The agony of victory....a.k.a. picking my jaw up off the floor

Allright. I've now had nearly 24 hours (although its taken me a couple of days to complete this post) to calm down, reflect upon and digest the improbable gut wrenching game yesterday in which the heavily favored Colts lost to the Steelers 21-18.

I wrote last year of not being as emotionally attached to the Steelers as I have been in the past. I wrote last week of how I thought that I might be spending too much valuable time following the Steelers, especially since I have absolutely no control over the outcome of their games. Let me just say this: yesterday's game was probably in the top five emotionally draining, and ultimately gratifying, experiences of my life. Ouside of my wedding and the birth of my two sons, I can't remember being as nervous, deflated, joyful, stunned and exhilirated as I was yesterday----all withing about a ten minute stretch of seemingly neverending time! What could have been a devestating loss to live with in the offseason (and, forever, for Jerome Bettis), turned out to be relief at overcoming fateful occurances and respect at witnessing an excellently planned and executed game plan.

I am happy for every Steeler player and fan, but I am most happy for Jerome Bettis. If his career would have ended on "that play", he would forever be linked with Bill Buckner and Scott Norwood. In an understatement, that would have been a damn shame for someone who is almost universally revered in the NFL, let alone the city of Pittsburgh. Even knowing the eventual outcome of the game, I still shudder when I think of that ball popping out of his trusting arm at the goal line. Thank you, Ben Roth, for saving a large part of Jerome's legacy with your hustling awareness and tackle.

Here are some of my random observations:

On the Polamalu (non) interception
This has to be one of the strangest replay reversals in NFL history. Thank God it didn't alter the eventual outcome of the game. I don't really know how to interpret the rule of a "football move", but I think 99% of the viewing world thinks that Troy P. caught that ball. I certainly don't see how there was overwhelming visual evidence that he did not catch the ball. Pete Morelli's (a.k.a. "the zebra") explaination was lame. Because he still had a knee on the ground, and lost control of the ball? I really do wonder, in revisionist history of the grandest kind, if a Colt player would have recovered the ball after Troy dropped it and ran it in for a touchdown, would it have been overruled? Doubtful. I've seen many funny stories around the papers today about the absurdity of the call. It's easy to laugh at it since it did not alter the final outcome. Thankfully us Steeler fans do not have to live with a "tuck rule" interpreted rule that seemed to come out of nowhere at the most inopportune time.

On the officiating in general (throughout the weekend)
I'm not willing to jump on the Joey Porter tin-foil-hat bandwagon, but the Steelers clearly got hozed in their game. And, to be fair, Indy could have had a few calls go their way. I think the biggest gift given to the Steelers was a generous spot after the QB sneak on 4th and inches at midfield. It did not look to me like he made it, even after Bettis shoved him forward. The play prior to that was even more baffling. All of the sudden there are three Colts in the Steelers backfiled. Now, I can see either a false start or an offside call. Either way, there were guys contacting each other, so something had to be called. But, those brave zebras decided to declare the first do-over in modern NFL history. They simply stopped the play, dropped zero flags, made an announcement that Pittsburgh didn't move and Indy didn't contact anyone, so let's play more football.......ha, if only they knew what awaited them.

New England also got screwed, I believe at least twice. The P.I. call was bogus. I seriously wonder what that guy, who was standing 20 yards away was thinking as he held that flag in his hands for a full three seconds prior to delivering it to the field. In comedic relief, you could see some of the other refs appear to try to talk bone-head out of making the call, but he wouldn't budge. Devner gets ball on one, touchdown next play. This added to their 3 points generated from a long field goal that should have been longer due to a false start non call. However, the play (call) of the game was Champ Baily's "TD" runback. How that couldn't have been ruled a touchback, I will never know. First of all, they talk all the time about the plane of the end zone extending out past the pileons. The ball should not be ruled out of bounds until it lands out of bounds. This ball was popped forward out of Baily's hand almost directly over the pile on, which is part of the end zone. So, ball into endzone, ball out of endzone......touchback, New England ball on their own 20.

On Bettis
Not only would "the fumble" have redefined Bettis's legacy, it would have wiped out an otherwise outstanding effort by Jerome during the game. He was instrumental in what proved to be the winning drive and scored what proved to be the winning touchdown. His effort on both fourth down conversions was outstanding: first, pushing Roethisberger past the marker after he had initially been stopped, and second, converting the next fourth down by conventionally running it off tackle for a yard. He is clearly not just a figurehead on this team. He is contributing in big ways at big times. I would hand the ball off to him a thousand times in a row in that same situation at the goal line.......

CBS has been fond of showing Bettis's parents several times over the past few games. Ha! I wonder what a shot of them would have revealed after the fumble. Ooooo, I shudder to think of it....
On the Steeler defense
What an inspired effort!! Really, the defense played quite well the first time the Steelers and Colts tangled this season, even though the Steelers got beat 26-7. During the first game, only a long play at the beginning of the game and a short field after an ill advised onside kick allowed the Colts to score touchdowns. I'm glad for Dick LaBeau. He came up with a perfect game plan. Many people say he copied it off San Diego, who got it from New England. But, I think there was a lot of original LaBeau in Sunday's game. Disguising blitzes has always been his trademark. I was glad to see the Steelers jamming the receivers at the line of scrimmage. I think that threw off their timing, and causes many of Manning's passes to look like he didn't even know where he was throwing. Seriously, there were about 5 plays where he missed a receiver by more than ten yards. Joey Porter has really come around the past couple of games. I think his injuries earlier in the season really slowed him down. He was on his game Sunday. Casey Hampton is awesome, and it was cool watching him run down Peyton Manning in the end zone for an almost-safety. Then, on the next play, I think it should have been called a safety, but they gave Manning forward progress at the one foot line. Of course, the most inspirational effort by the defense came after "The Fumble." Many of the defensive players were over on the sideline celebrating what appeared to be an imminent victory, when, low and behold, Indy all of the sudden has the ball at midfield with over a minute to play, and three timeouts. McFadden made a tremendous play on the shot to the end-zone to Wayne, which turned out to be the second to last play (before the field goal), since Indy failed to convert on third down. I'm not sure why they didn't run Edge on that third and two, but I'm glad they didn't.

On the Steeler offense
Also an excellent game plan. I'm so glad Cowher allowed the plan to come out throwing. While I wish they would have not gone so conservative in the second half, part of me wonders if Ben's arm was not hurt pretty badly when he got hit on the tricep in the third quarter. He basically didn't attempt a pass of more than ten yards the rest of the game after that play. Pittsburgh's running game was awesome in the second half (despite the fumble), and chewed up valuable clock time. The consecucutive fourth down conversions were awesome!! Going for it on fourth down----very Belichek-like of Cowher. I liked it! Everyone had a solid offensive game. Even though Marvel Smith got beat by Dwight Freeney several times, he wasn't completely beat by him the whole game, like many feared would happen. What is amazing is that the Steelers were -2 in the turnover margin, and still won. And, take away the final fluke plays in the last five minutes, and the Steelers won convincingly.

On Manning
It is no secret that I don't like this guy. After the game, he gave me another reason to dislike him. He basically called out his offensive line for not giving him enough protection, saying something to the effect of "I don't want to be a bad teammate, but....." Let me just say, anytime those words are uttered, you are already a bad teammate. Not only do I dislike Manning as a football player, I also think he is too one dimensional. It will be interesting to see how well Indy does next year after losing some key players. I will grant Manning one thing. He is a great quarterback despite the fact that he has never won a Super Bowl. He still may get there, although I suspect his window of opportunity is closing quickly---like Donovan McNabb's. Remember--Elway didn't win until his final two years. Of course, many great QBs never won Super Bowls. And, many otherwise average quarterbacks have won them (anyone remember Doug Williams?) Lack of a Super Bowl will not tarnish Manning's legacy any more than it did Marino's, or Bettis's, if the Steelers don't get the job done this year.

On Dungy
Simply put, this is the classiest guy in the NFL. He is nearly universally respected and revered. He is another one that doesn't have to worry about never winning a Super Bowl. I think Dungy will always be remembered as a great coach, and I think he will have a job in the NFL for as long as he wants one. Fortunately, he already has his own Super Bowl ring from his playing days. I also like him because he is a "Pittsburgh" guy. Of course, all of this could be said prior to his recent family tragedy. His public response to such a personal pain makes him even more inspirational to me. I hope he comes back. And, I hope he wins. I just wish he didn't coach the Colts.

On the AFC Championship game
File this under "be careful what you wish for", but clearly the Broncos are happy that they are playing the Steelers instead of the Colts and the Steelers are happy that they are playing the Broncos instead of the Patriots. The two teams did not meet in the regular season. Both have strong running games and good defenses. It ought to be a good one.

Last, but not least, how about this guy. I don't think I was far from the same thing.

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