Week 17 is a sad time for me.
I love professional football. I’ve watched it ever since my dad bought me a Steelers jacket when I was two. I can still see that coat today, more than 35 years later, and I can still see football games from my childhood.
The end of the NFL season is a moment I never look forward to, whether the Steelers are 6-10 or 15-1.
But, this year is different. Maybe it;s because I was happy just to see the Steelers survive until now, what with all the injuries and other drama along the way. Maybe it’s that my heart can’t take much more of this, and four more weeks is about all I have left in me.
I’d wager it’s more the latter than the former.
At any rate, I’ve managed to survive this season solely on snark. And, despite the wealth of meaningless games in week 17, there’s plenty to be snarky about.
Nevermind the fact that this season has cost me about 20 years of my life.
Countdown List of the Week: Three Things That Didn’t Actually Signal The Coming Apocalypse on the Last Day of the Season
3) Todd Haley wasn’t hurt in a bar fight — but was.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s tenure in Pittsburgh has been nothing of not interesting. There was the incident with the rat in his wife’s salad, his wife allegedly sending nude photographs to someone who is decidedly not Todd Haley, and now this. Thanks to conflicting reports, we don’t know exactly what happened. We probably never will. But for a team that has endured almost every conceivable distraction this year en route to a 13-3 record, this will hopefully end up nothing more than an asterisk in the Super Bowl LII DVD set booklet.
2) Corey Coleman caught a pass to put the Browns at 1st & Goal with 90 seconds left — until he didn’t.
Cleveland has yet to truly get an adequate return on their investment for wide receiver Coleman, but he had a golden opportunity to get part way there Sunday. With 1:43 remaining, Cleveland quarterback DeShone Kizer took a snap, was engulfed by the Steelers’ defense, offense, special teams, front office, training staff, merchandise sellers, roadside ticket scalpers and half the population of Cranberry Township, and yet somehow escaped to throw a dart to Coleman, who was all alone by the left sideline. Kizer threw what was probably his only truly accurate pass all day, and it hit Coleman in the hands.
It didn’t stay there.
Just when it looked like Cleveland would sneak out of Pittsburgh with a win that was meaningless to everyone not in a Browns uniform, Coleman did the most Cleveland thing ever and dropped the fourth-down pass, securing the victory for the Steelers. Yes, the loss would have done absolutely no harm to Pittsburgh, but Cleveland winning in Heinz Field? That could have summoned the end of the world. But it didn’t.
1) The Ravens thought they snuck into the playoffs — But wait!
The Steelers and Ravens have met in the playoffs three times, with Pittsburgh winning two of those matchups. This season, however, the Ravens were knocked out of the playoffs by Pittsburgh a) before they started, and b) without the Steelers being involved. Give me a moment, I’ll explain.
It was, ironically, another fourth-down play by an Ohio offense that did it.
The Bengals, having already blown a 14-point lead to the Ravens just a few weeks after blowing a 17-point lead to the Steelers, were in position to redeem themselves for once. Hard to believe, I know. But, they found themselves at midfield, with under a minute left, and...facing fourth down. An improbable Cincinnati win puts the hated Ravens out of the playoffs. A likely loss puts the Ravens in.
Andy Dalton, who didn’t manage to lead his team to an offensive touchdown until the third week of the season, found Pittsburgh’s own Tyler Boyd** at the 25, and Boyd managed to evade three defenders who literally had him surrounded on his way to the game-winning score.
Ahh, Marvin Lewis: destroyer of post-season aspirations since 2003. And he’s upped his game: this year, he ruined more chances than just his own.
** - Yes, yes, I know Boyd is from Clairton. But that ruins the joke.
Meme Tweets of the Week
Maybe the goal is to just stay in the national spotlight?
Think about it: Bengals owner Mike Brown has to know, beyond doubt, that he is the cheapest pro sports owner outside of Pirates principle shareholder Bob Nutting. When you won’t loosen the purse strings, the only way to stay in the public eye and, therefore, relevant, is to be the dumbest, most jaw-dropping spectacle on the block. The only way to stay there after Marvin Lewis decided to leave was to strip naked on ESPN and play checkers with his buttcheeks. Either that, or find some way to convince Lewis to stay. Fortunately for all of us (except Bengals fans), he opted for the latter.
There’s no other good explanation for why you bring back a guy who has zero playoff wins in 15 seasons and counting.
Or, perhaps Brown really is insane. That’s always a possibility. This is Cincinnati, after all.
I’m just gonna leave this here.
Since I already described it, here’s a visual representation of what happened on that fourth-down play. Go ahead, count the Steelers in the photo.
I know this pain all too well.
Dop back. Scan options. Crap, pressure from the right! Roll left! Step up! MASH BUTTONS! THROW THE DAMNED BALL YOU IDIOTIC THREE-DIMENSIONAL REPRESENTATION OF A FOOTBALL PLAYE-...Not that button, you idiot.
Of course, despite playing every edition of Madden since 1993’s Super Nintendo entry, I can’t say I’ve ever missed a guy who was standing in the middle of the field waving his arms at me.
I usually just get sacked.
Winless Teams Watch
Bless your heart, Cleveland.
You’ve been through so much. It’s been 15 years since you last made the playoffs. Your front office can’t tell the difference between a quarterback and a refund. And then there’s that whole Josh Gordon mess (although it looks like he’s actually turning things around, and it’s something I won’t even joke about). And, as if all that wasn’t bad enough, you have to share a state with the Bengals. I feel for you. Truly, I do.
But, if you’re going to be famous, you might as well be infamous, right? If sucking is your thing, then be the best at sucking. You’ve done it, Cleveland. You’ve pulled it off.
Thanks to this, I can run this feature before the 2018 season even begins! You’ve made my life easier by being terrible! For that, I am forever in your debt.
The Browns are like the Steelers’ eager-but-clumsy little brother, who always tries hard to do what his big brother does, but always manages to flub it. But it will get better one day.
Maybe once the Browns hit puberty?
Stat of the Week
If you ever question how good Antonio Brown is, and how remarkable of a season he was having before being injured, consider this: he led the league in receiving yards despite missing more than the final two and a half games. Part of that can be attributed to his own teammates keeping Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins, then Brown’s nearest competitor, to just 65 yards in week 16. But Brown had built a massive lead already, and it held, leaving him an 89-yard buffer over Atlanta’s Julio Jones when the final whistle blew on 2017. That’s downright amazing.
- The Bills made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, ending the longest playoff drought in the NFL. Yes, even worse than Cleveland, though the Browns are now on the clock, and it expires in four years. But, given that this year’s Bills are probably one of the worst playoff teams in recent memory, how long will it be before fans wish they hadn’t had to face such humiliation?
- I feel bad for anyone who spent money on the Dallas-Philadelphia gam-...err...event? Debacle? Travesty? I also feel bad for those people who had nothing else to watch, like drying paint, growing grass or curling linoleum. But do you know who I feel the worst for? The scoreboard operator, who must have had the fight of his life to avoid slipping into the world’s first boredom-induced coma.
- The Rock might have been Nicholas Cage’s best film from an acting standpoint. I know that bar isn’t exactly sky-high, but it’s probably true nonetheless. I love that my wife loves action movies as much as I do. So, I’m going to use the moment to impart marital advice to the singles in the crowd: find someone with whom you share interests and can converse. Marrying someone who is highly attractive is fine, but eventually neither of you will be particularly attractive anymore. You’d better have something else. Like Nick Cage movies or — even better -- a love for all things Steelers.
I love Bells. Two-Hearted Ale, Oberon, Le’Veon...good stuff. And I know I mentioned this one the first time I included this segment, but Bells’ Black Note Stout is easily one of their finest. It’s a bourbon barrel-aged brew that isn’t at all shy about the bourbon. The less-than-subtle vanilla, caramel, coffee, and that luscious boozy warmth are worth the roughly $8 per bottle you’ll pay — especially on a cold night.
We’ll end the regular season on a happy note: in an interview with Pittsburgh’s WPXI, Vernon Shazier gave a much-awaited update on his son, Ryan Shazier. While the news is not that of an outright miracle, it was heartening nonetheless. First of all, Shazier has regained the feeling in his legs, which means any nerve damage is subsiding. He’s certainly not out of the woods, but the tone of the interview was positive all around. The elder Shazier said things like:
- Ryan has come “a long way” since that night when he was wheeled off the Cincinnati turf
- He is “making progress every day”
- He believes his son will play football again
Shazier the younger has a long, long climb ahead, and even if he never again puts on a football helmet, it sounds as if he’s going to at least be able to live a relatively normal life. That’s a fine note on which to end this 2017 regular season.