Monday, February 7, 2011

Packers Win XLV, Pittsburgh Sofas Still at Risk

Steelers fans are miserable now, furious that the Steelers lost Super Bowl XLV and while the Steelers did their part to spit the bit, the narrative that the Steelers lost it, implies that the Packers didn't win it, that they were just passive recipients of the Steelers noblesse oblige. It denies the Packers agency in their own victory and that's just not cool. So allow me, for a moment, to write about how the Packers went about winning the game.

The best defense on the field was in green and yellow, not black and gold.
They were opportunistic, they sensed the big moments and responded. And they forced some of Pittsburgh's mistakes.

Exhibit One. Nick Collins' pick six was forced by Green Bay pressure. Somebody, and I'm not sure who, hit Pig Ben's arm as he was releasing the ball. Mike Wallace had a step or two on his man and had Ben hit him, he might have been gone. Instead, because of the hit, the ball fluttered out like a lame, dying dodo bird into Collins' arms. He did the rest. Whoever it was who beat Chris Kemeoatu like a wet noodle to get to Pig Ben, deserves a ton of credit on that play.

Exhibit Two. I've crushed Mendenhall in the past for his fumbling problems and after a season that was happily devoid of many fumbles, it came back to bite him last night. Still, I'm not going to pin it all on Mendenhall. He had the ball high and tight; Clay Matthews made a great play to hit him right in his elbow and force the ball out. Not that somebody couldn't have blocked Matthews. Not that Mendenhall couldn't have been alert enough to shout out "Ball! Ball! Ball!" when the ball popped loose to alert his oblivious linemen, rather than laying there like startled mannequin. Sigh. But truly the fumble itself was at least 80% Matthews.

In short, the Packers defense scored and then set their offense up to score some more. That's not just Steelers screw ups -- that's Packers' agency.

The Packers offense pounced.
When your defense hands you gifts, as an offense it is incumbent upon you to unwrap those gifts, squeal with delight and model those gifts while parading around like one of the Housewives of Orange County parading around in her new boobs.

Rogers stuck his chest out and turned both Steelers turnovers into touchdowns. Not field goals, but touchdowns. After the Jarrett Bush interception, Rogers took over at his own 47. Four plays later, he hit Greg Jennings in the endzone. After the Mendenhall fumble, the Pack had the ball at their own 45. Eight plays later, Rogers hit Jennings for another touchdown. Despite a slew of his receivers dropping balls, Rogers stared down the Steelers defense and didn't blink.

Life Rule Applies to Football Too: Timing Is Everything.
Although I find it hard to blame Mendenhall for his fumble, the timing could not have been worse. The offense had clawed their way back to within four-points of the Packers, the defense had held four times through the 3rd quarter, and special teams had flip-flopped field position after the idiocy of the 52 yard field goal attempt. So with the team driving, with a second down and short at Green Bay's 33 yard line, it looked like they might even take the lead in the game and pull off a miracle.

Then somebody misses a block on Matthews, he forces the fumble and it was one of those moments that will always cause Steelers fans to feel sick and empty, while Wisconsinite will think back on that play with warn fuzzy feelings in their private parts. It was too much, finally, too much for the Steelers to overcome.Mistakes Are Magnified.
Somebody much smarter than I did a breakdown of turnover differential in Super Bowls. It is hard to win a regular season game when you've lost the turnover battle; in the Super Bowl, it is virtually impossible. Mistakes are magnified, they somehow take on a life of their own, they go viral, grow exponentially, until the weight of them crushes you, leaving dreams of glory squashed like gnat under Casey Hampton's butt. Teams that have won the turnover battle, even if it's just by one turnover, are 32-3 in the Super Bowl. Well, now I guess that's 33-3 for the team winning the turnover differential battle.

No More Rabbits Out of the Helmets.
All year, the Steelers have been a team that made a big play (or two) when they needed one. You can look through nearly all of their close wins this season and pick out just one or two plays that basically won the game for them.

Against the Falcons, it was Troy's amazing INT on the sidelines and Mendenhall's overtime dash.

Against the Bengals, it was James Harrison knocking the ball out of Jordan Shipley's grip to seal the victory.

Against the Ravens in Baltimore, it was Troy's amazing strip sack and Redman's great run through tacklers into the endzone for the winning score.

Against the Bengals the second time around, Troy's pick six did the job.

Against the Bills, Troy made an amazing interception (and they had some help from Stevie Johnson's drop).

Against the Ravens in the playoffs, Harrison went on a complete tear for two series in the 3rd quarter and then Pig Ben had his huge throw to Antonio Brown on 3rd and 18.

Against the Jets, Ike Taylor's strip fumble and Pig Ben hooking up, again, with Brown were the story of that game.

Just one or two plays. A big play from Pig Ben. A big play from James Harrison. Next thing you know, the Steelers have won. And they count on that magic from those three guys -- Troy and Harrison and Pig Ben. And a few others, no doubt, but primarily, those are the big three. Last night, they needed at least one of those three guys to make a transcendent play -- just one amazing, game turning play, the kind those players seem to always produce. Troy was nowhere to be found, with just three tackles, no quarterback hits, no sacks, no interceptions, no turnovers, not even any tackles for losses.

Harrison had a couple of plays, but he was unable to force a ball loose, pick off a pass, or get to the quarterback on a key third down.

Pig Ben threw some of the worst passes of his career (and probably wants the one back where he overthrew a wide open Mike Wallace, more than any other.) To his credit, Ben got the Steelers back into the game, was a huge part of the recovery team that dug them out of the mine shaft he had helped to put them in in the first place. During the two minute drill, such as it was, he morphed into Kordell Stewart, rather than his usual clutch self and it all fell apart.

And that, my friends, is what happens when the guys who make magic run out of fairy dust, are rendered human, frail and vulnerable by a team good enough and smart enough to withstand a few shots to the chin and midsection and keep on firing, a team capable of making some magical plays of its own.

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