As Steelers Nation were Cleveland Browns fans last Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers did their part in getting to the playoffs by narrowly beating the Cincinnati Bengals 13-10. However, in Baltimore, Baker Mayfield and his Browns fell short 26-24 handing the Ravens the AFC North Division title and ending the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 season.
How do you summarize the season for the Black and Gold that is now history. Several words work for me…disappointment, under achieving, poorly coached. It’s that simple. Having to root for a Browns victory is something that should have never come to be. It’s a disgrace that the Steelers would have to relay on another team just to get them to the post season.
This is not about a lack of talent. It’s FAILURES. If you look around the league at other teams that failed to have winning seasons or make the playoffs, they haven’t wasted any time firing the one person responsible for making sure the team is prepared and a playoff ready team. THE HEAD COACH.
Knowing he was probably going to get fire, Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis stepped down on Monday from his role at the top in Cincinnati. The Miami Dolphins fired Adam Gase. Fired in Arizona is Steve Wilks. The Jets have dumped Todd Bowles. Vance Joseph? Done as head coach in Denver. Earlier this season Mike McCarthy was fired as was Hugh Jackson in Cleveland.
Folks, that is SEVEN head coaching vacancies already. Should there be an eighth? Of course I’m talking about Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin. I’m not alone calling for his release but I’m already reserved in the thought that it will not happen. The Rooney are too nice of people to fire head coaches except in an extreme state of being and the last time that was the case was 1969 when the team was perennial losers.
So will he go? Most likely not and there is no indicated from within the Steelers that he is even in trouble. But, if he does remain, then I am hoping he makes at least one major coaching change and that would be to fire Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler. Butler has done a terrible job since taking over for the legendary Dick LeBeau.
The Steelers defense this season was the main culprit for Pittsburgh’s demise. Too many blown fourth quarter leads, too many underachieving games against teams the Steelers should have blown out. The Denver, Chargers, Saints, and Raiders games are all ones that Butler did not have his defense ready to hold a lead and calls that Mike Tomlin made that simply gave games away.
If we had those games back, the Steelers would not have finished 9-6-1 and instead would be preparing for a first round playoff bye today with a record of 13-2-1 and perhaps even own the #1 seed in the AFC. That thought alone is enough to make your stomach turn. I’ll grant the losses to Baltimore and Kansas City because the Steelers were simply beat in those games without any obvious failures. But how does a team lose to every team in the same division? (AFC West).
The one thing that turns most Steelers fans off about Mike Tomlin is his post-game attitudes and comments. He is so blasé about it and even after this final victory over the Bengals his commentary was utterly pathetic. I refuse to believe that the Steelers players were not distracted by scoreboard watching during this game as they knew the outcome of the Browns/Ravens would determine their fate.
Against one of the worst defenses in the league, a game that on paper should have been a joke, how do the Steelers allow the Bengals with a backup quarterback and missing their franchise stud wide receiver and one of the their most impactful linebackers hang around until the very end?
That’s called PREPARATION. The Steelers were not prepared for this final game in any fashion especially mentally. Steelers fans across the world are tiring of Tomlin’s attitude and lack of smart coaching decisions and the inability to get his team up for a lesser opponent something that plagued the Steelers this season.
I understand all about Mike Tomlin’s winning record, his resume that includes multiple playoff appearances, but this season was the one that I believe should end his days on the sidelines for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I will repeat it until I’m blue in the face that there are two simple decisions that he made that should spell his fate.
The first was keeping Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines in Oakland and the second is that failed fourth down fake punt in New Orleans. Both of those very well spelled defeat in those games that they actually lost. Even making a different decision on both and making those a win instead of a loss puts the Steelers back in the playoffs.
So now that it’s over, what changes outside of the coaching staff should the Steelers make to alter this path in 2019? To be honest with you, this roster HAS the talent to win the Super Bowl. They would have competed for it in 2018 if the right decisions were made. I don’t believe the team has any need areas. The only one I can think of and I have mentioned it before is adding a someone one defense that can be more impactful.
But on offense and defense I think the team is fine. It’s the coaching. So following this final game this is in short some of what Mike Tomlin said and pay attention to what I placed in bold and UPPER CASE:
“I appreciate the effort. We controlled the things that were in our control today. I can’t say enough about the efforts of the guys, particularly guys like Matt McCrane coming in on a moving train and kicking the way he did today. We accept the outcome. WE HAD 17 WEEKS TO STATE A CASE FOR OURSELVES, WE STAND BY OUR WORK. You have to in this business. I am appreciative of the efforts today. We’ll assess tomorrow and move forward. Hard fought game today. Appreciative of the efforts. Its tough, the end result of it all, as it always is.”
“17 weeks to state a case for ourselves, we stand by our work.” WHAT??? It sounds like he is proud of the end result! DAMN. Come on Coach T…17 weeks to blow five games is more like it. Again, blasé talk and accepting what the end result is with no emotion. That angers Steelers fans more than anything.
Some other players summarized the season:
“I don’t know a particular turning point but I just think in those critical situations where, as an offense, as a defense we needed a play, we weren’t getting it. It’s baffling sometimes but as players, as coaches, as a staff, as Steelers we have make those adjustments. We have to go out there and do it and we didn’t get it done this whole season, and that’s what’s really going to stick with me.”
Then there is this load of crap from Bud Dupree:
“Coach Tomlin’s one of the best coaches in the league. If you want a new coach for the Steelers who are you going to get, Bill Belichick? There’s really nobody else who could fill his void. At the end of the day it’s on us to go out there and make it happen. We have to go out and perform on Sundays. It’s up to us to really go out there and dominate. We just didn’t finish games like we should have.” We have to be brothers on the field and off the field. That's the main step we have to takes. We've got to let each other know that we need each other, that we are working hard for one reason, that's to win, and there's nothing else to work hard for -- it's not individuals, it's not accolades, it's to win the Super Bowl. We've got to stop losing, playing down to teams' level, and start giving our top attention."
Who are the Steelers going to get? How about Mike McCarthy for starters? Pittsburgh born, proven winner, Super Bowl champion. As I said I’m not the only one calling for coaching changes use the link below to get the whole article.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Offseason expectations for each staff member, by Noah Strackbein, stillcurtain.co
More from the Steelers players:
“I think we have a really good groups. The offensive linemen, as long as they come back, they’re the core. They’re the strength of this team and if they come back; I’ll be back and I feel good. We have guys that just got better. We have young guys that just keep getting better, guys like JuJu and James Conner. Guys are just going to keep getting better. I don’t think our window’s closed. Anytime that you can kind of keep that core group, keep people together, the less turnover the better, usually. From the top down, I think that’s important.”
The only two players right now today that I believe might not be with the team next season are Chris Boswell and Jordan Berry who is in a contract situation. With Boswell sidelined because of an injury, in stepped Matt McCrane who has hardly any playing time to his record and is a rookie. Coolly, McCrane went out and kicked three field goals that was the difference in the Bengals game. His thoughts about the experience:
“A couple days ago I was at home playing golf and preparing to get a call. It’s been a month since I kicked in an NFL game. To get out and make the first field goal was big. And to go three-for-three as well. It was an unreal feeling. Pittsburgh would be an outstanding place to stay. I am not really sure what is going to happen.”
Now comes the difficult and interesting part of the year fans. Sitting at home just as the players and coaches of the Steelers will be doing and watching on television other teams vying to be world champions, a dance the Steelers SHOULD HAVE been in. Then the offseason comes and with it changes…we hope.
If the Cleveland Browns can upset the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday and essentially hand the Pittsburgh Steelers the AFC North Division title, anyone involved with the Steelers including Steelers Nation will owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Baker Mayfield and the rest of his Cleveland squad.
After all the Pittsburgh Steelers have been through this season, the unthinkable, Cleveland pulling the upset on the road and the Steelers sneaking into the post season, might be the biggest scare to all other teams that qualify in the AFC. That’s because Pittsburgh has shown as they did in the New England game, when they put it all together, they will beat ANY team in the NFL. The really sad, disappointing disgusting thing about Pittsburgh’s situation for Steelers Nation is the simple fact that it should have NEVER boiled down to this.
As for the game that decides Pittsburgh’s fate, it is a big if, but in my opinion, the Ravens are too well coached to let this game slip through their grasp. With that said however, it’s not an impossibility. If you don’t recall, in the first meeting of these two teams this season, a game played in Cleveland, the Browns were the victors by a score of 12-9 in overtime.
But there are a handful of experts and writers out there that believe Cleveland can or will in fact eliminate the Ravens from the playoffs. Let’s take a peek…
Why the Cleveland Browns can beat the Baltimore Ravens
Sam Quinn, 237sports.com
Cleveland Browns fans are in a very difficult position right now. Assuming the Pittsburgh Steelers take care of business against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns essentially get to decide who wins the AFC North. On one side are the Steelers, their decades-old rival who makes sport of beating them in increasingly humiliating fashion each year. They hammered the final nail into Cleveland's 0-16 season last year by beating them in Week 17 without their starters. Knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs would be sweet. But knocking the Baltimore Ravens, the team formerly known as the Browns, would be sweeter. If the Browns can beat the Ravens in Baltimore, the city that stole the original Browns franchise, they can send the Steelers into the postseason.
And as unlikely as it seems, there is plenty of reason to believe that the Browns can pull off the upset. The Ravens might be 5.5-point favorites right now, but much of that is based on reputation. The two teams have been nearly identical statistically over the past six weeks. Both sport 5-1 records in that time span. The Ravens have a slightly higher point-differential (+42 against +26) in that span, but have also played an easier schedule overall. The stylistic clash between the two sides is even somewhat symmetrical. The Browns have averaged 391 yards of offense per game in that six-game span, a number which would be sixth in the NFL over the full season. The Ravens have given up 253 yards per game in that span, which would be the best defense in football over the full season. These teams have been similarly excellent over the past six weeks, just in very different ways.
The difference is that the Browns have done it on both sides of the ball. The Ravens are averaging only 339 yards of offense per game during that span, which would be 23rd in the NFL over the full season. The Browns have allowed only 335 yards per game during their hot streak, which would be ninth in the NFL, ironically right ahead of the Steelers. They have, essentially, been a top-10 team on both sides of the ball recently. The Ravens have been a terrific defensive group that has tailored their offense around that specific trait.
But playing that style against teams that are so good on both sides of the ball is very difficult. The Ravens rely on intense ball control to keep their defense rested. They have won the time of possession battle in every game Lamar Jackson has started. But if the Browns can contain him, they can easily swing that pendulum back in their direction with Nick Chubb, one of the NFL's best runners in the second half of the season. If they win the time of possession battle, Baltimore's defense becomes less effective by sheer virtue of spending more time on the field and getting tired. If the Browns do manage to build a lead, they force the Ravens to play offense the way that every other team in the NFL does: by passing the ball.
Lamar Jackson has never thrown for more than 204 yards in a game. Baker Mayfield does that in his sleep. This is not to say that Jackson can't pass at a high level in the NFL. But he has never done it over a full game. His Ravens have never had to play from behind. The Browns are more than capable of forcing them to. That changes the entire premise of Baltimore's excellence. They are only a contender when they are allowed to dictate the terms of engagement of a game. They have not yet proven they can win playing any other style.
That is largely what kept the Ravens out of the playoffs last season. They were in a nearly identical situation: win against the Bengals and they would have reached the postseason. But the Bengals took an early lead and forced the Ravens to play their game for most of the contest. They did eventually take the lead in the fourth quarter, but the Bengals were explosive enough to beat them at the end. The final score of that game was 31-27. That was a higher-scoring affair than any the Ravens have played over the past six weeks.
So there is a formula here for an upset. If the Browns can take an early lead and control time of possession, they can weaken the seemingly inpenetrable Ravens defense and force their young quarterback into an uncomfortable situation. It's not going to be easy, but it is more than possible.
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (-14.5)
This is the Bengals' Super Bowl. They've long been out of the playoff hunt but the Steelers' postseason lives are hanging by a thread. Pittsburgh needs to win -- and then needs some help from the Browns. Cincy can doom any hopes of January football for the AFC North rivals by winning outright. Pick: Steelers 24, Bengals 20.
Cleveland at Baltimore (-6)
This might be the biggest game in the AFC, never mind the Sunday night matchup between the Titans and Colts. The Ravens lost to the Browns back in Week 5, when Hue Jackson was still employed by Cleveland as the head coach. He was fired a month later, and in the seven weeks since, the Browns have gone from laughing stock to one of the NFL's best teams. They're 5-2 since Week 11 and Baker Mayfield is balling out. The Ravens are a different team too; Joe Flacco has been benched and the offense has been revitalized by Lamar Jackson. The Ravens have to win to win the division and make the postseason. Pick: Browns 21, Ravens 20.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: 24-23, Browns
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 30-6, Steelers
Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)
The Game. Edge: Ravens.
Two years ago, on the Adventures of Tom Brady's Haircuts, Tom Brady was elected as the President of the United States, as it was revealed that he was the only candidate running because both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were figments of his imagination. He followed that up by stopping Vladimir Putin from hacking the NFL. In doing so, however, Tom Brady was stuck in an evil dimension, and his evil counterpart has come into our world. No one is aware that Tom Brady is now Evil Tom Brady, which is great for Evil Tom Brady because he can begin devastating the world...
BALTIMORE OFFENSE: Lamar Jackson beat the Chargers with his arm last Saturday night, hitting Mark Andrews with a deep pass to give his team the lead for good. The Chargers sold out on his scrambles, making sure he wouldn't run all over them. Jackson defeated them aerially instead. While Jackson played well as a passer against San Angeles, I'm not sure if this sort of success can continue. Jackson has great talent, but he's still raw and inexperienced. He'll have his ups and downs, at least until he has many more games under his belt. If Jackson is eager to throw more often in this game, he could be punished for it. The Browns have an elite aerial defense, ranking in the top five of DVOA in that department.
The Browns are much weaker against the run, or at least they used to be. I'm not sure what happened, but they've limited Phillip Lindsay and Joe Mixon in the past two weeks. Gus Edwards is obviously less talented than those two backs, so if Cleveland's improved play versus the rush continues, it could mean that Edwards will be contained. That said, it'll be difficult for the Browns to concentrate on Edwards, given Jackson's ability to scramble.
CLEVELAND OFFENSE: Baker Mayfield has mostly been great ever since healing from the injury he suffered against the Chargers, and I believe he deserves to be Offensive Rookie of the Year. Saquon Barkley has been incredible, but Mayfield is a quarterback, and players at that position shouldn't be performing this well so soon. Mayfield has been way better than the other four first-round quarterbacks. That said, Mayfield could struggle in this game. Mayfield's last bad performance occurred in Houston, as he was playing a great defense on the road. This is a similar dynamic. The Ravens have the top defense in the AFC, ranking third and seventh against the pass and run, respectively. The Browns don't have a dynamic receiver capable of beating the spectacular Baltimore defensive backs, so Mayfield's options will be limited. Nick Chubb, meanwhile, will have trouble finding running room versus the Ravens' stout front. The good news is that the Browns have a capable offensive line, so Mayfield won't see as much pressure as other quarterbacks have against Baltimore.
If the Ravens have one weakness defensively, it's their inability to defend tight ends very well. The Chargers couldn't take advantage of this because Antonio Gates is a hundred years old. The Browns have a better chance with David Njoku, though Njoku has been wildly inconsistent in his sophomore campaign.
RECAP: This is another game where a team that needs to win is likely to choke. All the Ravens need to do to clinch playoff berth is beat the Browns. That's it. Seems easy, right? It's likely that the Ravens will fall victim to the Aurora Snowmo Effect. And unlike the Redskins, the Browns are fully motivated. They want to get over .500 to give them some momentum for next year, and they're going to treat this like their Super Bowl. The one concern I have with the Browns is that they have a rookie quarterback playing a road game against a great defense. I loved the Browns against the Texans, yet they got blown out in that game. Mayfield could self-destruct with several interceptions, just like he did at Houston. However, I think there's a better chance that the Browns cover this spread and perhaps even win outright.
The Psychology. Edge: Browns.
The Vegas. Edge: Browns.
The Trends. Edge: Ravens.
History: Ravens have won 18 of the last 21 meetings (Road Team has covered 11 of the last 17 non-pushes).
John Harbaugh is 9-1 SU at home vs. rookie quarterbacks.
Ravens are 28-21 ATS at home as an underdog or favorite of 1-7 points with Joe Flacco.
Week 17 NFL Pick: Ravens 27, Browns 24
Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1)
PITTSBURGH OFFENSE: As if the Bengals didn't have enough problems on defense, they lost two key players last week. Vontaze Burfict and Dre Kirkpatrick were both knocked out during the Cleveland loss. The Browns basically did what they wanted offensively when they weren't getting in their own way early in the game. Had they not committed mental blunders, they would've scored in the high 30s. The Steelers typically make these sorts of mistakes on the road, but not at home. Ben Roethlisberger plays his best at Heinz Field, and he'll be able to torch Cincinnati's horrible secondary with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The latter receiver was playing on one leg against the Saints, yet still was effective at times. I imagine that Smith-Schuster will play better with an extra week of rest. The Bengals aren't any better versus the run, especially with Burfict out. Given that Burfict has suffered multiple concussions in the second half of this season, I can't imagine him playing in this game. Pittsburgh should be able to pound the rock quite easily with Jaylen Samuels or James Conner.
CINCINNATI OFFENSE: Burfict and Kirkpatrick aren't the only key players who will likely miss this game. Tyler Boyd will probably be out once again. That means that Jeff Driskel will have to beat the Steelers by throwing to the trio of John Ross, Cody Core and Alex Erickson. I imagine the Steeler defensive backs will be shaking in their boots in anticipation of this matchup. The one thing the Bengals do well offensively, with Boyd and the other receivers out, is run the ball with Joe Mixon. The Bengals didn't get a chance to do this very much against the Browns because they never had the lead. I imagine the same thing will happen in this game. Furthermore, Pittsburgh rush defense is eighth in DVOA, so the Steelers had a nice matchup versus Mixon regardless.
RECAP: You could argue that the Steelers fall under the Aurora Snowmo Effect, but there's no pressure on them. They're not expected to reach the playoffs because Baltimore is so heavily favored over Cleveland, so I don't think they'll be choking in this game. Besides, the Steelers don't have much competition this week. I don't think the Bengals, in their current state, can compete with the Steelers at all. Driskel's terrible, his supporting cast sucks, and the injury-ravaged defense is in shambles. Pittsburgh will win this game easily. I'm going to bet the Steelers for three units. I'd be upset with myself if I didn't have one more opportunity to bet heavily against Driskel. This might be our last chance to ever do so!
The Psychology. Edge: None.
The Vegas. Edge: None.
The Trends. Edge: None.
History: Steelers have won 19 of the last 24 meetings.
Bengals are 17-9 ATS against the Steelers if they lost to them previously the same season in the last 26 instances.
Marvin Lewis is 16-9 ATS in same-season revenge games.
Marvin Lewis is 16-7 ATS in his second-consecutive road game.
Bengals are 44-28 ATS as underdogs since 2009.
Steelers are 35-18 ATS in December home games since 2000.
Ben Roethlisberger is 50-30 ATS vs. the AFC North.
Ben Roethlisberger is 47-34 ATS in December and January.
Week 17 NFL Pick: Steelers 34, Bengals 10
So what do I think about the Browns and Ravens? I’ll be very shockingly surprised if Cleveland pulls it off but of course VERY happy. Baker Mayfield has turned his critics on their ears with a superb rookie season throwing for 3,349 yards to date with 24 touchdowns and not too shabby of a number on interceptions with 11. His completion percentage is 64.6% and while he has been sacked 25 times, that number is not alarming. Lamar Jackson on the other side is a rookie as well so this gives the game intrigue, rookie vs. rookie.
The Browns certainly have something to play for, pride, a solid 7-7-1 record with a chance to finish above .500. The pressure is HEAVILY on the Ravens and it will be interesting to see how well Baltimore handles the immense pressure that will be on them. The Browns have nothing to lose thus they can throw the playbook out the window which makes them EXTREMELY dangerous. So here is my first prediction on the slate of games that follows at the end of this column. Ravens 27 Browns 24 (I HOPE TO GOD I’M WRONG!).
As for the Steelers state of affairs, playing at Heinz Field, not knowing their fate at kickoff, it all means that the Steelers will come out trying to spank the shit out of the Bengals. An entire breakdown is not needed because on paper, this game looks like a joke. Ben Roethlisberger will come out and have a huge day on offense, his weapons will light up the field like a Christmas tree, and the scoreboard will be like a pinball machine.
Then Bengals are injury decimated and Jeff Driskel is making the calls at quarterback. Last week against those Cleveland Browns, Driskel threw the ball just 19 times, completing 13 for only 133 yards while being sacked three times. Joe Mixon was ineffective on the ground with 17 carries for 68 yards and C.J. Uzomah their tight end led the team in receiving with four receptions for only 49 yards. A.J. Green is done for the year and the Bengals will finish in last place in the AFC North replacing the Browns who had been in the basement ever year since 2011. OUCH. Is Marvin Lewis’s job safe? I can’t see how.
So without further ado, and without getting into the nitty gritty of how the Steelers will blow the Bengals off the field, my prediction will be a final of Steelers 41 Bengals 9.
Now for the remainder of the final games of the 2018 NFL regular season.
Let's hope for more than a "Baker's" dozen
With their fourth loss in the last five games, the Pittsburgh Steelers playoff hopes for the 2018 season hang on the thinnest of threads after a disappointing loss in New Orleans Saints last Sunday 27-24.
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Stephan Ridley had two very costly turnovers by way of a fumble which can for the most part be determined as the deciding factors in the outcome of this game. HOWEVER, I place the entire blame on Pittsburgh’s predicament squarely on the shoulders of Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin has made two decisions this season that stand out now as difference makers in the Steelers possibly missing the post season. The first decision came in Oakland when the Steelers lost to the Raiders and Tomlin opted to keep what was believed to be an injured Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines in what believed was a lead his defense could protect and to avoid any further injury to Big Ben. But when the Steelers fell behind, Roethlisberger was back on the field too little to late.
Secondly, in this last game, the Steelers had a 24-20 lead and on a fourth and three with around four minutes to play, Tomlin decided to pull a fake punt around midfield which failed and it gave the ball back to New Orleans and Drew Brees. BIG MISTAKE. Instead of punting and putting the Saints deep in their own territory, Tomlin took a very dangerous risk and in the end, it gave Brees and his offense who were averaging around 38 points per game at home, half of the field to work with instead of making them drive nearly the entire length of the field to try to take the lead.
Looking back, the Steelers had no business losing to the Chargers, Broncos, or the Raiders. The losses to the Ravens and the Chiefs, there are no excuses. They simply go beat. So with that said, Pittsburgh should actually be 11-2-1 today and not the 8-6-1 record they hold.
To make the playoffs now, the Steelers need to defeat the Bengals at home which is a given, BUT, they need the Ravens to lose to the Browns at home. It’s either that or defeat Cincinnati and then hope that the Colts and Titans finish their game in a tie. That ain’t happening. So, the only shot is a Browns upset. GOOD LUCK.
I mean anything can happen and Cleveland will play hard, but watching how the Ravens beat the Chargers last Saturday night, it would be a HUGE upset if the Browns pull it off. When the final gun sounded and Smith-Schuster gave the Saints back the ball on a drive that would most likely have tied the game with a Chris Boswell field goal as Pittsburgh was in field goal range, I felt sick to my stomach.
This may very well be the BEST team Mike Tomlin has ever had that WON’T make the playoffs. For that reason alone, as much as I have supported Mike Tomlin and provided stats that show he has done nothing but win games, this is inexcusable and in my opinion he needs to be fired. It’s that simple.
Another reason I believe he should lose his job is because of his lack of fire, which I have previously mentioned. There were bad calls by the referees last Sunday that helped New Orleans, especially the interference call on Joe Haden that allowed the Saints to score a touchdown. But there’s Tomlin on the sidelines seemingly unangered by any of the goings on taking place in the game. He just wears that stupid expression and just takes the losses in stride, saying things like “We made the bed, we’ll lay in it.”
That doesn’t work for me. Despite the gaffs made in the game against New Orleans, I felt terrible for the players. They deserve better. One other call I didn’t like was giving the ball to Ridley on the third down attempt for a first down when rookie Jaylen Samuels had been running so well. Knowing Ridley has a case of “fumblitis” he was given the chance anyway. Then he goes to the bench slamming his helmet all over the place but that didn’t give the ball back to the Steelers.
When playoff time comes if the Steelers are not in it, they will be the BEST team NOT to be in the post season this year. Kudos to Baltimore however, because they are a good team and far better coached than are our Steelers. It’s due time for a change but don’t expect it to happen fans, the Rooneys just don’t fire coaches, but in this case THEY SHOULD.
I feel badly for JuJu, he’s taking it hard and he played such a fantastic game. On his Twitter account he apologized:
“When I’m at my lowest, I’m not going to hide. I’m sorry. That loss was on me. I let everyone down, it won’t happen again.”
This season has been a story of not protecting leads and fourth quarter collapses. In this 2018 campaign, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been in 11 games that the difference in the score was just one score. Of those 11, Pittsburgh has won just five, lost five, and had that ridiculous tie with Cleveland to begin the season. Take the same situation last season in one score games and the Steelers had a record of 8-2.
Back to that ill-fated fake punt play. Tomlin explained why:
“First of all, I liked the play. I thought where the game was and the time of which was left in the game, I thought that if we did not stop them, that we would have the opportunity to have the ball last. We did.”
Not good enough for me. In fact, when they lined up for the punt, even sitting at home watching on television I saw a Steeler going in motion and I was like “oh no what’s up.” I’m not a coach but even New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton saw it coming:
“It’s a big play. It was close. When the one guy goes in motion, you start looking.”
It wasn’t even executed well. As for Nix, he acted as though he got the first down but the truth is, he was way short. It just sucks folks. Soon as the fake punt went down I was yelling at my television, “what a stupid fucking call.” I was in disbelief.
It’s just a shame that this season will go to waste if the Steelers don’t make the dance. So many records were tied and set this season. Many players stood out. I can say this, had James Conner been healthy, perhaps he would have attempted that third down play that Ridley fumbled on and maybe we would be talking about how we are repeating as AFC North Division champions today.
But that is not the case and Conner can not be used as an excuse. When the ball finally lands on responsibility, it rest with the head coach. It always will. Just ask Mike McCarthy, an outstanding coach fired by the Green Bay Packers. Tomlin has to go. I’m sorry Tomlin fans, but we need a stern, tough-love coach for this team. There is far too much talent to see this team go out the way it is.
Against New Orleans, Antonio Brown had one of his finest games ever and he EASILY proved at least for me that he is in fact the greatest wide receiver in the history of the team. He just makes incredible catches and his one arm grab in the end zone where he had just one foot out, was so close to being a score and so spectacular, that had he made it, it would have been highlight material for months.
With 53 touchdowns this season, the Steelers set a team record for most in one campaign, breaking the mark set by the Super Bowl champion 1979 team. Additionally, by hooking up for a score, Roethlisberger and A.B. Now have done that 74 times together pushing them past the combination of Brees/Marques Colston for sixth place in the NFL record books for quarterback/receiver tandems.
Also, A.B. and JuJu have each grabbed over 100 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving this season the first time Pittsburgh has had two players in one season with at least 100 catches. Only six times in history has a team had two 100-1,000 twin combos joining 1995 Detroit, 2000 Denver, 2005 Arizona, 2009 Indianapolis, and 2014 Denver as the only teams to have two receivers with those numbers.
More from Mike Tomlin that makes my eyes look upwards:
“I’m not here to evaluate the officiating. I’ll let those guys evaluate themselves in the appropriate manner. I’m here to talk about what we did today and what we did not do. The officiating did not determine the outcome of the game. … The quality of our play and execution determined the outcome of the game.”
Take some responsibility Coach T. It’s not just play and execution. IT’S ALSO COACHING. Ok, so Tomlin has taken two teams to the Super Bowl, one was a winner and one was a loser to Green Bay. In the victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, I was there and I tell you here and now, that win was all because Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes put the team on their backs and won that game single handily. It had nothing to do with coaching.
When it comes to crunch time decisions, Tomlin SUCKS. His is not a decisive decision making coach. It’s simple as that. So, we need someone in there that can make the critical decisions when need be and not make an ill fated move that later he just is so blasé about. It’s ridiculous. Come on Art Rooney…be wise about this team. I believe the Steelers will NEVER win another Super Bowl with Mike Tomlin coaching. Sure he might get us to the playoffs, sure he might win a lot of games, but when it comes down to the difficult games, his record is not good.
So with one game to go, it’s a prayer for the Steelers to get back to the post season and if they do in fact get a late Christmas gift from the Cleveland Browns, it’s possible they could make the most of it. But getting there will be the tricky part. One final statement I’d like to make…
The NFL has changed the game time of the Steelers/Bengals clash to a 4:25 kickoff. WHY? It’s because they are hoping the Browns upset the Ravens and then they will have the Steelers playing to get into the post season. My problem with this is that by playing later than everyone else, say the Ravens beat the Browns as they should at 1:00. Then at 4:25, the Steelers knowing that they have no chance at the division title, will have nothing to play for.
Unless the Colts and Titans tie each other at 1:00 and you know that won’t happen, then again, when the Steelers get ready to play, if Baltimore has won, either the Colts are Titans are victorious, again, our game means nothing. How many Steelers players are going to want to play with nothing on the line?
Had the NFL left the game where it was, the Steelers would have no idea if they were still alive in the playoff race and would play much harder. A Baltimore victory and Titans or Colts victory will certainly take the wind out of Pittsburgh’s sails come 4:30 and I’ll go out on a limb and say that anyone holding tickets for this final game at Heinz Field will be also scoreboard watching and if they too know the Steelers are out by 4:30 they will opt to stay home and watch or maybe not watch the game on TV.
My podcast to come later will cover all this and provide my thoughts on the rest of the NFL action this past weekend.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers can defeat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, then with just one game left in the 2018 season, there is an outstanding chance they win that one too and head to the playoffs with three straight victories.
But Pittsburgh is up against a 12-2 team that is perhaps the best in the NFC and maybe even the NFL right now. With that said, the Steelers were super impressive in beating the New England Patriots last Sunday and they will need a repeat performance in New Orleans to win again.
Right now the Steelers are trying to stave off a full head of steam charge by the Baltimore Ravens who are just ½ game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North but Baltimore has a difficult game in Los Angeles when they play the Chargers Saturday night. The Saints own one Super Bowl to their credit having joined the league in 1967. With just 15 games played against the Steelers the Saints have won more than half entering Sunday with eight wins over Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t until 1979 that the Saints had their first non-losing season when they finished 8-8. But their first above .500 season did not come until 1987 when they went 12-3 but lost in the wild card round of the playoffs. Since that playoff appearance, New Orleans has made the post season 10 times but prior to 1987, they were the Cleveland Browns of the NFL being whipped by everyone and along the way they had a Manning behind center as their quarterback, the father of Peyton and Eli, Archie.
The most points scored on New Orleans by Pittsburgh came in 2006 when the Steelers prevailed by one score 38-31. Pittsburgh has also gone over 30 when playing the Saints three times and has scored 29 and 28 in other games. As for the Saints, they toppled the Steelers 35-32 in 2014, 32-29 in 2002, and lost that 38-31 game. There has never been a shutout in this series and the lowest scoring game came on December 16, 1990 when Pittsburgh won 9-6.
In New Orleans there have been nine games between the two and the Steelers have lost five of those. Currently, the Steelers are on a two game losing streak facing the Saints with the last game coming four years ago when Pittsburgh got beat at home 35-32. The prior meeting to that game was in 2010 when New Orleans won 20-10. The Steelers have not beaten the Saints since they triumphed in that high scoring game mentioned above that came on November 12, 2006.
The very first meeting between Pittsburgh and New Orleans took place in their inaugural season and the date was October 29, 1967 when Pittsburgh won a squeaker 14-10 in New Orleans. However, the next three games from 1968 through 1969 were won by the Saints. The Steelers would win three in a row following that last three game streak of losses that began on November 25, 1974 then included a win on November 5, 1978 and a victory on October 4, 1981.
Pittsburgh and New Orleans have played on Monday Night Football twice in 1974 and 10 years later on November 25. The two games were nearly exactly 10 years apart to the day with the 1974 game falling on November 19. Could this Sunday’s game be a preview of Super Bowl LIII? Both Pittsburgh and New Orleans have excellent chances to make it to the big show this season.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
Heading into this game, Ben Roethlisberger is second in passing yards in the NFL trailing only Patrick Mahomes. With 4,462 yards, “Big Ben” is approaching his first-ever 5,000 yard passing season. He trails Mahomes by only 81 yards but is far behind on touchdowns trailing 45-30. Facing the Saints, the Steelers offense will be without James Conner again and so that means Jaylen Samuels will try to pick up where he left off against the Patriots last week when he rushed for 142 yards.
There is no reason to change the approach Randy Fichtner took last week with his game plan for New England so expect Samuels to get his opportunities but for Big Ben to use his array of weapons in the air and throw the ball around again. JuJu Smith-Schuster had been among the league leaders in receiving yards but he has tailed off to sixth overall with 1,274 yards but not far behind him is Antonio Brown who has 1,112.
In this game you have two of the league’s most explosive offenses so there could be some real fireworks. Roethlisberger has so many options when throwing the ball, perhaps more than any other team in the league. Aside from A.B. and JuJu he can find his big tight end Vance McDonald who has caught 46 passes in 2018 for 522 yards and a per-catch average of 11.3 yards. While he lost his job to McDonald, Jesse James is actually a little more productive when thrown to averaging 14.1 yards per grab.
Big Ben can also look for Ryan Switzer and rookie James Washington who had a break out game last Sunday. Even Samuels like Conner before he got hurt can be a receiver out of the backfield as the rook has grabbed 16 passes for 148 yards but his average is 9.3 which is nearly a first down on every reception.
It will be interesting to see if Chris Boswell’s confidence is back and the fact that the game is indoors where there can be no weather conditions, there can then be no excuses. If Boswell’s inaccuracy continues on Sunday then it will become obvious his problem is mental. With Jaylen Samuels running the ball, while his playing time has been brief this season, his per-carry average of 4.8 bests that of James Conner who remains at 4.5 until he returns.
Defensively, the New Orleans Saints are obviously not as strong as their offense. Still, they are in the middle of the pack in the NFL with the 11th best overall defense. With the Steelers expected to throw the ball often, the Saints find themselves 28th in protecting the pass so that is something that Mike Tomlin is most likely aware of and will try to test the secondary of New Orleans right from the get go. It would be the best option for the Steelers to grab an early lead knowing the Drew Brees will be on the field.
How effective Jaylen Samuels and Stephen Ridley can be running the ball will be a true test given that New Orleans has the #1 rated rush defense in the league. Surrendering just 79.1 yards of rushing per game, Pittsburgh may have to abandon the run game if Samuels and his entourage can’t get things going.
The offensive line of the Steelers will have to key on Cameron Jordan has he leads New Orleans with 12 sacks. Jordan is the only Saint in double digits for sacks with Demario Davis leading the team in tackles with 103. As a team, the Saints have picked off 12 opponent’s passes.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
Here’s where the game gets dicey for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Saints while having cooled off the last few weeks have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. They have dropped to seventh overall in total offense scoring but still have a 32.8 points per game scoring average. The Saints have scored over 40 points six times this season in the 12 games played and on November 11 wasted the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 51-14.
New Orleans has also scored 30 or more three times. With that said, in their last three games which they lost one (to Dallas), the Saints scored just 10 in the loss to the Cowboys, 28 in beating the Buccaneers, and last weekend in a victory over Carolina, the final score was just 12-9. The Saints managed just one touchdown and that did not come until the fourth quarter which also resulted in a failed two point conversion attempt.
Remember, the Steelers blasted the Carolina Panthers earlier this season 52-21. Still, you have to be leery of Drew Brees. He is heading for the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day and by most accounts including yours truly, he is one of if not the MOST underrated quarterbacks of all time.
Drew Brees became the all-time leader in passing yards this season passing Peyton Manning’s 71,940 total. Brees also passes another great quarterback in Brett Favre who had been the completions leader with 6,300 but now Brees has 6,559. Peyton Manning threw more touchdowns in his career than anyone else with 539 but Brees is closing in on that mark too with a current total of 519. One stat that Brees excels at is not throwing interceptions. He has thrown 233 in his tenure with the Chargers and Saints; however, that number falls into the 15th spot in the history of the NFL. Brett Favre is at the top of that category with 336.
This season, Drew Brees has thrown just five interceptions on 450 pass attempts. He has completed 337 of those passes for 3,666 yards and has an outstanding completion percentage of 74.9%. With 31 touchdowns, he trails only Mahomes 45 and Andrew Luck’s 34. The Saints do not have the amount of weapons in the air that the Steelers do but their primary weapon is Michael Thomas who has 1,267 yards on 109 receptions. His catch total leads the NFL.
Following Thomas is a deep drop-off on the Saints receiving leaders. Alvin Kamara, a running back is second on the team in receiving yards with 627. Benjamin Watson chimes in with 32 receptions and 365 yards. Kamara is in just his second season and was outstanding as a rookie finishing with 728 yards rushing. This season he has gone past that total with 860 yards on the ground to date. Like James Conner he has 12 touchdowns but Kamara also has caught an additional four by way of the pass.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers defense all they need to do is pick up where they left off at Heinz Field last Sunday. Play like they did against the Patriots and you can chalk up another victory. While the Saints’ offense might appear scary on the surface, the last several games show they can be shut down with a good defense.
Like New Orleans, the Steelers have just one player with a double digit sack total and that is T.J. Watt who has taken down the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage 11 times this season. Vince Williams has done the same 4 ½ times and then you have Javon Hargrave with 6 ½, Cam Heyward with six, Bud Dupree with 5 ½, and Stephon Tuitt with four. As a team the Steelers are just one short of the NFL leaders in this category the Vikings who have 47 and are tied with Kansas City at 46.
The one thing that Pittsburgh’s defense is lacking in is interceptions. The Steelers have thrown 16 of their own in 2018 but in picking off opposing passers, Pittsburgh comes in with a poor total of just seven. Two of those seven belong to Joe Haden who had a monster pick last Sunday and then the others with one are: Terrell Edmunds, Vince Williams, Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, and Cameron Sutton.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a far more precarious position than are the Saints who have a record of 12-2. The Steelers have the Ravens breathing down their neck and unless the Steelers win on Sunday and the Ravens lose, the risk of not winning the AFC North will remain. The Saints do have something to play for and that is the overall #1 seed in the forthcoming NFC playoffs which would mean not having to play any road games enroute to another Super Bowl appearance. The Rams are 11-3 and currently hold the second seed so to keep them there, New Orleans would need to stay one win ahead (depending on conference and head-to-head) records. For Pittsburgh, their destiny is in their own hands. Just win baby (in the words of the late Al Davis). Need not worry about what Baltimore is doing; just take care of your own house.
This entire season I have picked the Steelers to win their games. That was until last week when I didn’t think Pittsburgh had it in them to overtake New England. I picked the Patriots to win and they lost. So much for picking against my Steelers. Not this time. I think the Steelers are in a good mental state and that the victory over Tom Brady and their nemesis New England did TONS of good for them in so many ways. I believe that momentum will carry over into Sunday and that Ben Roethlisberger will have a field day in the air.
Sure Drew Brees is going to score touchdowns but I don’t think this will be the shootout some may be expecting. Steelers 34 Saints 24.
Here are my Christmas weekend picks:
Here in Jacksonville, Florida, home of the NFL’s Jaguars, you will often hear on sports radio shows and read in the local newspapers about the team’s problem in finding a franchise quarterback.
When the Jags drafted Blake Bortles in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft with the third overall pick, they believed they had finally found their quarterback of the future and someone who would become their best signal caller since the days of Mark Brunell. Since the time he was selected by Jacksonville, Bortles has had an up and down career with mostly sub-par seasons that have brought far too much criticism not by just the fans but from the national media as well.
Just last season, Bortles and the Jaguars nearly reached their first-ever Super Bowl losing in the AFC championship game to New England. It was thought that Jacksonville had turned the corner after years of bad seasons and that with their stout defense; they would continue to be one of the elite teams in 2018.
Not only has Jacksonville shot from first-to-worst this season, currently sitting in last place in the AFC South with a 4-10 record, but Blake Bortles has had a poor season and was benched several games ago relinquishing his job to Cody Kessler. While Kessler’s completion percentage this season is a few points better than Bortles (64.0 to 60.4), his quarterback rating is worse (76.0 to Bortles’ 81.9).
Still, Bortles remains on the bench and for all intensive purposes; his Jacksonville Jaguars’ career is probably over when the season ends. While listening to a local sports radio show the other day, the conversation centered around Bortles and Jacksonville’s inability to find a franchise quarterback while the hosts of the show questioned why the Jaguars never spent a draft pick on finding a player who could in fact become an elite quality signal caller.
With that said, I decided to do my homework and find out who the Jacksonville Jaguars had an opportunity to draft that assuredly would have avoided the team being stuck in this situation where they have been unable to land a top tier signal caller. If you take a look at the league’s most successful teams, all of them have Pro Bowl caliber QBs and some of these players are heading one day for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Roethlisberger, Brees, Brady, Rodgers, Rivers, etc.).
My homework assignment will date back to the year 2000 and bring you up to date in 2018. In 2000, not just the Jacksonville Jaguars but every other team in the league passed on a quarterback from the University of Michigan who lasted until the sixth round and was the 199th pick overall. As his career developed and he won five Super Bowls, it now seems INCREDIBLE that Tom Brady went undrafted through nearly six rounds of the 2000 draft.
Where would the Jaguars be today if they had picked Tom Brady? While Jacksonville and the other teams watched Brady go by the wayside until the Patriots said what the hell, the Jaguars that year used their first round 29th pick on R. Jay Soward, wide receiver from USC. Soward lasted just four seasons and ended up in the Canadian Football League for a couple of years before ending up playing in the Indoor Football League (IFL).
Up until Brady was drafted, the Jaguars spent picks on Brad Meester, T.J. Slaughter, Joey Chustz, Kiwaukee Thomas, and Emanuel Smith in the 196th pick of the sixth round, three picks before Brady was selected. You can’t punish the Jaguars too much for being blind and not seeing what Brady might become because all the other teams did the same including New England who finally gave Brady the shot.
Granted Brunell was the quarterback in 2000 so the Jaguars were not in need of a starting quarterback at that time. But here we are 18 years later, Brady is still playing and doing so rather well, whereas Brunell left the Jaguars in 2004 to play for the Washington Redskins and finally exited pro football in 2011 after playing for two more teams.
Moving on from Brunell in 2003, the Jaguars used the seventh overall pick to draft Byron Leftwich. While “Sir Byron” had a mediocre career playing for four teams and lasting just nine seasons in the NFL, four with Jacksonville, 2004 became a year and a season that 10 NFL teams may regret forever.
In the 2004 NFL draft, Eli Manning was the first overall pick by the San Diego Chargers but he refused to play there so a trade was made with the New York Giants and it sent the fourth overall pick, Philip Rivers out west where Manning landed in the Meadowlands. The trade worked out well for both teams as Manning has won himself a few Super Bowl rings and Rivers while yet to win a championship has had a Hall of Fame career.
In 2004, Jacksonville had the ninth pick overall. With those two top tier quarterbacks off the board, the Jaguars elected to use their first round pick on Reggie Williams, a wide receiver from the University of Washington. With the Houston Texans picking next, they too passed up on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first round pick that came in selection #11. That was “Big Ben” Roethlisberger who as a rookie won the starting quarterback job from an injured Tommy Maddox and he has been Pittsburgh’s franchise quarterback since, 14 years later owning three Super Bowl appearances and two victories in that game as well as building himself a hall of fame resume.
Again, like the Brady argument, where would the Jaguars be today if they had taken the opportunity that was in their hands and drafted Ben Roethlisberger? For the record, Arizona, Washington, the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, and the Cleveland Browns all passed on Big Ben. As for the Browns, they had the chance to bring an Ohio born QB onto their roster and passed. Like Jacksonville, Cleveland has struggled for years to find an elite quarterback but they believe they may have finally found him in Baker Mayfield.
Every NFL team has their busted draft picks, but how many is too many? History repeated itself from 2004 the very next year. In 2005 Jacksonville had the 21st pick overall. With that slot they drafted a quarterback from the University of Arkansas who without argument was an outstanding athlete. But the Jaguars turned Matt Jones into a wide receiver and he became one of the team’s biggest busts from the draft ever. The Green Bay Packers had their turn in the first round of the 2005 draft three picks later.
The Pack’s choice? AARON RODGERS. OUCH! I ask you again, what if the Jaguars had picked Rodgers, where would they be today? Matt Jones lasted just four seasons with the Jaguars and was out of football after the 2005 season with just 166 receptions, 2,153 yards and only 15 touchdowns, numbers most elite receivers reach in one to two seasons alone.
The problematic question surrounding the Jacksonville Jaguars is who is to blame? Is it poor scouting? Have the coaches and general management lacked in judging talent? Or are the Jaguars just blind? The Cleveland Browns have also had a terrible front office and talent evaluating team but they seem to be turning the corner this season.
In that 2005 draft after missing out on the chance to land Rodgers as 22 other teams did as well, even as far down as the seventh round Jacksonville could have found two players who actually have had better careers than Blake Bortles. At over pick number 230, the Patriots drafted Matt Cassel. While Cassel is far from elite, he has had some solid seasons. A few picks later at 237, Jacksonville drafted Chris Roberson. Some might be saying WHO? Roberson was a cornerback out of Eastern Michigan who played in just seven games in three seasons.
This season in Tampa, there was for a time something taking place Bucs fans called “Fitz-Magic.” That was when Ryan Fitzpatrick was playing in place of Jameis Winston and lighting up the stats. Fitzpatrick was drafted in the same round as Roberson but 12 picks later. There has been a buzz around Jacksonville this season about who might be the Jaguars’ quarterback in 2019? One name that has circulated is Joe Flacco.
Having been replaced by rookie Lamar Jackson, the Ravens let it be known lately that they will part ways with Flacco once the season is over. History shows that the Jaguars COULD have had Flacco previously by drafting him in 2008. Instead, Jacksonville drafted Derrick Harvey from local University of Florida in the eighth slot of the first round in that draft whereas Flacco lasted until the 18th pick of that opening round.
So let’s move up to three years before Bortles came along, 2011. The Jaguars did spend their first round pick that year on a quarterback and it was Blane Gabbert from Missouri. David Garrard was no longer on the team and Luke McCown was on the roster sharing duties with Gabbert as he learned the ins and outs of the NFL.
Who would become the better signal caller? Gabbert drafted in the first round, or one of these other three drafted in subsequent rounds? Andy Dalton by Cincinnati in the second along with Colin Kaepernick? Tyrod Taylor who was the starter in Cleveland this season before being unseated by Mayfield and was the starter in last year’s playoffs when Jacksonville beat Buffalo? Again, lack of true quarterback evaluation by Jacksonville and other teams but the topic of conversation here is why the Jaguars have failed to find their franchise quarterback whereas most of the teams in the NFL right now are very much settled at that position.
2012 will forever leave a bad taste in the Jaguars’ fan base as well because in that year’s draft, Jacksonville had the fifth pick overall and instead of going after a quarterback, they stayed with Blaine Gabbert and drafted another wide receiver in Justin Blackmon who was a star at Oklahoma State. That didn’t mean much on the pro level because Blackmon was out of football just three seasons later having caught a career total 93 receptions. Had they taken a closer look in that first round, they could have made either Russell Wilson (third round, 75th pick overall), Nick Foles (third round, 88th pick overall), or Kirk Cousins (fourth round, 102nd pick overall) their new quarterback.
Let’s review those last picks again. Wilson has won a Super Bowl and been there twice. Nick Foles is starting again for the Super Bowl champion Eagles and he was the M.V.P. in the last season’s championship game. Cousins has had a solid career and could be leading the Vikings into the post season this season. Also passed by in the first round of 2012 was Miami’s Ryan Tannehill who while has not been on the level of the aforementioned QBs is certainly a better option that Blake Bortles.
Can this issue with quarterbacking and the Jaguars get any worse that already discussed? CERTAINLY. Let’s talk about the year Blake Bortles came onboard, 2014. He came via a third overall pick, first round. Jadeveon Clowney went first overall to the Houston Texans followed by Greg Robinson to the Rams. Then it was Bortles. Of all the players available, the Jaguars went with Bortles. What other options where there?
Try Teddy Bridgewater for starters who went with the first round’s final pick. While Bridgewater has not developed into a star QB, his injuries have limited him. But worse is the fact that in the second round two other quarterbacks were removed from the board and both have had high levels of success. They are Derek Carr with the Raiders, and Jimmy Garoppolo who sat behind Tom Brady for several seasons before working a trade with San Francisco where he finished out the season with them in 2017 winning every game he started. Unfortunately, an injury ended Garoppola’s season this year but his abilities have come shining through.
The Jaguars had become so settled with Blake Bortles and so sure he would develop into a top tier quarterback that in 2017, last year’s draft, they had the fourth pick overall and chose Leonard Fournette from LSU. Fournette nearly single handily beat the Steelers in the regular season last year and then helped his team knock Pittsburgh out of the playoffs sending Jacksonville to the AFC championship game. But he has had an injury plagued career thus far and if the Jaguars had established any doubts in Bortles being around for a long time, perhaps they could have instead of Fournette used their pick on…ahem…Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes lasted not much longer than did Fournette when Kansas City drafted him in the 10th spot. A few picks later, Houston used their 12th spot to select Deshaun Watson. Look at the seasons those two are having. Mahomes is M.V.P. material this season and Watson has his team performing as one of the AFC’s best. It doesn’t get any sourer than that. Oh but it does…
In this year’s draft, because of the 2017 finish, Jacksonville was near the bottom of the heap when it came to their first round draft pick. You would think the talent would thin out having to wait that long. So The Jaguars missed out on Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen, the four most highly touted quarterbacks in this year’s draft. You would figure having a great season has its consequences like missing out on talent unless you can work a trade to move up in the draft order. Well that wasn’t the case so the Jaguars picked Taven Bryan, defensive tackle from the nearby Gators of the University of Florida.
Bryan has played in 14 games this season with just one start. He has made a combined total of 19 tackles and has not had a quarterback sack. By the time the Baltimore Ravens were on the clock with the final pick in the first round, there was still one highly rated quarterback remaining. His name? Lamar Jackson from Louisville. HELLO? Jackson is now the starter in Baltimore having unseated Joe Flacco and his team is 8-6 and on the cusp of a wild card spot in this season’s playoffs and the Ravens are not mathematically eliminated from the AFC North division crown just yet.
Perhaps Jacksonville’s reward for passing on Jackson will be signing Joe Flacco during the off season. Once again, with just four victories to date, the Jaguars are looking at a top five draft pick in the 2019 draft as it stands now. Only the Arizona Cardinals and Raiders have fewer victories with three and the Jets match Jacksonville’s four wins. They will get another shot at drafting a replacement for Blake Bortles who as indicated will probably be looking for a new team next year.
The consensus top quarterbacks in next spring’s draft are:
One of them is bound to be wearing the Black and Teal in 2019. For the record, in this year’s draft, the third round had Mason Rudolph selected by the Steelers, Kyle Lauletta taking in the fourth round by the Giants, and the Jaguars actually did pick a quarterback but not until the sixth round and that was Tanner Lee from Nebraska who some say might get a shot in one of these final two games remaining.
So the bottom line is this…the Jaguars thought heading into this season they were special with an elite defense and could get back into the playoffs and get as far as they did in 2017 if not further. They believed in Blake Bortles and now his reign is over and the Jaguars became one of the worst teams in the league. Jaguars fans can only ponder the question, “what if?” The team had shots at a Brady, Roethlisberger, and Rodgers, all future Pro Football Hall of Fame members. There was a Russell Wilson waiting there for Jacksonville to say “come to Florida.”
The Jaguars could have had Joe Flacco, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Derek Carr, or even Jimmy Garoppolo. Those names and the passed opportunity to grab them must leave an empty, nauseating feeling in the bellies of any Jaguars fan.
Mike Tomlin referred to the game with the New England Patriots last Sunday as “Redemption Sunday.” So with the 17-10 victory comes redemption on a team that simply had Pittsburgh’s number.
But the victory did not come easy. The Patriots were in this game until the final play. With that said however, the win also may have very well saved two players and a head coach their jobs. The two players are Chris Boswell and rookie James Washington.
We all know who that head coach is and lately he’s been named to several internet “hot seats.” Mike Tomlin with this win may have saved a possible release from his duties had the Steelers lost and then subsequently missed the playoffs. If New England had pulled out the victory, the Baltimore Ravens would be sitting in first place in the AFC North today. With a very difficult game looming on the horizon for next Sunday when the Steelers visit the best team in the NFC and perhaps the NFL the New Orleans Saints, not only would the game with the Patriots have been deemed a “must win” but next Sunday would have been the same.
Now, in my opinion, if the Steelers make the post season and it looks like they will, regardless of how the Steelers fair, I think Tomlin is safe. To miss the playoffs would put tremendous pressure on the Rooneys to make a change, but just getting back into the hunt for a Super Bowl, win it or not will probably be suffice for the management team of the Steelers.
With that said, kickers were brought in last week to challenge Chris Boswell for his job and Mike Tomlin had said that “Bos” was playing to remain on the team. After missing a field goal last Sunday, it seemed right there that Boswell’s fate was sealed. But he came back later and nailed a long field goal that gave the Steelers the one touchdown lead and it probably saved his job for now. Had he made his earlier kick, there would have been no chance for a Tom Brady miracle comeback.
Finally, there was James Washington. Having missed multiple passes this season and on one long toss he looked silly diving for it, all that is now awash. Washington showed the promise that Tomlin and staff believed in him by catching three passes for 65 yards, one of which was clutch and one what was simply a thing of beauty over his shoulder.
Welcome back to Eli Rogers who showed he is still a very dangerous receiver with four receptions and 20 yards. But the star and stud of the day can easily be named and he too is a rookie with the name Jaylen Samuels. With James Conner out still rehabbing his twisted ankle, the rookie Samuels stepped in and shined.
19 carries for 142 yards rushing, a 7.5 yards-per-carry average and two receptions for 30 yards. Samuels looked nothing like a rookie and just cemented the fact that the Steelers DO NOT NEED LE’VEON BELL! What was established last Sunday was the Pittsburgh Steelers future at running back. A combination of Conner and Samuels will quickly bring back reminders of the Franco Harris/Rocky Bleier duo.
As for Bleier who was critical of the Steelers and Mike Tomlin last week, he must be smiling ear to ear today. The performance put forth by his Pittsburgh Steelers against one of the most dominating teams in the NFL in the past 10 years was a thing of beauty. In my pre-game analysis I had said the Steelers defense had to bring their A+ game and play 60 minutes something they had not done all season.
On Sunday at Heinz Field, not just the defense but the offense as well played whistle-to-whistle. What irritates me the most however, is that how the Steelers can play such a great game against an outstanding opponent but lose to a team like the Oakland Raiders? The answer is glaringly obvious and easy…Pittsburgh played DOWN to the Raiders last weekend.
Need more proof? The Cincinnati Bengals with their now 6-8 record easily beat Oakland last Sunday. This a team we have already beaten and will defeat again on the last day of the season. It’s a shame and a disgrace that this squad failed to play as hard as they did against New England in the Denver and Oakland losses. Had they played like that and even perhaps against the Chargers, Pittsburgh would be sitting pretty right now at 10-2-1 and rivaling the Chiefs and Texans for the top seeds in the AFC.
But that is water under the bridge and with just two games left, we now wait and see if Pittsburgh can win both and coast into the playoffs. If this next fact doesn’t tell you how important the win over New England was, nothing will. Had the Steelers lost, they would have dropped from the #4 seed in the AFC all the way down to #8 and out of a playoff wild card spot.
This victory was HUGE…and it came against a team many thought Pittsburgh could not beat on any day. But there are too many kudos to hand out to name everyone who pitched in for the Steelers both offensively and defensively. It was a collective effort that a head coach would want from his team competing for a Super Bowl.
To beat the Patriots and Tom Brady, you must PRESSURE Brady. That the Steelers did even though they only registered a single sack of the Patriots quarterback. But the pressure was there and it forced Brady into making many bad throws, and Joe Haden made a fantastic interception to help seal New England’s fate.
Normally, when you turn the ball over to the New England Patriots you pay a heavy price. Ben Roethlisberger had two interceptions but this time, the Patriots could not use that to pad a lead and instead, they saw penalty flags being thrown at them. In fact, there were 14 penalties on the Patriots for 106 yards the most they’ve had in a really long stretch. In “Brady-like” fashion, he was whining afterwards about holding calls:
“There's holding on every play in the NFL. It's what we do, we hold. ... If they're calling it, we've got to do a little bit less of it.”
WHATEVER dude. The one thing I noticed about Brady if you watch New England play is that while the defense is on the field, he is ALWAYS on the bench looking like he’s not paying attention to how the defense is performing. BUT, if you see Big Ben Roethlisberger, he’s always on his feet focusing on the matters at hand. What that spells for Brady is PRIMA DONNA. That is why so many non-Patriots fans love to see New England lose a game. They are quietly arrogant and full of themselves and Brady is the leader of the pack in that characteristic.
So hats off to the Steelers defense with the exception of Artie Burns who got his starting job back but it was VERY brief. Coty Sensabaugh replaced Burns after the Patriots knotted the score at seven and it seems Burns will probably be looking for a new team in 2019. But the rest of the ‘D did a number on Rob Gronkowski who was held to just two receptions and none of the other receivers cracked the 100-yard mark.
On the ground, the Patriots failed there to gain significant yardage managing just 196 yards rushing while Pittsburgh racked up 158. Speaking of those penalties, the Steelers who had been plagued all season with too many flags, had just four thrown at them last Sunday. Running back Stevan Ridley got a shot at his old team and came up with 16 yards on just three carries.
Ben Roethlisberger used his entire array of weapons spreading the wealth to Antonio Brown, Vance McDonald, Eli Rogers, Jesse James, Ryan Switzer, Jaylen Samuels, James Washington, and of course JuJu Smith-Schuster. With Chris Boswell, he lives to play another day. We know he is better than he has shown in 2018 despite him leading the league in missed kicks. Mike Tomlin still trusts his kicker:
“He's our kicker from start to finish and I liked that way he came back and banged that next opportunity, and that's what this thing is about. 'You are going to be tested, we are going to be tested. Sometimes you are going to fail, but you better pass enough of them.”
For the New England Patriots now they are in the position the Steelers were in prior to last Sunday. They should still win their division but they can ill afford to lose any more games where they have now lost two in a row. If they win the AFC East again it will be their 10th straight extending their own NFL record for consecutive division titles.
Some other game notables:
Now for some post-game commentary:
“Are we going to step up and play? Are we going to divide each other? Who knows? 'This was going to be a great challenge for us against a team that is always one of the best. I thought we answered the bell today. We didn’t put up the points we wanted to, but it felt like we were out there doing some really good things.”
“There was a lot of kind of ad-libbing out there in terms of putting guys in spots. There were things we don’t even have formations for when we were going five wides. I was kind of like ‘you go there, you go there, you run this.’ For that to happen and guys not to ask questions, not to look confused speaks to them and their preparation and the work they put in during the week to be out there and be great.”
“It’s been a while since we got a damn win, to be honest with you. Three weeks since our last win, or four weeks? They’re a great team. I always tip my hat to them because they’re an old-fashioned team that comes ready to play every week. It was nice to get the win. The last time I got the win against New England was 2011, and I wasn’t really playing much so this means a little bit more.”
“I’m not even going to lie to you, No. 1 get that monkey off your back but No. 2, also, we gotta position ourselves better. Does it feel good? Will I enjoy it? Yes, but New Orleans is no joke, either.”
Mike Munchak made a good point, if it takes three games like that losing streak and we win the rest of them, I think we’d all take those three losses and learn from it and go ahead. It’s a playoff atmosphere now. I think it’s one of those things where even beating those guys, we haven’t been able to beat them in a long time, you feel good but not overjoyed. We gotta go, Baltimore’s hot on our tail and we know it’s close.”
“We want everyone on our team to trust the defense and to be able to trust us in key situations like that. You guys don’t have to worry, we’re going to stop them. You don’t have to be on the edge of your seat, we’re going to make that stop. And when you can have the rush and coverage and just trust our guys and lean on them and practice the way we’ve been practicing; we didn’t flinch, we had our backs up against the wall and we made plays.”
“It’s big, man, really big. We’re trying to build towards something. Having that three-game losing streak where we weren’t really stopping anything the second half of games, we really talked about it. We’re just trying to change that thing around, just trying to get right before the playoffs.”
“There’s no room for doubt in this game, absolutely none. This game is huge for us. We’re just going to start packing some momentum. We want to go all the way.”
This Sunday, just as in the words of David DeCastro, “We’ll see what this team’s made of next week, for sure,” the Steelers will face one of their biggest nemesis’s, the New England Patriots and what will be discovered is just what this 2018 team is made of.
At this point, the horizon does not favor the Pittsburgh Steelers. Consider that the Patriots have beaten the Black and Gold the last five times these two teams have met with two of those games at Heinz Field. Since 2000, in 14 games played between Pittsburgh and New England, the men from Massachusetts have beaten the Steelers 11 times. Three of those games were in the playoffs and the Steelers lost all of them by scores of 24-17, 41-26, and 36-17.
In fact, in the post season, Pittsburgh and New England have had five showdowns and the Steelers have only one victory to brag about and that was in 1998 when the Steelers prevailed 7-6. It’s the AFC championship games that hurt the worst because a team reaching that point is just one win away from the Super Bowl. Of those five playoff games between these two, the Pats knocked the Steelers off their feet in trying to reach the promised land winning the AFC title game in 2001, 2004, and 2016.
Even aside from playing the Patriots in the final game before the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh has been there 16 times and only won half. It doesn’t appear they will make it that far this season either, that’s even if they get to the post season. Going back to the history, there have been 31 games played with the Steelers facing the Patriots, and the series is separated by only one game with New England winning 16. There has been just one shutout in the 31 games and it was the Patriots who accomplished that in 1986 winning at home 34-0.
To their credit, the Steelers have been held to under 10 points just four times including that shutout and then losing 28-3, winning 7-6, and losing 23-9 in 1997, 1998, and a second time in 1998. While New England dumped the Steelers in the post season of 2005 41-27, the Steelers matched that in 1995 winning on the road by the same score. That is the most points Pittsburgh ever scored on the Patriots although they have gone over 30 five times.
The Patriots on the other hand scored a 55-31 victory on November 3, 2013 at home and have gone over 30 themselves six times. In the 31 games played, New England has racked up 709 points to Pittsburgh’s 675 for an average score of 22.8-21.7. Interestingly enough, only 10 of the games in the series were on the road for Pittsburgh. 21 have been at Three Rivers Stadium or Heinz Field, and on their own turf, the Steelers have lost 10 of 21 games played.
The first game played was on October 22, 1972, long before that thorn in the side named Tom Brady came along. Pittsburgh won that game and then again in 1974. New England’s first win came on September 26, 1976 when they won 30-27. As for Monday Night Football between New England and the Steelers, it has happened just twice. On September 3, 1979, the Steelers won 16-13. New England came back years later on September 9, 2002 to win 30-14.
There have been three Saturday games all won by Pittsburgh. Perhaps they can move this Sunday’s game back a day? Then there has been just one Thursday night game won by the Patriots 28-21 in 2015. The one thing Steelers Nation does not want to see is any of the NFL teams catching and tying them for most Super Bowls won and the Patriots need just one more to achieve that. However, San Francisco also has five as do the Dallas Cowboys.
The 49ers won’t be winning another anytime soon but Dallas is heading for the playoffs this season. The Patriots are also on the verge of tying Pittsburgh for most playoff victories needing just one more to catch the Steelers 35 total. Green Bay also has 34 and the Cowboys again too have 34.
Turning the attention back to this Sunday’s showdown, hopefully this game will not result in a repeat of last season’s nightmare when Jesse James had a touchdown stolen from him and home field advantage throughout the playoffs taken away from Pittsburgh. Neither team is dominating statistically among the NFL team defensive statistical leaders.
However, on offense, the Steelers have the fourth best total offense and New England brings up the rear at fifth. When it comes to throwing the ball, Pittsburgh does it better than every other team in the league except surprisingly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who rank second and to no one’s surprise, Kansas City leads the NFL with 437.5 yards per game passing.
Defensively, it’s a different story. Neither the Steelers nor the Patriots can be found in the top five in total defense, passing defense, or protecting against the run. In fact, Pittsburgh is seventh in total defense, the Patriots strangely and uncharacteristically enough are 22nd. When it comes to defending the pass, the Steelers have dropped to #12 after being near the top all season. New England is worse at 23. Against the run, Pittsburgh is 6th where the Patriots are 15th. Those teams’ stats are so much unlike either of these two teams so when they meet on Sunday, anything’s possible.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Rob Gronkowski has been a Steelers killer in the past so finding a way to defend him on Sunday will be key. But just stopping Tom Brady from picking apart the defense is even a more treacherous task. With that said, Brady is not having a banner season. He does have 3,700 yards passing but that is far behind his norm. So is his touchdown total which heading into Sunday stands at just 23. Brady has kept the interceptions down at eight and has been sacked just 18 times and he is always a threat, especially facing the Steelers. No one will ever forget his relief appearance in 2001 when in the AFC title game Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe and led New England to a victory over the Steelers 24-17 and like Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 when he replaced an injured Tommy Maddox, Brady would not ever lose his job and 17 years later, he is still the starting quarterback.
The Patriots names aside from Brady and Gronkowski are no longer household names. Sony Michel is the leading ground gainer with 708 yards with James White bringing up the rear. White is the primary receiver with 76 receptions and 674 yards. Julian Edelman is having a decent year with 621 yards in the air and Gronkowski is surprisingly third on the team.
But as the Patriots do, they find ways to stay relevant and they know going into Heinz Field, given the history, they are already in the heads of the Steelers. That and the Steelers are in the midst of a confidence questioning situation where they have lost three straight games they probably should have won.
Tom Brady has had his way with the Steelers so for the Pittsburgh defense, the onus is on them to find a way to defend the passing game and they should do fine with the running attack. They’ve never figured out the Tom Brady mystique so now is the time if they want to win. It will have to be up to the defense to play their best game all season or they lose.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
Steelers Nation is probably hoping right now that Ben Roethlisberger stays injury free in this game. If something happens, we now question what Mike Tomlin will do with Big Ben if he gets into another situation like what happened last Sunday in Oakland. There is NO DOUBT this offense can move on New England. This game’s outcome will ride on the Steelers defense no doubt.
There is word that James Conner could play after all this coming on the heels of Tomlin saying he probably won’t. You have to wonder if he’s being forced into action because of Tomlin’s dumb decision on Roethlisberger last weekend. Let’s hope that is not the case because forcing an injured player into action is not a good decision.
Remember when Jerome Bettis was hurting in the playoffs but HE demanded to play and ended up hurting the team as they lost. Then there is the case of Terry Bradshaw who in his final year once proclaimed he was forced to play and it ended his career whereas he said if he were able to rehabilitate his injured elbow, his career could have been extended.
Regardless of whether Conner plays or not, the Steelers have the air weapons to take down the Patriots as long as the defense does their job. I expect the offense to be clicking and will try to score on every series. Even if they get a lead, I don’t believe Mike Tomlin will allow his offense to step off the gas pedal. He learned a very difficult lesson in Oakland…no lead is safe in the NFL.
Home field should be an advantage right? Not when you are playing New England. It used to be when the Steelers had their backs firmly against the wall, they came out smoking. This will be a true test of that. The reaction from the Heinz Field faithful will also be very interesting. Will they boo Mike Tomlin? Will they help make noise to aid their team’s effort?
My gut says the Steelers will come out with an A+ game but my mind says New England has our number and with the Steelers having doubt in their minds and questioning their worth after three straight losses, I don’t have the confidence that the Steelers win this game. Patriots 31 Steelers 24.
Let’s now round up my predictions for the NFL slate with three weeks to go in the season.
Los Angeles at Kansas City
Thursday night brings the Chargers with 10 wins heading into Kansas City to attempt preventing the Chiefs from winning their 11th. Something tells me the Chargers will be the more focused team. Chargers 35 Chiefs 31.
Houston at New York
There are Saturday games this weekend and it begins with the Texans in New York (actually New Jersey) to play the Jets. The Texans had a winning streak broken last Sunday and I think this will be two in a row for the Texans in the “L” column. Jets 21 Texans 20.
Cleveland at Denver
The other Saturday game has the Browns in Denver. Advantage Broncos. Broncos 30 Browns 27.
Arizona at Atlanta
The Cards will fall. Falcons 38 Cardinals 17.
Detroit at Buffalo
The Bills’ defense has been the highlight for their season in what has amounted to a down season. Bills 23 Lions 21.
Green Bay at Chicago
Can the Packers win a second in a row? Not against a stout defense like Chicago is putting on the field. Bears 28 Packers 14.
Oakland at Cincinnati
The Raiders will try to knock off another AFC North team. It figures they will beat Oakland where we could not. Bengals 24 Raiders 20.
Dallas at Indianapolis
This is actually a very intriguing game. Both teams have caught fire and I like the way the Colts are playing. Colts 33 Cowboys 28.
Miami at Minnesota
The Vikings have fired their offensive coordinator which won’t help the team play any better offensively. But this one they should win. Vikings 34 Dolphins 24.
Tennessee at New York
The Giants are playing for pride, the Titans for their playoff lives. Giants 27 Titans 24.
Washington at Jacksonville
The Jaguars final home game and the Redskins a mess. Jaguars 17 Redskins 10.
Tampa Bay at Baltimore
We can only hope the Bucs pull the upset. NOT. Ravens 28 Bucs 13.
Seattle at San Francisco
This is the “Richard Sherman Show” playing against his former teammates. I like the upset to happen. 49ers 23 Seahawks 21.
Philadelphia at Los Angeles
The Eagles last shot at glory for 2018. Knocking off the highly rated Rams. Won’t happen. Rams 37 Eagles 21.
New Orleans at Carolina
The week concludes with a game that has #1 seeding impact. The Panthers are playing poorly right now even if they are home. Saints 40 Panthers 23.
The great debate...
I’m sure that after an unthinkable 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders last Sunday on the road, Ben Roethlisberger is not looking forward to a return game anytime soon.
That’s because Big Ben is now 0-4 in games played against the Silver and Black in Oakland. What took place in the Steelers third straight loss comes down to two main factors…Ben Roethlisberger’s “so called injury” and the failures of the defense to hold a lead AGAIN. When Roethlisberger was tackled hard towards the end of the first half and failed to take the field at the start of the third quarter, anyone watching figure he must have had an injury that kept him from playing again.
HOWEVER, to see Big Ben with his baseball cap on strutting around on the sidelines, that was a scene that was extremely curious. He didn’t appear hurt yet Joshua Dobbs replaced him for almost the remainder of the game. While Dobbs could not generate any offense (and to his defense, there were several dropped passes), once the Steelers relinquished the 14-10 halftime advantage, then head coach Mike Tomlin put Roethlisberger back on the field where he promptly drove the team downfield for a go ahead touchdown.
But the defense squandered that lead again and for a second time, Big Ben led the offense downfield for a game tying field goal that incredibly Chris Boswell missed when his foot slipped. That was ballgame and the Steelers have now lost to EVERY AFC West team this season.
I had said in my Steelers preview that Pittsburgh only loses if they beat themselves and plays down to the opponent. Well what do you know? They did BOTH. For the third straight week, the Steelers have beaten themselves and instead of a record of 7-5-1 this team SHOULD be 10-2-1. Perhaps even 11-2 if they didn’t blow that opening day Browns game.
They are precariously close to being eliminated from a playoff spot. With just a ½ game lead on the Baltimore Ravens, the Ravens could have actually taken the lead in the AFC North had they beaten the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday only to lose in overtime. As it is right now, the Steelers are the 4th seed in the AFC but with the Ravens biting at their heals and three other teams at 7-6, it is VERY possible the Steelers could get passed by be it the Ravens for the division title, or the Colts, Dolphins, or Titans for one or both of the wild card spots.
Let’s take a closer look…Baltimore in its final three games will play Tampa at home; the Chargers on the road, and close with the Browns at home. My take is they win at least two of the three, perhaps dropping only the Chargers game and they finish 9-7. If they win out and it’s possible based on how well they played the Chiefs, then we are talking 10-6.
Then we have the 7-6 Colts who face the Cowboys at home, Giants at home, and Titans on the road. I’ll say they upset Dallas, definitely beat the Giants, and then lose the finale to Tennessee. Final record? 9-7.
The Miami Dolphins with their amazing last second victory over New England might be the surprise team of those “in the hunt.” The Dolphins are also 7-6 and for their final three foes will play the Vikings on the road, host the Jaguars, and play in Buffalo. Here I think Miami loses to Minnesota, beats the Jaguars, and then to the Bills as well. They will finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
The 7-6 Titans will be in New York to play the Giants who are coming off a tremendous victory over the undermanned Washington Redskins then play those same ‘Skins at home before finishing the season at home with the Colts. I say two out of three are wins for the Titans meaning a final record of 9-7.
There are actually two other teams in the hunt that have six and five wins respectively they being Denver and Cleveland. Neither have been mathematically eliminated and by winning out the rest of the way, both the Broncos and Browns have an outside shot depending on how the teams in front of them fair.
The Browns play in Denver so winning out is probably not something that will happen. The lowly Bengals visit Cleveland the next weekend which will result in a Browns victory and then Cleveland plays in Baltimore where they will lose. Still, finishing 6-9-1 is WAY better than the Browns’ 2017 winless season.
Finally there are those Broncos. They will beat Cleveland, possibly lose to Oakland on the road, and whether the L.A. Chargers need the final game or not, Denver could win if the Chargers are resting starters, or lose if L.A. needs the win. With that said, it’s going to be either a 7-9 finish or at best a 9-7 finish.
What’s important for the Pittsburgh Steelers is for they to take control of their own destiny and not worry about what these other teams are doing. The HUGE problem for the Steelers is their schedule. This weekend it is the New England Patriots coming to town and then the following next-to-last weekend of the season, they must play on the road in New Orleans.
When the Steelers beat the Jaguars before this awful AFC West losing streak began, I said that was the kind of loss that breaks a team. Well, this loss to Oakland and losing three straight I believe in my opinion will BREAK the Steelers psyche and confidence. With that said, my initial gut reaction is the Steelers lose BOTH. The Patriots have had the Steelers number for years whether the game is in Pittsburgh or on the road. They are coming off an embarrassing and unnecessary loss and they will not want to lose two in a row when a seeding is on the line.
Beating the Saints who are 11-2 right now and will probably be 12-2 when these two teams meet is highly unlikely. Therefore, when the Steelers beat the Bengals on the final day of the season they will be 8-7-1 and most likely lose out not just the division but the wild card as well.
I hope I am wrong, but this does not look good. The team is simply not playing well on defense right now (again I must add as they had seemed to be improving), and the offense stutters especially without James Conner. While Jaylen Samuels did show some promise, his 2.5 yards-per-carry simply won’t cut it. Word has come too that Conner will probably not face the Patriots, all the more reason they will lose.
So getting back to this ugly, damaging loss, I’m only repeating what millions are already saying and asking…why was Ben Roethlisberger held out from playing for almost the entire second half? Mike Tomlin admitted after the game:
“Roethlisberger could've returned a series or two earlier than he did.”
So what was the hold up? Tomlin: “We were in a rhythm and flow of the game.”
WHAT??? Watching Big Ben pace the sidelines and then to hear him say later that he was just waiting for Tomlin to tell him to go back in means he was ALWAYS ready to go. Some theorize that Tomlin with a 14-10 lead had faith in his defense and was trying to keep Roethlisberger from getting further hurt so he would be healthy for the Patriots game.
If that’s the case, that in a word is WEAK. What Tomlin may have done is cost the Steelers a playoff spot. He also told the media that Roethlisberger “wasn’t medically cleared to return.” Again…WHAT? Now, I recently wrote that there is no arguing Mike Tomlin’s success. His teams have consistently won. But for someone like Mike McCarthy to get fired by the Packers because his team is having a down season yet not a really BAD season (with Sunday’s win now 5-7-1), it’s a head scratcher why when Tomlin pulls a stunt like he did in Oakland by holding back his future Hall of Fame quarterback instead of letting him play to secure an important victory one would think that’s firing material.
Believe you me; I’m not the only one on these thinking lines. On Pittsburgh’s Tribune Review there is a poll asking “Do you want the Steelers to fire Mike Tomlin and replace him with Mike McCarthy?” When I looked at the results this morning, there were 1,684 responses 40% replied to “Yes. Fire Tomlin and hire McCarthy.” 33% voted for “Sort of. Fire Tomin and hire somebody else.” Another 14% obviously like Mike Tomlin and voted for “No. Keep Tomlin.” Then 13% voted for “Bring back Cowher Power!” To cast your vote you can at:
Keep in mind regarding this conversation, the Pittsburgh Steelers have not fired a head coach since 1969. That’s nearly 50 years. Three coaches in 50 years! As much as I like Mike Tomlin as a person, he’s a nice guy, a player’s coach, but he lacks one character in his personality, that’s fire. He does not get angry enough aka Bill Cowher. You need to have some fire on the sidelines and some discipline and put players in their places.
Did you catch Antonio Brown on the sidelines yesterday as the Steelers were about to lose? He gave the impression he didn’t care either way. The Pittsburgh Steelers as a team simply CAN NOT have that kind of attitude. Now, will the Steelers fire Mike Tomlin? I’d say about 99.9% NO. However, there’s that .1% chance and if it were to happen, nothing makes more sense than hiring Mike McCarthy.
Raised in the Greenfield section of Pittsburgh and having graduated from the former Bishop Boyle High school then playing football at Baker University (Kansas), McCarthy makes TOTAL sense as a head coach in the ‘Burgh. He’s from there, he’s a proven winner (his .618 winning percentage with the Packers is just a shade behind Tomlin’s Steelers mark of .657), he’s football smart, he like Tomlin has won a Super Bowl (beating Tomlin in his only appearance), of 18 playoff games he’s won 10.
Mike Tomlin has been to the post season 15 times and won only eight and only one year separates these two head coaches from their tenure with the Steelers and Packers with McCarthy getting his job one year before Tomlin was named coach of the Steelers. Will this happen? Probably not. Should it happen? ABSOLUTELY. It might be due time for a change with Ben Roethlisberger winding down his career, Le’Veon Bell no longer a Steeler, and Steelers Nation craving for another Super Bowl which won’t happen now given the state of the Steelers.
While I can’t to on with much more about this latest loss, I can only hope that Steelers can somehow right the ship in these final three weeks. I’m not expecting that to happen because like I said, I believe they are a “broken” team. Even if they reach the playoffs, I highly doubt they would get by Kansas City or the Chargers. I’m not even confident they would beat Baltimore right now.
As for losing in Oakland AGAIN, Pittsburgh has lost their last four trips there. Consider this, in 2018, Oakland is 3-10 at the moment. In 2013 when the Steelers lost to the Raiders in Oakland, the score was 21-18 and the Raiders would win just FOUR games that year. The season before Oakland beat the Steelers in the third game of the season then would win just three more games the rest of the way to finish with another four victories. Finally, you have the year 2006 and the Raiders were 2-14. Their two victories? Back-to-back wins over Arizona and Pittsburgh which led to nine straight losses to close that season. EMBARRASSING!
One final thought before I give you comments from the coach and players, it seems to me that when a player signs a new big money contract, they then go out and lay an egg. That seems to be the case with Chris Boswell who is have an awful season after having a great season in 2017. He signs a new deal and then forgets how to kick. Said Boswell about his bad day at the office in Oakland:
“Obviously, I slipped a little bit. All I know is I went to plant and ended up on my face. It’s terrible. What else do you want me to say? You just have to keep going. I mean, every kicker, every player, every position goes through kind of a downfall. You just have to find your footing and get back up. Just like any other slump in the world, you just gotta, I mean, keep shooting, keep kicking, keep doing what you’re doing. “He’s (Tomlin) not the only one that’s disappointed. This is a business. You’re valued or looked at on results, and I’m not getting it done right now. Whatever happens from here happens.”
For the record, Chris Boswell this season has missed the uprights on field goal attempts six times and following a touchdown he has five inexcusable missed PATs. Now the excuses after excuses after excuses and explanations that are worthless:
“Tough outcome. It’s nothing mystical. It’s not something that happened to us. It’s something we created. We take responsibility for that. We didn’t make enough plays to win the game. We need to make plays. Not only at the end of the game, just throughout the game. Not making enough significant plays. Not taking enough advantage of opportunities. We have to look at all aspects of what we are doing in an effort to rectify that. Not only what we’re doing, what we’re asking those guys to do, the quality in which we are doing it. All of the above. It’s as simple as that. We have to catch balls we have an opportunity to catch. We have to sustain blocks longer. We have to tackle better. We have to make kicks. Just good fundamental things. We’re not doing it. We’re going to continue to work. We are going to absorb the negativity that comes with our current position. We understand that. We created it. It’s our job to fix it.” “We’ve got to make plays, not only at the end of the game but just throughout the game. Not making enough significant plays, not taking advantage of opportunities.”
“It just frickin’ stinks. These three-point games, it stinks to be on the wrong end of them. As a defense, those are the moments you live for, when it’s all on your shoulders and you want to get the stop. We’re just not getting it. This has happened multiple times, and we’re not coming up in clutch moments. Man, we’ve got to get a stop. You have to collect that as a defense. You’ve got to think, If we get a stop, we end the game. Our quarterback just gave us the lead, and we’re not getting it. Simple as that. We’re not holding up our end of the deal. You better be able to take whatever and keep moving on. We gotta find a way to get over the top. The answers are in this locker room. We gotta find a way to get the W.”
“It’s been brutal, man, I’m not going to lie. Frustration’s definitely setting in, you can see it. It’s tough, man, you put a lot of energy into this sport, a lot of work into it. Losing games like this, everyone taking turns, it’s just tough. Everything’s still ahead of us. We still control it, right? That’s a little silver lining but, yeah, it’s been brutal. We’ll see what this team’s made of next week, for sure. It’s a three-week season, that’s all we got. If you could look back to the beginning of the season and say we’d be at this point now, leading the division still, right? Let’s go get it.”
“Y’all can tell, the whole locker room is sick. The NFL is hard. You can’t just show up when you want to on Sunday and make a play. I believe and trust in the process. I believe in the grind, and I believe practice makes perfect. You play how you practice, and I think we need to take a step back. We’re just gonna take it personal, just continue to work, keep our heads up. We have three more games, three more guaranteed.”
“This one stinks, man, this one hurts. We have no choice. We have to go out there and play our hardest, go out there and execute at a high level. We gotta stop b.s.-ing around. We can’t hope for any other team to lose. The 53 guys we have on our team gotta go out here and win football games.”
“I can put it behind me. Everything happens too fast. We have a game in six-and-a-half days. You can’t harp on it, you definitely have to learn from it but you gotta move on.”
“We all need to look in the mirror and figure out what’s going on. It starts with each individual needs to look inside first.”
“You’ll have winning streaks and losing streaks, just gotta prepare for the next one.”
So, as mentioned, the Steelers could have taken advantage of Baltimore and New England losing last Sunday but NOOOO…they choke in Oakland. Let me run down now my very fast thoughts on the NFL slate of winners.
Titans 30 Jaguars 9
We can’t laugh too much at Jacksonville any more, not after losing to a 2-10 team. Still, Jacksonville’s season is way more disappointing.
Bears 16 Rams 6
Defense wins games right? RIGHT.
Jets 27 Bills 23
Not much worth commenting on here.
Browns 26 Panthers 20
If Cleveland does not hire Mike McCarthy before another team does, they are STUPID.
Packers 34 Falcons 20
A confidence building win for the Pack who has no idea who the permanent next head coach will be.
Colts 24 Texans 21
Andrew Luck is back in form and feeling good and the Texans had the long streak broken. Don’t underestimate Indianapolis.
Chiefs 27 Ravens 24
Kansas City is no guarantee but they need to break that playoff curse. Could this be the year?
Dolphins 34 Patriots 33
Miami not only pulls off the longest touchdown score in NFL history with no time left on the clock, they also do it with the ole “pitch and catch” routine of lateraling to get down field. The funny part of the final play is watching Rob Gronkowski trying to make a game saving tackle as the highlight goes viral and he is being made fun of all over the internet. Unfortunately, New England may take out their frustration and anger on the Steelers at Heinz Field next Sunday.
Saints 28 Buccaneers 14
The Saints keep marching on…
Giants 40 Redskins 16
This shows you the result of not having a solid third string quarterback especially when his name is Sanchez..
Chargers 26 Bengals 21
Close but no cigar Bengals. Your nightmarish season as well is coming to an end in less than a month.
49ers 20 Broncos 14
Why is it teams can’t win games when they should?
Lions 17 Cardinals 3
Both teams building for 2019.
Cowboys 29 Eagles 23
There will be a NEW Super Bowl champion this season and Dallas continues to take advantage of one of the dumbest trades of the year, Amari Cooper to the Cowboys.
Watch it if you must...
IThe Pittsburgh Steelers hit the road this week and go west to take on the 2-10 Oakland Raiders.
For Ben Roethlisberger, he will try to achieve a first. If the Steelers are victorious, it will be Big Ben’s first triumph against the Raiders IN OAKLAND. The last victory in their stadium for Pittsburgh was in 1995, Oakland’s first year back from their venture in Los Angeles.
Since then, there has been three subsequent games in the Black Hole and the Steelers have lost all three (2006, 2012, 2013). These two teams have not met since November 8, 2015 when Pittsburgh won a squeaker 38-35. These two teams know each other well however.
Back in the 1970s, Oakland and Pittsburgh were bitter rivals and there was absolutely no love affair between the two teams that saw games in which the play was BRUTAL. Just ask Lynn Swann who took a forearm to the head from Jack Tatum on a play he was not even involved in. It was so vicious that the then Steelers head coach Chuck Noll wanted to press criminal charges.
From 1970 through 1984, the Steelers and Oakland played each other in the playoffs six times and each won three times. Five of those games came between 1972 and 1976, a period that saw the Steelers win two Super Bowls. The playoff experience for these two facing each other began with perhaps the most famous game in the history of the NFL.
On December 23, 1972, it was the “Immaculate Reception” that knocked the Raiders out of the playoffs and forever more, Franco Harris and this game went down in NFL lore. The Raiders would get some revenge on December 26, 1976 when the advanced to the Super Bowl by beating the Steelers in Oakland 24-7. That game was marked however with the fact the neither Franco Harris or Rocky Bleier could play because of injuries and thus the Steelers’ offense was very limited.
Some say that 1976 team was Pittsburgh’s best ever. Overall, Oakland and Pittsburgh have met 28 times and the Raiders between Oakland and Los Angeles have won 15 of those games. 10 games have come in Oakland and the Steelers have only won half. This season though, the Raiders are AWFUL.
Since 2010, the two teams have played four times and split. Pittsburgh won the last one, Oakland the two previous and in 2010, the Steelers won 35-3. There has only been one shutout between these two teams and it was the Raiders who threw that one on September 29, 197 when they were the victors in Pittsburgh 17-0.
Pittsburgh’s last victory over Oakland in 2015 were the most points (38) they have ever scored on Oakland while the Raiders high was a 45-34 victory in 1980. Currently, the Raiders are 22nd in the NFL in overall offense, 28th in overall defense. Pittsburgh ranks much higher in both.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
James Conner is out so now we get to see what rookie Jaylen Samuels can do with Stephen Ridley backing him up. The receivers are still intact so no problem there. Ben Roethlisberger will see how effective the running game is but he will be throwing it around for sure.
The Oakland defense is nothing to write home about so the Steelers SHOULD have their way. Oakland is giving up lots of points and the Steelers can score at will.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Derek Carr is certainly not enjoying this season. He lost a big weapon in Amari Cooper and winning only two games thus far does no good for any team. Pittsburgh’s defense has played better and this Oakland offense does not lose a threat on paper to them.
When you face a team that is playing as poorly as the Raiders are, there is always the danger of “playing down” to your opponent. It’s called a trap game and hopefully that’s not the case for Pittsburgh. This is a game the Steelers should not lose. Jon Gruden was supposed to be a savior and instead he has the Raiders in a 2-10 spot. The Steelers should use this game as a warm up and improvement game for the two HUGE games coming up on their schedule with New England and New Orleans.
I am on the same two game losing streak the Steelers are having picked them to win in the last two games. I’m going to do that again and I I am wrong again but if the Steelers lose they don’t belong in any playoff game. Steelers 41 Raiders 13.
For your curious mind...now my NFL picks.
Jacksonville at Tennessee
When the NFL released the schedules back in May, this was thought to be an important playoff impactful game. That isn’t the case not even close. 6-6 Tennessee takes on a Jaguars team that has benched their starting quarterback and lost seven of its last eight. Titans 24 Jaguars 13.
New York Jets at Buffalo
Ho hum…Bills 31 Jets 21.
Carolina at Cleveland
You would think the Panthers are looking at an easy game. Not so. Browns 27 Panthers 24.
Atlanta at Green Bay
The first game without Mike McCarthy on the sidelines and two teams facing adversity and experiencing a very down season. Packers 41 Falcons 27.
Baltimore at Kansas City
There is no catching the Chiefs and their playoff seeding for the Pittsburgh Steelers so we all must root for the home team to keep the Ravens at bay. Chiefs 33 Ravens 28.
New England at Miami
The Steelers might be able to snag the Patriots’ playoff seeding if Pittsburgh can win out and the Dolphins can pull the upset. Dolphins 30 Patriots 27.
New Orleans at Tampa Bay
The Bucs are playing better again but the Saints want to show that the Dallas game was a fluke. Saints 35 Buccaneers 17.
New York Giants at Washington
Eli Manning vs. Mark Sanchez? LOL! Redskins 17 Giants 14.
Indianapolis at Houston
The Texans can make it 10 in a row with a win. Andrew Luck wants to see his offense just score after getting shut out last weekend in Jacksonville. Texans 30 Colts 24.
Cincinnati at Los Angeles Chargers
The “Bungals” (they’ve earned that nickname AGAIN) are a mess. Chargers are dangerous. Chargers 47 Bengals 10.
Denver at San Francisco
Emmanuel Sanders is done for 2018. That’s a shame. The 49ers wish this was the final game of the season. Broncos 30 49ers 14.
Philadelphia at Dallas
This game might determine who wins the division. The Cowboys have come alive since obtaining Amari Cooper winning four in a row. Cowboys 28 Eagles 21.
Detroit at Arizona
Arizona had their “Super Bowl” last week beating Green Bay. Detroit just keeps sinking deeper. Cardinals 29 Lions 27.
Los Angeles at Chicago
If Mitch Trubisky returns from injury the game might be interesting. I’m not sold on the Rams despite their record. I believe it’s more of a case that there are just a handful of really good teams this season. Still, they should win this one with or without Trubisky. Rams 28 Bears 17.