I ran a half-marathon Sunday morning, my second in three weeks. I gritted my teeth through the last three miles as peroneal tendinitis and the exhaustion of two races so close together took their toll on me. I crossed the finish line with legs as stiff as boards, and was so worn out that I was actually slightly disoriented.
Who knew that wouldn’t be the most miserable thing I would endure that day?
Without further preamble — because I’m a few thoughts short of spouting off the entire Modern English Guide to Offensive Four-Letter Words — here is what we learned in week nine.
Close enough for government work. In the week-nine Yinzer’s Guide I said the Dallas/Cleveland game would probably be over by the third change of possession. I wasn’t that far off: Dallas scored the winning points 19:51 into the game. The other three touchdowns they scored were just gravy on Jerry Jones’ taters. Why does this matter enough to be the number-one lesson of the week? Well, in case you haven’t looked at a schedule lately, our as-of-late woeful Steelers will be meeting up with the Cowboys on Sunday, and it ain’t to share popcorn with Terrell Owens and watch Hines Ward’s cameo in The Dark Knight Rises.
My, how the mighty hath fallen. Believe it or not, this isn’t about the Steelers. The Vikings were the last undefeated team at the start of week seven. 23 days later, they are 6-3 and owners of one of the worst active losing streaks in the NFL. Only the Rams* are worse, and Minnesota’s three-game skid is equaled by the Steelers and Jaguars. *The Browns, of course, have lost all nine games this year, but that’s obligatory, and mentioning it again would just be piling on. And piling on is wrong. And, no, my fingers are not crossed behind my back.
Misery loves company. It was a rough week for both the current league leaders and the perennial front runners, save for the Patriots, who were off this week. Division leaders Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Philadelphia all lost. Annual leaders besides the Steelers to have lost this week include Green Bay and Denver. At least it’s comforting that other top teams lost this week. Um...actually, on second thought, no it’s not.
Fun with numbers! This week was the midpoint of the NFL season, and the Cleveland Browns are already guaranteed to finish with a losing record. ... The NFC East — the Cowboys, Giants, Redskins and Eagles — do not have a team with a losing record. ... The Eagles are 4-4 and in last place in the NFC East, and have the third-best point differential in the league at +53.
The Week-Nine Bellyflop Award goes to...Steelers kicker Chris Boswell! Because, when an onside kick has to go 10 yards before your team can legally touch it, and yours hasn’t even cleared the tee before you broke that rule, you have earned the award, and are automatically the frontrunner for the following week and must earn your way off that list.
College Football Bonus! A week after the Top 25 struggled mightily, they largely redeemed themselves. Twenty-four of the teams played this week, and 20 of them won. Of the four losers, two lost to teams that were already ranked higher. And those two weeks are exactly why I would never want to be one of the people responsible for ranking college teams.
And, finally...is it time to start panicking in Pittsburgh? No, absolutely not! But if they lose at home to the Cowboys on Sunday, then heck yes, it’s time to start panicking. Don’t get me wrong, there is no way the Ravens hit double-digit wins this year. Despite sucking for three and a half quarters, the Steelers were still, in the end, the better-functioning of the two teams. The Ravens earned their win, to be sure. But if Mike Mitchell could have learned to tackle by this point in his career, or Sean “Ole!” Davis had, you know, made contact with the guy he was supposed to block, this game would have ended up with a very different complexion at the end. If you take out the 85-yards after the catch for Mike Wallace on that fateful play, the oft-maligned Pittsburgh defense gave up 189 net yards. I said two weeks ago after the loss to the Patriots that football is all about who can claim a few inches of ground first, and this game, in the end, literally came down to a few inches the Ravens got first. And that was with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming off an injury -- and he never plays well in his first game back. Ever.
You know what? Maybe the sky isn’t falling, after all.