After The Black And Gold Rush

These are the thoughts of a sportswriter who just re-watched two teams slip, slide and wallow on a muddy wreck of a football field, and loved every minute of it:

• The best comment after the game came from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who talked about getting a face full of mud with every snap.

• The most telling quote after the game came from Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who credited "the good Lord" for providing his offensive line with the snowstorm that slopped up the field and helped slow down the pass rush of the Chicago Bears.

• The media ran with Cowher's other quote, about confidence and reading the definition of it to the team. According to Webster's, blah, blah, blech.

• I once, in 1985, led a story with: "According to Webster's, the definition of revenge is …" My boss, the great Vic Ketchman, told me that if I ever used that type of lead again, I'd be fired.

• Anyway, the story of this game was desperation. Cowher even prayed for this one. Forget about "confidence," or its more sexy synonym "swagger." The Steelers were desperate and they played like it. The Bears had a two-game lead in their division and played like it.

• A TV graphic showed the number of missed tackles by the Bears at the end of the first quarter, but we never saw an update. The graphistician must've gotten bored, or perhaps overwhelmed.

• When a reporter asks a player after the game about "swagger," that person is usually Andrew Stockey.

• Will Jerome Bettis? It was good to see the old warhorse get a 100-yard game. If you hadn't noticed, Bettis takes personally any mention that he's washed up. It's been a continuing theme for him the last three or four years. But after Sunday's game, he was graceful. This one put the cap on his career I think. After he retires, he can say he had it all the way to the end.

• That said, I'd sit him down this week and play Duce Staley.

• I know, here we go again: "Look how wrong you were about Staley for the Bears game, clown!" I know. I hear you. But Bettis might be better off with a week of rest – you know, before the non-bye playoff run – and the team might be better off with a fresh Staley as Willie Parker's back-up in the Vikings' dome.

• If Horton heard a who, then Orton heard an ooooh, lookout for Clark Haggans! That was a big play for the Steelers. The rookie QB, "Neighbor Kyle" Orton, had the Bears first and goal at the Pittsburgh 2. Haggans and Aaron Smith tackled Thomas Jones for a one-yard loss. On second down, Orton faked poorly to the running back and rolled right out of it and was sacked by Haggans for an 8-yard loss. If Haggans had missed the sloppy fake, Aaron Smith wouldn't have. If Haggans and Smith both had missed it, James Farrior was third in line. It was a better game for Orton, but watch your little things.

• What had more to do with Haggans's sack: swagger or desperation?

• Desperation gives you better focus. Like me, right now.

• I've skipped the beautiful blocking on the 45-yard screen pass to Willie Parker, but I don't want to gloss over Heath Miller's role in it. The rookie tight end threw a solid downfield block that was overshadowed by the blocks made by Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings, as it should've been. But don't gloss over Miller's game. He didn't catch a pass – he did come within a half inch of making the highlight reel on a deep pass – but Miller threw key blocks on both of the game's big screen passes and hustled to recover Cedrick Wilson's fumble in the first quarter.

• Miller made the key block on the 16-yard screen to Verron Haynes. It was a third-and-13 play and Miller stuck MLB Brian Urlacher at yard No. 10. Miller sprung Haynes and it was the key play of the second touchdown drive.

• By the way, on that second touchdown – a one-yard run by Bettis – check out the way Miller finished his block on DE Adewale Ogunleye. I think he drove him underground.

• Speaking of blocks and desperation (or lack thereof in this instance), how about Ben's block on Ogunleye on the reverse to Antwaan Randle El? Ben looked like gimpy old Joe Namath getting down for that block, and Ogunleye looked like Les Falknor, my dear old grandpappy, in going down so easily.

• Roethlisberger was hit hard only one time all game. In the first quarter, on third-and-11, he got the pass away but Harris slipped past Faneca for the hit. Harris also tabbed Ben after a handoff, so officially he was hit twice.

• A solid offensive line makes any savvy wide receiver into a serviceable No. 2 man. On the third touchdown drive, Roethlisberger threw strikes to Randle El and Morgan on third-and-14 and third-and-9 because he had all the time in the world.

• Rookie LT Trai Essex may have been helped by the mud, but he's looking more and more like a legitimate tackle every week.

Max Starks has been a better run blocker this year, sometimes a dominant run blocker this year, but he's struggled with his pass protection. Not Sunday. He never looked better. Both of these young tackles are confident, and I'm sure the front office is growing more confident in them as well. It may save them a high draft pick at the position.

• Faneca dominated. I asked him after the game if it felt good play like the Alan Faneca of old. He smiled and said he really didn't think he'd been sub-par this season. Maybe he's right. Even the best players can look bad when everything around them crumbles.

Kendall Simmons stunned Harris with a quick trap block to spring FB Dan Kreider's 12-yard run. Simmons, in fact, can say he did a better job on the position-flopping Harris than did Faneca. But, man, he can't say he moved piles like Faneca did on Sunday.

• Answer Man warned us the other team has coaches, too, and that coach came to the Steelers' rescue on the second touchdown drive. Lovie Smith accepted a penalty to bring up third-and-13 instead of declining and bringing up fourth-and-1. The screen pass to Haynes burned him, but Lovie said after the game he'd do it again.

• Remember, every team has one.

• Compare Starks's first season with Oliver Ross's. Or compare Starks's first season with Ross's second season. Suffice to say, if Ross could turn into a serviceable right tackle, Starks can turn into a Pro Bowler.

• I snuggled up to one of the coaches who would know last week and asked him this: What's Jerome really weigh? "What's he really weigh?" the coach said in a hushed tone as I leaned in for inside info. "Two-fifty-six," he said. Two-fifty-six? Nah. "Yeah. Two-fifty-six." Coach, thanks for nothing.

• By the way, the TV announcers missed Lovie's blunder. Don Criqui also butchered Troy Polamalu's name and called Ben's shovel pass a "shuffle pass."

• Kreider was the key player on the second touchdown drive. He made a bobbling catch for five yards, ripped off that 12-yard romp, and made the key block (Lance Briggs) on Parker's 11-yard dash to the pylon.

• We worried that Chris Gardocki's punting skills had eroded coming into the game, but he came through with a 6-punt gross of 40.0 with a long of 56. Yet, the net was only 32.3.

Deshea Townsend, dear Good Lord, might be my favorite Steelers. Please watch over him this week.

• The entire mob of players huddled around the injured Townsend on the sideline wasn't shown on TV. If you were at the game, you saw all of the well-wishers. Trust me, their concern was genuine. Townsend's a great dude.

• Forget about all of the young talent waiting in the wings at cornerback, I would re-sign Townsend after the season. I find a way to get it done. He's too good on the field and off it.

• Another potential free agent I'd lock up is Brett Keisel. When he's busting wedges, everyone's busting wedges. He's the kind of crazed special teamer you want around you because his attitude is infectious. He's also playing the run pretty well, and we know he can chase people down.

• One of the well-remembered symbols of the '85 Bears was the snowstorm that broke out on Wilbur Marshall's fumble return for a touchdown in the NFC Championship game. Maybe, maybe, maybe there was an '05 Steelers' symbol in the snowstorm that broke out at the start of the second half Sunday.

• I noticed all of the empty seats for the second-half kickoff and began wondering about the people getting food, waiting in lines, thawing out, and how quickly the time passes at halftime. Then TV put up the best graphic of the day: The distance from the Steelers' locker room to the bench is 60 feet; for the Bears, it's 762 feet. The sideline reporter asked team chairman Dan Rooney about it and he just said "home-field advantage."

• The Steelers ran the same play back-to-back to score their third touchdown. On the 3-yard run to the five, Faneca pulled through the hole and obliterated Urlacher. On the next play, Faneca couldn't get to Urlacher in time, but Bettis did, and he carried him into the end zone.

• Bettis' 39-yard run clinched it for me: This is a DVD keeper. The weather, the mud, the great uniforms of tradition-rich teams, and Bettis's 100-yard game, probably his last. Definitely a keeper.


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