A Cold Slap

Jim Wexell's column replet with the grunts, groans and unfiltered rants one would expect after a Steelers' OT playoff loss.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who thought this season-ending loss was more a cold slap in the face than a shocker:

* Only the media was resolutely across the board in its consensus that the Steelers would beat the Denver Broncos handily. But the fact the line was bet down from -9 to -7 tells us the "investors" were all over the Broncos.

* A cold slap in the face? Well, yeah. For one, the easy schedule gave the team, media and fans a false hope, and the statistics a false sheen.

* A cold slap in the face? The little and lithe receivers can't block and can't make the tough catch while covered in the red zone.

* A cold slap in the face? The quarterback doesn't go for the jugular. He's clearly better in crisis mode when behind than he is with a short lead or in a tie game with a win only a few yards away.

* A cold slap in the face? The coaching staff – both coordinators and the head man– all played key roles in losing another big, close game.

* This team can't rush the passer, either. They can't manage the clock. And they shouldn't have to rely so heavily on the starting quarterback, even when he's hurt.

* Apparently the 4-1 record without Ben Roethlisberger the last two seasons meant little when he injured his ankle.

* Apparently the standard is not the standard at one position.

* The Steelers gambled recklessly in San Francisco with their most valued possession in the same way they gambled recklessly on defense in Denver.

* Roethlisberger is good, but when he begins grabbing games by the throat with a lead, or when tied, then he'll be great.

* I used to criticize Roethlisberger for wasting too many downs by needlessly spiking the ball with too much time left. Yesterday I was begging for some of that panic as 24 seconds ticked off the clock from whistle to snap on a first down at the Pittsburgh 37.

* Then after the next play, when Emmanuel Sanders caught a pass and went out of bounds at the Denver 45, the Steelers called a timeout with 29 seconds left.

* It's not all on the quarterback either. Where was the braintust?

* Cue Jim Mora, but substitute "braintrust" for "playoffs."

* Ike Taylor was lousy, plain and simple. No way to soft-shoe that one. He would say the same thing. In fact, he probably did. KDKA-TV reported Taylor wasn't available at his locker, but plenty of smashed particle board was.

* Ike was, in my mind, the team's MVP this season, but he certainly had a bad game at the wrong time. He gave up 4 catches to Demaryius Thomas for 204 yards. The last one, of course, moved Denver to the next round.

* The OT winner was the third touchdown Denver scored off of big Thomas catches over Taylor. They also kicked a field goal after his 32-yard pass interference against Thomas, so that's 236 yards and 23 points.

* The other six Denver points came courtesy of a Roethlisberger interception and a 40-yard catch by the tight end after Troy Polamalu came up per Broncos season-long tendencies.

* Broncos coach John Fox used Polamalu's film study and instincts against him on the overtime touchdown, too. Polamalu had come up for every WR motion during the game. This time the Broncos threw to take advantage of Polamalu's absence in the intermediate left zone that allowed Thomas to run freely.

* A peculiar moment occurred after Polamalu hit Tim Tebow after he had handed off. Not that it was a penalty or anything, but Polamalu began crossing himself as he walked back to the huddle and Tebow followed and tried talking to Polamalu, but to no avail. We can only wonder what that was about.

* Go ahead and give Tebow all the credit. Fine by me. But this was more about Thomas and his breakout game in my opinion. Thomas will end up in several more Pro Bowls, in spite of the media's fawning over Tebow.

* This game was also about the Steelers' complete lack of respect for Tebow, even though they had been beaten repeatedly throughout the game.

* Yes, the Denver running game was to have been respected. And, yes, it would've only taken one intermediate chunk to put stud kicker Matt Prater in position for an overtime field goal. Still, the Steelers would've gotten the ball in overtime. There was no need whatsoever for another gamble with cover zero.

* James Harrison was probably worried about the backup defensive linemen when he repeatedly crashed down instead of carry out his read-option responsibility. Probably.

* Denver rushed 6 times for 9 yards before Brett Keisel, the last of the opening-day starting defensive linemen, left the game with an injury. Against the second-teamers, Denver rushed 28 times for 122 (4.4 avg.)

* Of course, it doesn't need pointed out that Isaac Redman carried only 17 times (for 121), but let's just finish the season with consistency in this column.

* The one drop-dead certain time Redman should've carried and didn't occurred on first down at the Denver 45 with one timeout and 29 seconds left. Instead, Roethlisberger dropped back and fumbled after Doug Legursky pushed Elvis Dumervil into the pocket and the ball.

* A 5-yard run by Redman there gives Shaun Suisham a shot at a 57-yarder in the thin air.

* I had a bad angle, but it appeared that Suisham's kickoff to start overtime went through the goal posts 75 yards away.

* That's the second time Suisham was denied a long field goal to clinch at least a tie or a win in the two biggest games of the season.

* If you don't have enough confidence in your backup quarterback to replace the injured starter, get a new backup quarterback. Likewise, if you don't have enough confidence in your kicker, even in thin air, even when he's hot, get a new kicker.

* And what in the world is the quarterback a few days before the start of the playoffs telling a reporter, warning a reporter, that if the offensive coordinator is fired then the offense will fall apart?

* If you don't have enough confidence in your offensive coordinator … aw, just see kicker and backup quarterback above.

* The team MVP and AFC Pro Bowl return man had this many return yards: 0.

* The out-Fox-ing by the Denver coaching staff was complete and thorough.


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