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|09-20-2009, 12:26 AM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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On the Steelers: Fourth quarter, Big Ben & victory
On the Steelers: Fourth quarter, Big Ben & victory
Steelers have turned the extraordinary into the boring (OK, not so boring) routine
Sunday, September 20, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jeff Reed kicks the winning field goal in overtime to beat the Titans in the season opener -- the third consecutive nail-biter if you're counting. We are.
Are the Steelers and their quarterback champions of the late-game heroics, procrastinators who lack a killer instinct, or is that just the way it is in the National Football League these days?
The Steelers' 13-10 overtime victory against Tennessee was the latest in a string of them that goes back to last season, capped off by their version of The Drive that pulled out a 27-23 victory in Super Bowl XLIII.
Tennessee was the third consecutive game decided in the late stages for the Steelers. Besides the Super Bowl, they did not clinch the AFC championship against Baltimore until Troy Polamalu's interception for a touchdown with 4:24 left.
They beat Baltimore in overtime, beat Jacksonville by five when Hines Ward caught a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 1:53 left, beat San Diego, 11-10, when Jeff Reed kicked a field goal with 11 seconds left, beat Dallas when Deshea Townsend broke a tie by returning an interception for a touchdown with 1:40 left, and beat Baltimore, 13-9, to clinch the AFC North Division title when Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes with 43 seconds left. They also won in Cleveland, 10-6, early, but it was one of those games that never seemed in doubt.
They lost two close games late to Indianapolis and the New York Giants at home, but, for the most part, they have won in the clutch.
"Would we rather have a knockout, blowout game? Yes," tackle Willie Colon answered. "But if it's close? I have great comfort that we'll be able to pull it out. Not every team has that ability, so I think that's what makes us special."
Therelong has been a saying in sports that good teams generally win the close games. It does not stop losing team from pointing to all the close games they have lost, as if that is an indication that they are close to becoming winners.
"It's starting to become home for us," Colon said, "so we're not too afraid of it."
The Steelers have practiced more of what they call "situational football" since Mike Tomlin took over as coach.
"All these games come down to the wire, and that's why we're so big on situational football," Ward said. "It's something we practice every day -- third downs, red zone, getting rid of the ball, fourth quarter. It's something we practice because, at some point in the game, it's going to come down to a situational play.
"You say we are built for it; it's something we emphasize, I don't know how much more than others."
The Steelers were not the only team that played a close game in the opening week. Eight games were decided by a touchdown or less, some spectacularly so, such as Cincinnati's loss in the closing seconds to Denver, and the two Monday night games that were decided by one and four points in the closing moments.
"In this league, you're going to be in a lot of close games," tight end Heath Miller said. "What happens toward the end of the game, that's when most games are decided. So, you have teams who can figure out how to win; it doesn't really matter how you do it, as long as you get it done."
Roethlisberger is good, but he's not that good
Ben Roethlisberger likely deserves one less "comeback" or "game-winning drive" on his record. The Steelers give him 20, which include four they won when the score was tied in the fourth quarter.
One winning drive, however, was not a drive, but a one-play interception by cornerback Deshea Townsend against Dallas last season. With the score tied, 13-13, Townsend intercepted a Tony Romo pass and ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown with 1:40 left that gave the Steelers a 20-13 victory. Roethlisberger tied the score in the fourth quarter on a 6-yard pass to Heath Miller.
That's nothing against the quarterback, just that it is plain someone needs to tweak how game-winning "drives" are categorized. Still, as Willie Colon said, "Anytime you have that man wearing that '7' behind you, anything is possible."
The offensive line? Get used to it
Like it or hate it, the Steelers' offensive line is here to stay. Four of the five starters in the offensive line received either new contracts or had their existing contracts extended this year. The only one who did not is right tackle Willie Colon, identified by the coaching staff publicly as one of the best in the league.
Let's move left to right:
• Left tackle Max Starks, benched after two years starting at right tackle, received a four-year, $26.3 million contract after making him their franchise player for the second year in a row.
• Left guard Chris Kemoeatu turned down a slightly better offer in March from the New York Jets as an unrestricted free agent, to sign back with the Steelers for $20 million over five years.
• Center Justin Hartwig, about to start the final season of his contract, signed a new one two days before the season opener that is worth $10 million over four years.
• Right guard Trai Essex also turned down a chance to sign elsewhere and re-signed for two years and $2 million.
Just because they are signed to long-term deals, except for the short and modest Essex contract, does not mean the Steelers are locked into them for those terms. Only Starks got big money (Kemoeatu's signing bonus is less than $4 million, Starks' about $12 million). But the Steelers have never been in the business of throwing money at bad players, either.
They drafted a tackle on the fourth round last year, Tony Hills, and a guard on the third this season, Kraig Urbik. Neither dressed for the opening game.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09263...#ixzz0Rcb1NfPc
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