To put it simply, Thursday night’s win over the Cleveland Browns demonstrated exactly what this incarnation of the Steelers are all about: toughness on defense, an explosive offense, and a quarterback that simply won’t quit.
The moment Ben left the game, I knew he was coming back. I was sure of it. That’s the type of player he’s become. Someone that can experience a horrifying high ankle sprain, and leave no doubt that he’d return.
But he did more than just simply come back into the game. He played just like he always does, only on one leg for the second half. His receivers bailed him out big time; Antonio Brown’s excellence has already been discussed ad nauseum on this blog. But it was his perseverance that inspired a team that was lagging.
True to form, the game was uneven and downright odd at points. For whatever reason, the short week seems to wreak havoc with Pittsburgh, and the absence of guys like Woodley surely didn’t help.
Uncharacteristic fumbles by Hines and Heath also really held things back for the offense, but Mendenhall and the offensive line stepped up to make a difference on the ground.
Things definitely looked a little rocky with Batch in the game, but the defense made it clear that they wouldn’t be allowing anything. Even the much-maligned William Gay played a good game, highlighted by his big interception in the end zone.
Jason Worilds had the best game of his young career as well, as he recorded two sacks and piled up nine tackles. His emergence has definitely made Woodley’s absence considerably less meaningful.
More than anything, this game had a sense of inevitability to it. Roethlisberger did what he does best, while Brown continued to show that he is more than capable of stepping up when the opposing defense keys on Wallace.
The win wasn’t particularly meaningful beyond the injuries to Ben and Pouncey, but I want to discuss the main story of the game: Harrison’s hit on Colt McCoy.
He will surely receive the largest fine for an in-game play in NFL history for this. That’s pretty much a given at this point. Goodell’s ridiculous enforcement of these rules ensures that he’ll be seen as a “repeat offender” and will be fined accordingly.
The question becomes if he’ll be suspended or not. I don’t think the league will go that far; Harrison is a former defensive player of the year and one of the most electrifying players on an extremely popular team after all.
But the fact that this is even a question makes me sick. Harrison and McCoy were barreling towards each other at full speed, yet somehow the burden falls on Harrison to lower his shoulder in the split second he has to react?
It’s ridiculous. It’s impossible to legislate plays like this out of the game, no matter how hard Goodell may try. The NFL has made its bed by creating an environment that rewards physical play, and now they have to lie in it.
I love that Harrison and Tomlin remain unapologetic. This is how football is played, and there’s nothing to do about it. Fine them all you want, commissioner.
The larger issue to examine is that McCoy returned to the game after the hit. He says he doesn’t even remember the hit, and NFL concussion policies are pretty clear that any loss of consciousness requires significant testing, and that normally means a player can’t return to action. What was Pat Shurmur thinking? It was late in a relatively meaningless game- why risk your starter’s health?
Yet the fact that Harrison struck him “illegally” is receiving more attention. Just more of the same from the hypocritical NFL.
More importantly, the Steelers now have a nice long time to rest up until they face the 49ers on Monday night. What appeared to be a nice easy victory at the start of the year now looks imposing, especially with the starting quarterback and center’s health in question.
But I have total confidence in the two of them. Ben has played with worse, and Pouncey was in the game even as reporters were busy listing his return as questionable. Even if Legursky has to be in there handing the ball off, he’s proved that he’s a more than able replacement.
Even if these two play, this will still be a significant test for the team. Will the defense be able to effectively contain Frank Gore and force Alex Smith to make mistakes? Will the receivers be able to make enough big plays to offset San Fran’s run defense?
On the first Monday night game of the year for the team, I can’t wait to find out.
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