Unlike the long 162 game grind of a baseball season, an NFL season consists of only 16 games, but, played out over four months, it is still a long season in its own way, and what we have learned from the Steelers in 2014 is that one should never jump to conclusions early or mid-way through a season. The players who should have been cut and the coaches who should have been fired back in early October, are looking pretty good and pretty smart now sporting their AFC North Champions t-shirts.
Back on December 1, following another inexplicable loss, this time to the Saints at home, the team stood at 7-5, and I wrote the following in The Grandstander:
The best thing the Steelers have going for them is the fact that they play the division leading Bengals twice. Simply put, they HAVE to win both those games. If they don't, it probably won't matter what they do in the games against the Falcons and Chiefs
Pretty prophetic, huh? Going into last night's game, I had full confidence that the Steelers would take care of business against the Bengals, who once again proved that there are few things more dependable in pro sports than the Bengals imploding and losing a game that they had to win. Turns out that the NFL schedule makers did the Steelers a huge favor in having them play Cincy twice down that final stretch.
To me, one of the most encouraging things I saw in the Steelers' final two games against the Chiefs and the Bengals was the fact that the Steelers defense showed up strong in both games and played a major role in those victories. Whereas before that, I felt that while the Steelers "Killer B's" offense could match up to any team in the post-season, and that the defense would be their downfall, now I see a ray of hope that the Steelers might be able to sustain a deep post-season run.
Of course, the negative to last night's game was the injury to Le'Veon Bell. One quarter is a small sample size, of course, but we saw last night that Josh Harris and Dri Archer do not equal one Le'Veon Bell. His teammates voted him their MVP for a reason. And was I the only one last night whose mind flashed back to the 1976 AFC championship game against the Raiders when Reggie Harrison tried (and failed) to replace the injured Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier?
We'll see, as they say, how this all plays out against the Hated Ravens on Saturday.
Some other "quick hit" thoughts....
- Yes, they finished well, and won 11 games, but those losses to the Bucs, Jets, and to a lesser extent, the Browns and Saints, will be forever inexplicable in my mind. I guess that that is - say it with me now - why they play the games.
- Speaking of the Browns, remember how they strutted and preened after beating the Steelers? I hope that they, and their fans, enjoyed that one week in first place.
- And for gag job of the year, how about the San Diego Chargers yesterday? All they had to do was beat a non-playoff team that as playing with their back-up QB, and they blew it. Of course, long-time watchers of the Chargers and Phillip Rivers should not have been surprised.
- And how about the act that Ndamukong Suh did up in Green Bay by stepping on Aaron Rodgers? As you know, this is not the first time Suh has done this stuff, and now the NFL has suspended him for the Lions playoff game. I'll bet his teammates really appreciate that.