The Pittsburgh Steelers are AFC North champions and currently the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in game that was unquestionably an instant classic. Let’s dig into the particulars of the game:
Stock up - Landry Jones, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Cobi Hamilton, Tyler Matakevich
The aforementioned players, who played a grand total of 29 snaps against Baltimore (Hamilton played all 29), should be in line for a considerable workload next Sunday in a meaningless home finale against the Cleveland Browns.
As Sunday’s game plainly demonstrated, Pittsburgh leans on its star players perhaps more than any team in the NFL. Le’Veon Bell, for instance, played all but one snap at running back, while Antonio Brown reeled in more than twice as many receptions as any player on the team. The Steelers are essentially locked into the No. 3 seed; the Week 17 home tilt against Cleveland, in my mind, should be treated the same as a preseason game.
Stock up - Cheerleaders
Mike Tomlin’s Steelers will be making their third consecutive postseason appearance, which hasn’t happened since the mid-90s. That’s pretty solid for a guy who, according to former Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw, is simply a “cheerleader” who “inherited a good team” and “doesn’t really do anything.” For the record, the Steelers team that Tomlin “inherited” posted an 8-8 record and missed the postseason in former head coach Bill Cowher’s final season.
Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls by playing on the opposite side of arguably the greatest defense in NFL history. Bradshaw played 14 professional seasons and he’s the league’s 56th all-time leading passer. For context, Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith will likely pass Bradshaw on the all-time passing hierarchy in Week 1 of the 2017 season. To me, and certainly to other millennials I assume, Bradshaw is nothing more than a grumpy old man who would be lucky to be a backup to most modern quarterbacks.
While I’m avoiding any semblance of professionalism, I’d like to open the floor to a brief, fourth-wall-breaking-discussion: does anyone think that Pittsburgh players were instructed to let Baltimore score on their second-to-last drive? Ravens FB Kyle Juszczyk scored Baltimore’s go-ahead touchdown with 1:18 remaining in regulation, but did so after getting hit, tumbling, catching himself and falling into the end zone. However, it looked a lot like LB Bud Dupree kind of threw his hands up after Juszczyk escaped initial contact, almost like he was allowing the touchdown to happen. I don’t want to make a story out of nothing, but man, that sure looked like they let the Ravens score. Which, to me, is absolutely brilliant coaching.
If the Ravens don’t score on that play, they’d have had a first down, a little more than a minute on the clock and four chances to score a four- or five-yard touchdown. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but the odds of Roethlisberger marching the team into scoring position (remember, the Steelers only needed a field goal to force overtime) have to be better than their chances of a heroic goal-line stand. If you’re going to gamble, you might as well stack the odds in your favor. Speaking of Roethlisberger. . .
Stock up - Ben Roethlisberger
The best quarterback in Pittsburgh Steelers history earned himself yet another trademark win. Roethlisberger tossed a pair of junior varsity-level interceptions (the second of which may have been a real backbreaker had Baltimore walked away with a touchdown rather than a field goal). But then he proceeded to lead touchdown drives of 75, 90 and 75 yards (all in under three minutes) to mount one of the best comebacks of his career. With Derek Carr likely out for the season (see the first “Stock up” paragraph), Roethlisberger’s Steelers should be the clearest favorite to challenge the top-seeded Patriots in the AFC bracket.
Stock up - Bell and Brown
Just pay them both this off-season. Run the team into financial ruin. Who even cares at this point. Those dudes are superhuman.
Stop reading this article right now and go find the video of Brown’s game-winning touchdown. This dude overpowered three enormous human beings and an incredibly obvious face mask to save Pittsburgh’s season. Scoring touchdowns, donating tons of money to Children’s Hospital. Not bad for a “selfish” guy who “dances too much.”
Stock down - Tackling
Eh, nitpicky, I know, but Steve Smith Sr. and Kenneth Dixon sure managed to get a ton of yards after contact. The Steelers could face Jay Ajayi and the Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs, so they should probably address their tackling, especially since Ajayi gutted them for 200 yards in their earlier meeting this season.
Stock up - Offensive line
Baltimore’s sack totals are down this season, but holding Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil without a sack is a praiseworthy achievement. Pittsburgh’s offensive line is among the most expensive units in the NFL, but it also looks like one of the league’s best investments. As long as Roethlisberger plays behind this line, he will continue to be productive.
Stock up - Super Bowl hopes
The Steelers have now won six games in a row and have absolutely distinguished themselves as bona fide Super Bowl contenders in what should be a wide-open AFC playoff race. As long as the Big Three keep rolling and the defense remains serviceable, Pittsburgh should be in good shape to win another championship.