What a difference a week makes.
What a difference a year makes.
The Steelers entered this week’s game reeling from arguably the worst beating of the Mike Tomlin era at the hands of their contemporary extra-division rival, the New England Patriots.
A little less than a year ago the Steelers faced off against the Raiders similarly reeling from three stinging losses.
At issue today? Relevance. The Raiders had won three straight for the first time since 2002 and were once again looking to add substance to Al Davis’ hackneyed marketing mantra “Commitment to Excellence.”
The Steelers were looking to right their ship, just as they were a year ago.
The 2009 Steelers of course fell short, victim to a 21 point 4th quarter scoring spree fueled by Western PA native Bruce Gradkowski and a highlight reel of missed opportunities by the Steelers defense.
The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Raiders
Against this backdrop, you have the Steelers vs. the Raiders, the two franchises who put non-divisional rivalries on the map for the NFL in the 1970’s.
Outslide the lines, the Steelers vs. the Raiders give you:
- The NFL’s Class and elegance vs. the the NFL’s “criminal element”
- Stability vs. a coaching carousel
- The Frost Belt vs. the Sun Belt
- The Rooneys vs. Al Davis
Between the lines, this game wanted for nothing that typifies Steelers-Raiders football – penalties, hard hits, fights, improvisation, quarterback benchings, and ejections.
Another 21 Point Quarter…
And like the 2009 editioin of the series, this game also featured a 21 point scoring spree – except this time it was authored by the Black and Gold at the expense of the silver and black.
After a slow start and while playing from behind, the Steelers exploded for 21 points in the second quarter on the legs of Rashard Mendenhall and Ben Roethlisberger and the hands of Emmanuel Sanders.
Along the way the Steelers defense pounded, confused, and befuddled Jason Campbell while grounding Darren McFadden – a man who merely boasted a 5.4 yards per carry rushing average coming into the game.
A lot of cliché’s get thrown around in sports, something which has become more common place in the age of the internet.
But ever member of the Pittsburgh Steelers played as if they took last week’s debacle against the New England Patriots personally.
On defense, penalties be dammed, the Steel Curtain reasserted itself with the aggressive, hard-hitting, and opportunistic brand of football that has been the hallmark of the franchise for my entire lifetime.
The offense was similarly inspired.
The Steelers seem destined to play musical chairs as they cobble together maks-shift offensive lines this season, for better and for worse. As it was against Tennessee, today it was for better, as each member stepped up as others shuffled in and out of the line up.
Roethlisberger was similarly resilient, never hesitating to improvise, taking off and running 3 times, and breaking his person best for yardage, including a 16 yard touchdown scamper.
Mike Wallace continued to bud into an elite NFL receiver right before our eyes, and finally burned a team on a reverse.
Emmanuel Sanders justified the faith that his coaches displayed in him when they promoted him to the 3rd wide receiver slot.
And just when it seemed like Bruce Gradkowski was going to make a run at another 4th quarter miracle (or at least continue to pad the horrendous stat sheet that opponents have run up in the 4th quarter,) Troy Polamalu stepped up and snatched the ball, and the game, out of the air.
Keeping It in Perspective
One would err to say that today’s game was to decide the “pretender vs. contender” question. Alas, the Steelers participated in one such contest last week, and we know the result.
No, today’s contest was for two teams vying for the right to participate in such “pretender vs. contender” contests come December (see what I mean about cliché’s?)
The underdog was a team perceived being on its way up, while the favorites were perceived as a team on its way down.
The Steelers reversed those trajectories today.
In other words, the Steelers won a game that they were “supposed” to win.
That certainly does not re-qualify them for “elite” status, but in the last three weeks the Steelers have prevailed in two games that they were “supposed” to win.
A year ago, the Steelers lost those games. The fact that they are changing that gives the 2010 Steelers a critical element absent from the 2009 squad.