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Bleeding Black and Gold: OFFICIALLY, A HUGE WIN

November 4, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

The score: Pittsburgh 23, New York 20

The headline: EARNING THEIR STRIPES: Steelers overcome horrid officiating, their own blunders, to outlast Giants

The bottom line: After looking all but dead a few weeks ago, we’re starting to get THAT feeling again about the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Sunday, they absolutely dominated a Giants team, considered by many to be the NFC Super Bowl favorite, in every aspect of the game and overcame four mistakes by the officials and several mistakes of their own to zoom from behind in the fourth quarter and win a critical game that positions them to make a November run on the AFC North top spot.

It was over when: Isaac Redman reeled off the last of his 147 yards – many of them on second, third and fourth effort – to pick up a critical first down just before the two-minute warning that allowed the Steelers to go to victory formation with the Giants out of timeouts.

Play of the day (maybe year): Mike Wallace was having a typical Mike Wallace day – a dropped first down, a duck out of bounds on a play where there was yardage available inside, a botched route on a sack that took the Steelers out of FG range late in the first half – when he showed absolutely otherworldly jets and turned a simple crossing route into a game-changing 51-yard touchdown that got the Steelers within three early in the fourth quarter.

Zebra hunting:

+ We’ll begin with the botched fumble call by Bill Leavy that resulted in a Giants TD, a call that everyone in the world, except Phil Simms, knows was wrong (although we expect the NFL to back the call, as well). All that fans, players and coaches want is consistency. We’ve seen that play dozens of times in the past 15 years and we know what it is. Just get it right. Don’t invent something that isn’t there.

+ The same goes on the horrid roughing call on Ryan Clark that resulted in a +4 for the Giants. We understand officials are under a lot of strain and scrutiny with the new rules, but follow a simple rule: If you don’t see it, don’t call it. Don’t THINK you saw it. See it. It’s that simple.

+ Also, we’d be willing to bet there was no flag thrown on the obvious clip on Heath Miller on the Giants’ TD return because the six other officials weren’t fully engaged in the play because they were sure it was coming back.

+ If you’re a regular reader, you know how we feel about pass interference in the NFL. It’s a joke, with some teams (ahem, 2011 Ravens) building their whole offense around the bomb-and-hope theory of vertical passing. There are enough rules in the NFL favoring the offense. Change PI to a 15-yard penalty and watch the officials get it right more consistently as it becomes just another call for them and not a game changer that they choke on.

Game mismanagement:

+ Oh my Lord, Mike Tomlin, what are you thinking? First, we have no problem with a fake FG, just not in THAT situation. Teams rarely try to block a 19-yard field goal. There’s no aggressiveness to take advantage of. Also and more importantly, it’s 18 freakin’ inches! If you need 18 inches and you want to get it, you do that with your humongous quarterback or your hulking halfback, not with a kicker that my brother affectionately refers to as “The Dainty One.” Tomlin cannot get out of his own way on game day and, despite popular opinion, this is not a new issue. It started in his rookie season with an insane two-point conversion decision that cost the Steelers a playoff game against Jacksonville at Heinz Field.

+ Tomlin’s second-half challenge was iffy, at best. Not because of the play involved, but because it happened on second down and by “winning” the challenge he left the Giants with a 3rd-and-1 play in comfortable field goal range. In other words, there was nowhere near enough REWARD involved to merit the RISK of the challenge. And yes, the call on the play was obviously poor and winning the challenge seemed likely, except for the fact that we just watched the same officials blow four obvious calls in the first half.

Hot topics:

+ The Steelers are slowly and surely fixing their long-standing offensive line woes. And it starts with the work Willie Colon is doing at guard, where he is absolutely a road grader in the running game and has cleaned up the early-season holds on pass plays. At right tackle, rookie Mike Adams has been surprising good, and accounted for himself well Sunday against the best front four in football. Ramon Foster is making it very easy for Pittsburgh to allow David DeCastro to fully heal from his knee injury, and no matter how many times they try to get rid of him, Max Starks just keeps coming back and making plays. And, almost forgot, the center is an All Pro is he can stay healthy.

+ Conversely, a funny thing has happened to the Steelers defense. They’ve become a top-ranked unit in the league without sacks or really many splash plays of any kind. Give Dick LeBeau credit for figuring out how to work with personnel who don’t match his favorite schemes. A huge part of Pittsburgh’s defensive surge has been the play of Will Allen in place of Troy Polamalu (and Ryan Mundy).

+ Special teams are suddenly becoming a high point, with big returns, few flags and great kick coverage. Think what the score might have been if Pittsburgh had scored any points at all off the three long returns (two by Chris Rainey, one by Emmanuel Sanders) in the game.

In the booth:

+ Mispeaking is a common faux pas for NFL announcers, but Phil Simms reeled off a doozy (and dated himself) in the second quarter when he noted “Mike Tomczak” was excited about the play of the Steelers offensive line.

+ CBS’s failure to retain an officiating expert was an obvious embarrassment again. First, Simms waffled on opining on all the bad calls initially. And why shouldn’t he? He doesn’t really know the rules in any depth. Then, after all the other network’s experts already had weighed in via Twitter and called out Leavy for blowing the tuck rule call, Simms tried to rewrite history and declared it a good call because the ball moved ever so slightly in Roethlisberger’s hand before he CLEARLY REGAINED CONTROL OF IT in completing the throwing motion.

A word from our sponsors: This is not a political statement, but that miner from Rockwood in the Tea Party Tom Smith commercial is a strong candidate for Yinzer of the Year.

Sweet tweet: “@15MinutesBlog: Commish in attendance, obviously wearing one of those Buffalo Wild Wings headsets. #Steelers #Giants #GoodellMustGo.” (Tweeter’s note: This became the most retweeted tweet in @15MinutesBlog history, surpassing last summer’s Jerry Meals classic: “Making toast in the bathtub because #JerryMealsSaysItsSafe.”)

Next week: The Steelers welcome their old friend Romeo Crennel and the struggling Kansas City Chiefs back to Heinz Field for a Monday night instant classic. The Chiefs basically have two players who can beat you – Jamaal Charles and Tamba Hali or “this guy” and “this guy” as Gruden will refer to them – and the Steelers can not, repeat, can not let them hang around into the fourth quarter of that game, likely played without Antonio Brown (no such thing as a “minor high ankle sprain”) and Chris Rainey on top of the other injuries. We’ll say it now, same thing applied in the Titans game, has to be touchdowns instead of field goals, and that’s on #7.

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