Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Recounting Steelers' day of twists and turns

Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, 9:12 p.m.

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (Getty Images)

CLEVELAND — If, in the next few weeks, these Steelers — a sixth seed like their “one for the thumb” brethren from a decade ago — also have run along the road to an anniversary Super Bowl, nobody will remember how close coach Mike Tomlin's team came to missing out on the postseason fun.

Real close.

Who cares, though?

The Steelers are in the playoffs.

They could win the Super Bowl. (They could also lose their first playoff game for a third time since losing their last Super Bowl.)

Right now, who cares about what the Steelers could do, anyway?

We should simply enjoy the show.

The Steelers are sure going to give us one. Or four.

So, maybe stock up more on Alka-Seltzer than Iron City.

If Sunday was any indication — heck, if a season's worth of Steelers Sundays, Steelers Mondays and a Steelers Thursdays has taught us anything — it's that the Steelers will turn our stomachs and turn us on, and make us want to turn off the television.

They'll do all of it at once, sometimes a couple of times a half.

They did it Sunday where the Cuyahoga River once caught fire.

The Steelers needed their 28-12 win over the Browns. They also needed the Bills' 22-17 victory over the New York Jets in Buffalo.

Sounds simple now.

Looked anything but between 1 and 4:10 p.m.

At 1:30 p.m., the Bills jumped ahead, 7-0, in Buffalo. Three minutes later in Cleveland, “Bad” Ben Roethlisberger re-emerged, throwing the first of his two interceptions against the Browns, who would convert the turnover into a field goal that cut the Steelers' lead to 7-3.

Whatever Steeler Nation was feeling, that feeling turned to dismay at 1:48 p.m., when running back DeAngelo Williams grabbed at his left ankle. He was done, and for a second consecutive AFC wild-card game, Roethlisberger could be handing off to a running back of which most of us have never heard.

But that is an angle for another day.

Any more days like Sunday, and the Steelers might lack running backs and a breathing majority among their Nation.

By 2:10 p.m., the Jets had pulled to within 13-7 of the Bills.

Who else wondered if a missed point-after-touchdown kick in Buffalo would ruin a January in Pittsburgh? A lot of people, probably, given the Steelers led the Browns only 7-6 at 2:13 p.m.

Ten minutes later, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown hooked up for a 17-yard touchdown. When the clock showed 2:29 p.m., the Bills had added a field goal, extending their lead to 16-7.

Halftimes were needed.

Also needed: aspirin or whisky.


In Cleveland, the third quarter was finished at 3:22 p.m. The Steelers were up, 17-9.

Were the NFL the English Premier League, fans would have been better served.

England's top soccer league contests all of its final day's games at the same time. The NFL should follow suit, and reward its audience by airing those games across the various networks that are part of the CBS, NBC, FOX and ESPN families.

Instead, at 3:24 p.m. on Sunday, a lot of people in Pittsburgh couldn't flip from a commercial break to the Jets-Bills game.

TV rules. Who needs them?

An Eric Decker touchdown — the drive was driven by the Jets' receiver — had cut the Bills' lead to 19-17. Making matters worse, the Browns also were driving.

The Browns, however, are still (and forever) the Browns.

Their drive fizzled at 3:26 p.m., and the Steelers clung to a 17-12 advantage.

If you weren't sweating, you should do fine driving in hazardous conditions. But who wasn't sweating over the next 12 minutes?

The Jets were flying, surely to a field goal, maybe a touchdown. Either would have nudged them ahead of the Bills.
Neither would, because the real Ryan Fitzpatrick — the one the Bills know quite well — showed up for the Jets.

He was picked off in the end zone. That was in Buffalo.

In Cleveland, at the same moment, another former Buffalo Bill — Arthur Moats, thank you very much — recovered a fumble for the Steelers. On the next play, Roethlisberger connected on a touchdown pass with Markus Wheaton.

The Bills had preserved their two-point lead, and the Steelers extended theirs to 13, all over the course of 60 seconds.

Let nobody forget 3:38 p.m. on the third day of 2016.

At 10 minutes to 4 p.m., the Bills and Steelers held leads that would become final scores, each having kicked field goals in the fourth quarter. Over the next 17 minutes, another Browns coach would be wiped out by the Steelers, and a couple of more Fitzpatrick picks — also, a he-would-have-scored drop near the sidelines by receiver Kenbrell Thompkins — would ground the Jets.

The playoffs aren't for the Fitzpatricks of Football America.

The playoffs are for the Roethlisbergers. And Tom Bradys.

The AFC championship game is going to be the Super Bowl. In a few weeks, Tom Terrific and Big Ben will finally meet again when the stakes are highest.

And you thought Sunday was tough to take?

Just you wait.

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

Read more: http://triblive.com/sports/steelers/9725039-74/steelers-bills-browns#ixzz3wO3U3YpR 
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