he was in on at least one of the Steelers four sacks of Joe Flacco. Regardless, Eason was flying to the ball all day, and though Ravens running back Ray Rice had a very nice statistical day, he was unable to really hurt the Steelers like he was the first time the two teams met about a month ago. To me, that was partly a product of Nick Eason competing so well and continuing to swarm to the ball sometimes 5-10 yards down the field.
* A breakthrough game of sorts for 1st round draft pick Ziggy Hood! The former Missouri Tiger recorded his first professional sack on Sunday. Perhaps more importantly though, Hood was able to apply pressure to Flacco on several other occassions when the Steelers were just rushing three or four defensive linemen. That allowed the Steelers to focus on bolstering their defense in the secondary. I really liked what we saw from Hood on Sunday.
* Props to Stefan Logan for continuing to work and run hard. He's been much better recently than he was to start the year. On Sunday, Logan set the single-season Pittsburgh record for kick-return yards with 1,383, surpassing the 1,306 set by Ernie Mills in 1995.
* We all know the Steelers have lost a multitude of games this year by a close margin - the lion's share being losses where the Steelers held late leads and were unable to finish. Usually a high number of close losses can be attributed to poor field goal kicking. Now, that's not going to be the lone reason in any circumstance, but typically a team gets worse kicking than have the Steelers from Jeff Reed during their mostly disappointing 2009 season. Since the first Bengals game in Week 3, Reed has converted 20-of-21 FG attempts. His lone miss came on a 50+ yard attempt against the Raiders - a kick that he probably shouldn't even have been asked to kick by head coach Mike Tomlin. Anyway, Reed was huge again on Sunday, making all three of his FG attempts.
* You know what? I may take some heat for this but I was really proud of the way Tyrone Carter played on Sunday. Carter was pretty darn bad against the Packers the week before, and he was far from perfect or dominant against the Ravens. There is a reason he was the leading tackler in the country his senior year at Minnesota - he's a fearless and really competitive football player that plays much bigger than the 5'9" that he is. That's the thing though - he's undersized and not really physically gifted enough to anchor a secondary on a championship caliber team like the Steelers. But that doesn't make him a bum or an invaluable asset for the price tag.
* It was tough sledding for Rashard Mendenhall on Sunday against the Ravens rush defense. It usually is though for Steelers 'backs when we square off against Baltimore. Mendenhall had 17 carries, but only 36 yards. Nevertheless, those yards put the 2nd year back over the 1,000 yard plateau for the season. Mendenhall now has 1,014 yards on just 222 carries, good for 4.6 yards per rush. Not bad, not bad at all!
* The Steelers didn't quite get all the help they needed yesterday. The Texans and Jets winning definitely diminish Pittsburgh's chances of sneaking in the backdoor to this year's playoffs. But it's definitely still a possibility. Baltimore must travel to Oakland to take on a Raiders team that has beaten several decent teams this year. Denver simply can't be trusted to take care of business, even at home against the Chiefs. They should win but it's definitely not a given. It's also very possible that New England will beat the Texans on the road next Sunday even though they've been pretty darn bad away from Foxboro. New England looked pretty sharp on Sunday. Then there's the Jets, who host the Bengals next Sunday for a playoff berth. I like the makeup of this Jets team - solid, if not exceptional or scary, in all three phases of the game. But they will be playing a rookie quarterback in a huuuuge spot against a Bengals team that definitely is not going to shut it down with the #3 seed still at stake if they were to win. Anyway, for yet another week, hope springs eternal. Great job boys!