I’d like to begin with two pieces of advice for anyone considering attending a game at Heinz Field.
First, if you plan on purchasing tickets from an online resale marketplace such as Ticketmaster, buy them a few hours before kickoff. Not only will tickets almost certainly be available, they will be considerably cheaper than if you purchased them a week before the game. (As an important side-note, every May or June the team releases a limited number of single-game tickets, which their box office sells directly—do NOT fall for the hype. If you can even get these tickets—and that’s a big if, because you need to be on Ticketmaster’s site at 10 a.m. on the nose to beat the scalpers—you’ll end up paying a zillion dollars and sitting in the endzone bleachers). Last season, my wife and I attended the playoff game against Jacksonville—we sat in the lower bowl and our tickets were, like, $60 each.
I decided Thursday afternoon that I wanted to go to the Panthers game. Sitting at my desk, I bought a pair of tickets online around 6:30, about two hours before kickoff, and did so from my phone; which is very convenient given the team’s switch to a shrewd and pragmatic but arcane and hastily-implemented mobile ticketing policy. I left work shortly thereafter, thinking that I had plenty of time to get dressed, grab a quick meal at home (cheaper and healthier than stadium food!), and make it to game to witness the pregame festivities.
This brings me to my second piece of advice: arrive early. Pittsburgh is a small, navigable city, but its infrastructure is not designed to effectively handle the constraints placed on it by 60,000-70,000 sojourners. My apartment building is maybe two-and-a-half or three miles from Heinz Field; within reasonable walking distance, but not in November and certainly not with a pregnant wife in tow. Thus, we drove, having come to terms with the grim reality that we would have to pay $40 to park in a garage that’s literally within eyeshot of our home (bonus advice: maybe see about getting a parking pass with your tickets). Because we waited so long, pedestrian traffic in the North Shore was a nightmare and it took 40 minutes to get from our apartment building to our parking spot.
In short: by your tickets late but show up to the game early. Actually, what you should do is drive to the stadium three or four hours before the game, find a suitable lot or garage, and either tailgate or find a restaurant. Then, two hours before the game, buy your tickets.
My apologies for the loquacious personal vignette; let’s discuss the thorough butt-kicking that took place that night.
Stock up: Nice statistics
I would go to war for Antonio Brown, but he’s gotta slow his car down. McKnight Road, where he was cited for reportedly operating his Porsche at speeds exceeding 100 mph Thursday (as a fun side note, McKnight Road is where Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were pulled over and busted for smoking weed back in 2014), is definitely not designed for interstate drivin’, and if Brown really did blow through the intersection of McKnight and Babcock Boulevard at 100 mph, holy cow, he’s lucky that he and others were not killed.
Fortunately for Brown, scoring touchdowns is useful strategy for distracting onlookers from egregious traffic violations. Brown scored his league-leading 10th receiving touchdown of the season Thursday, which, notably, also marked the seventh game in a row in which he’s found the end-zone. His touchdown against Carolina—a 53-yard bomb in the second quarter that truly did feel like a dagger—was the 69th of his career and his 96 receiving yards Thursday bring his season total to 690. It was a very nice game.
Stock up: Big Ben
I generally prefer to avoid calling attention to the obvious nominees, but, my God, Ben played out of his mind. Throwing only three incompletions, Roethlisberger amassed more than 320 yards, tossed five touchdowns (not all were gimmes, either; the aforementioned 53-yarder to Brown could not have been thrown more on-the-money and his pass to Vance McDonald to kick off the third-quarter proceedings was an absolute missile), and had a perfect quarterback rating. It would be so dope if they could flex every Steelers game to Thursday night.
It would be similarly dope if the Steelers could count on this kind of unstoppable quarterbacking on a week-by-week basis. They can’t, of course, but Ben’s very legitimately been playing some of the best football of his career this season; regular Ben will leave the Steelers will positioned to contend for a Super Bowl; RoboBen will enable the Steelers to steamroll elite competition with impunity.
Stock up: The linebackers
On the ninth play of their first offensive series of Thursday’s game, Newton dumped the ball to amorphous offensive wunderkind Christian McCaffrey, who scampered, untouched, for a 20-yard touchdown. The “untouched” aspect of the proceedings was the more concerning, as McCaffrey is but one of many utility-knife hybrids on Carolina’s roster, so it stood to reason that the Steelers defense could be in for a long evening.
On Carolina’s next offensive series, however, T.J. Watt, as he’s prone to do, shot through the line and pushed Newton back into his own end-zone; to avoid the safety, Newton lobbed the ball meekly in the direction of absolutely no one, which enabled Vince Williams to track it, catch it, and run it back into the very same end-zone Newton was nearly downed within. Watt later picked up an actual sack—he forced a fumble on the play, too—as did Williams and Bud Dupree, whose shift to the opposite side of the formation has empowered him to what’s perhaps the best season of his professional career thus far.
Dupree’s gotten a lot of crap about being a draft bust or whatever, but in truth he’s been a pretty consistently reliable member of what’s been an inconsistent Steelers defense, and I’d argue that his sack totals are nowhere near reflective of his actual impact—Dupree seems to spend an awful lot of time in the general vicinity of opposing quarterbacks, so even if the quantifiable metrics don’t delineate him as a top-tier linebacker, at worst he’s an above-replacement level pass rushing specialist who can push the quarterback beyond his comfort zone. The Steelers will take that.
Stock up: The secondary
Cam Newton is a supremely capable professional quarterback, one who possesses the singular ability to singlehandedly drag his teammates’ corpses kicking and screaming to the realm of excellence. The Panthers are a really good team, but that they entered Thursday’s game with a 6-2 record is directly attributable to Cam Newton. And the Steelers made him look like Eli Manning.
Newton was sacked five times, had just two rushing attempts, and failed to break the 200-yard passing threshold despite throwing nearly 30 passes. He uncorked a handful of gorgeous mid-range passes to Greg Olson and Devin Funchess, but mostly Newton was resigned to tossing dump-offs to McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel, and D.J. Moore, which was largely the result of the secondary handling its business. Indeed, the fact that Pittsburgh’s winning streak now stands at five games is certainly thanks in no small part to the secondary’s immense contributions. “Confidence” is a very opaque and intangible thing, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that, by making easy work of its opposition in recent weeks, the Steelers secondary believes that it is a strong and good and functional unit, and just maybe that particular distinction is enough to give them a fighting chance against the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Phillip Rivers.
Also, in the midst of the above-mentioned win streak, Artie Burns has officially reached his professional nadir; at this point resigned to garbage-time duties and, damningly, he STILL cannot get things right. Not that it ultimately mattered, but in the fourth quarter, Burns committed a pretty blatant pass interference in the end-zone matched up against Moore, a rookie receiver who is better at playing receiver than Burns is at playing cornerback. If you aren’t already doing so, please say a prayer for Joe Haden’s vitality each night.