Under a full moon, it was only appropriate.
Not that the loss was unexpected, with Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward out and all, but how the Steelers did it; that's the incredible part.
Tommy Maddox was bad. We've seen it before. The premonitions about the final play of the game were rampant. The talk in the press box was that Maddox had one biggie left in him. Certainly the talk in your living room was similar. And after countless dropped touchdown passes by Jaguars linebackers, no one could say they didn't see that last touchdown coming.
Reporters are provided access to the sidelines with two minutes left in the game, and as I stood at the Pittsburgh 10-yard line, by myself but for a few stray photographers since the action was up the field, I wondered what I'd do if/when a DB picked off one of those soft out passes and ran past me for the score.
I could've thrown a photographer out there in front of him; now there was an idea. And as the plan took shape, here came Rashean Mathis … and I chickened out. Maddox rushed over to make the play, and he ran right at me. He stopped and continued walking at me. I had to look away; couldn't bear to look him in the eyes. Instead I looked up in the stands to see a picture that will never go away: thousands of open mouths. They were beyond anger. They were incredulous.
Really, how mad can you be when you saw it coming? It was, to a degree, expected, and so after pause the anger welled up against the coach: Was he the only one who didn't see this coming?
It was a pathetic coaching job, and I'm not talking about the offensive coordinator, who can be overruled at any time.
Obviously Bill Cowher could've removed the wobbly Maddox for Charlie Batch, but even with the worst quarterbacking performance in this town since Maddox gave a game to the Houston Texans in 2003, the Steelers still had a chance to win had they only put Jerome Bettis into the game after Quincy Morgan returned the opening kickoff of overtime to the Jacksonville 26-yard line. From there, it's a 43-yard field goal into the wind.
Unpredictable play-calling is winning play-calling in my opinion, but there comes a time when … well, there comes a time. And the crowd was howling because the time had come. It was an obvious situation for Bettis, because that's what the Steelers do; what the city of Pittsburgh does.
I rail against teams believing they should live up to some predictable "identity" when they should instead do whatever it takes to win a game. Well, here was a situation where both styles would've lived in harmony. The so-called "identity" of the Steelers is to pound the running game at opponents. So, even if Bettis had gained only five yards in three carries, he'd have cut the field goal to 38 yards with a 98 percent certainty of not fumbling. Cowher could've brought the crowd their king -- gone with the flow, if you will – and left no room for second-guessing had the field goal failed. If it had failed, the game would've continued, no harm or foul.
Cowher also would've given Bettis another chance to bring home a winner, and perhaps allow him to lash out at those responsible for only four carries in regulation. It was destiny.
Instead, the Steelers ran Raw Willie Parker wide and he fumbled. Parker recovered, but the Steelers had shown a shocking lack of fortitude. Run him wide? Was he going to make a mad dash for the end zone? Were the coaches that afraid of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson in the middle of the Jacksonville defense?
Cowher said he kept Parker in the game because he was running well at the end of regulation. But in his final four carries of the fourth quarter, Parker had gained only seven yards.
That was the mistake of the game, and Bettis was angry afterward. He said the right things, make no mistake about it, but he made clear with his body language and non-verbal signals that he was agitated.
If he's active, what's his role if not to pick up a few more yards in those gleeful moments at a home stadium that exist between gaining superb field position and the actual clinching of the game? It was a time to party.
In a line in Steelers Digest, that's certain to be cut, I wrote that "the flow", as in "going with the flow", is God. It's the energy flow toward creation, or fulfillment of potential, or destiny if that's what you believe. And to run Willie Parker wide was a slap in God's face.
Perhaps a bit melodramatic, but I believe it.
That's the stunning part, the incredulous part. Running Bettis into a game-winning field goal was inevitable. But then, so was the final interception. The energy flow can be fickle, and final.
After The Black And Gold Rush
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