Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Steelers: On to the AFC Championship!

Some how in yesterday's game with the Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense pulled its head out of its collective butt in time to capitalize on some Baltimore third-quarter turnovers and put one more TD on the board than their opponents. Will miracles ever cease? I hope not.

The text messages were flying back and forth with unbridled fury last evening. During most of the year, I rarely use more than the half the 500 free text messages my cell phone plan awards me each month. During the NFL season, 500 is sometimes not enough. My free message bank took a severe hit yesterday. All of my Steelers-loyalist buddies, you see, live in other states. Nearly every Steelers offensive drive and defensive accomplishment requires tapping out messages to my personal "Steelers Nation." Yesterday's game required more texting than most.

I won't bore you here with all the details. If you were truly interested, you would have watched the game, right? Suffice it to say, by half time I was thoroughly dispirited. Although the game was broadcast on CBS and I could have watched it from the familiar comfort of my favorite recliner in my living room, I decided to check out a local joint that I had never visited. It was a restaurant I had heard about, that looked interesting, but is only open from 4:30 PM until 11:30 PM Monday through Saturday. Moreover, I had a Steelers-loyalist acquaintance tell me that any time a game was televised during its business hours, this joint was all Steelers.

Because the city of Greenville bans smoking in restaurants, and a number of restaurants in the county voluntarily follow suit, it's easy to forget that smoking is permitted in those restaurants in the county that so choose. To my dismay, this joint was one of those. The owner is this weather-beaten, unfiltered cigarette-smokin' old dude who wears a black eye patch; I kid you not. Before the game even began, I texted a buddy, who had expressed some interest in coming out to watch the game, that I would be relocating at half time because of the smoke. He just quit smoking last week; a smoke-filled bar was not the ideal spot for him.

Not only did I have to deal with the smoking, the guy who told me this was a "Steelers" joint for the games was dreaming. Not only was I the only Steelers fan in the place, I was the only person really interested in the game. It was not fun. Then to have the Steelers offense crumble after the first 10 minutes was almost more than I could stand.

Two plays in particular took the wind out of my sails. The first was when Roethlisberger had the ball knocked out of his hand at his own 13-yard line, and with not one Steeler realizing that the play hadn't been whistled dead, Cory Redding of the Ravens scooped the ball up and skipped into the end zone as the Steelers offense milled around in a stupor. Are you kidding me? What is this, Pop Warner?

The second first-half play that I thought had ominous implications was the 45-yard missed field goal by freshman Steeler Shaun Suisham. A 45-yard kick is not a gimme by any stretch, but he was successful kicking longer during the regular season. He came to Pittsburgh with a reputation for choking in the big games, which is why he was available to join the Steelers in the first place. This miss certainly didn't reassure me. With the offense playing so erratically (They did have a great opening drive that put seven points on the board.), I figured they would need his leg.

I took advantage of halftime to drive home. The game was two minutes into the third quarter when I snapped on the TV. By now, I had already sent texts to my Steelers peeps that I didn't see how, with the way they were playing, this Steelers offense could somehow put 15 more points on the board than the Ravens in the second half. That was the minimum needed to overtake the Ravens lead. With one of the toughest defenses in the NFL and an offense that rarely turned over the ball, the Ravens seemed to have built an insurmountable lead.

Midway through the third quarter I was receiving texts of "See!" and "I told you so!" from my friends. By the quarter's end, I was back among the believers. The Ravens melt-down was of biblical proportions and truly awesome to witness. Moreover, the Steelers offense made the most of it.

As a Steelers fan, here is what I find positive about that game:
  • In November I wrote in this space that the Steelers wouldn't get far in the playoffs because the offense didn't seem capable of scoring a touchdown. You can't get to a Super Bowl, let alone win one, 3 points at a time. In the last three games, the offense has scored 12 TDs. It would seem they have found their groove.
  • Despite the Ravens scoring 24 points, the Steelers defense played a great game. One of the Ravens TDs was scored with the Steelers offense on the field. And the Ravens second quarter score came after the Steelers offense coughed up the ball inside the Ravens Red Zone. At the end of the first half, Baltimore had scored 21 points with less than 100 net yards of offense. They only had 126 net yards of offense for the entire game. That's some tough D.

As the Steelers bask in their win and I nosh on some crow, I look forward to the Jets/Patriots game. Go Jets!

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