After The Black And Gold Rush

The Steelers shut out the Cleveland Browns, 41-0, and moved to within one game of a playoff berth. The Steelers will make the playoffs with either a win over the Detroit Lions on New Year's Day, or a loss by the Kansas City Chiefs.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who's determined to find fault, any fault, with the Pittsburgh Steelers in their latest whipping of the Cleveland Browns:

• Give me a minute as I look through my notes.

• Uh, this is getting embarrassing.

• It's not what I'm looking for, but did you see the sign held up by the Browns fan at 34-0 early in the fourth quarter? It read: "Embarassing."

• Your team or your spelling?

• Okay, here's one: Verron Haynes, the next time someone runs out of the stands and onto the field, cold-cock him yourself, Mike Curtis style, so we can see it on TV.

• All we learned about Browns-Man's fate came from a line of AP copy that reported he was "picked up and slammed to the turf by Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison." Silent night indeed.

• The Steelers hit everything that moved, from Jerome Bettis barreling into Ben Taylor for the first touchdown to Larry Foote drilling Aaron Shea short of the goal line on the last play. It was a stunning display from beginning to end.

• As you probably have figured out by now, the Steelers thrive when they're forgotten, disrespected and kicked to the curb. So if you want them to roll through the soft defenses in Cincinnati and Indy, stop telling them how good they are.

Ricardo Colclough, fall on the fumble; Antwaan Randle El, tuck the thing away; Alan Faneca, that's the second sack you've allowed this year ya' bum ya'.

• There's another problem I discovered just in time for the playoffs: Every time my wife left the room, the Browns gained another yard. She was running around the house like a madwoman preparing for Christmas. Those 22 yards in the first half? They're her fault.

• The clincher to the theory occurred after the 29-yard screen pass to Reuben Droughns. She sat still for the next four plays and the Browns lost 21 yards and had a punt blocked.

• Rest assured there'll be no cleaning or cooking during the playoffs. I'm taking one for the team.

• The Steelers will finish the season with the NFL's highest yards-per-catch average. After finishing third last year at 13.1 yards per catch, they're averaging 13.4 even though Ben Roethlisberger missed four games and Marvel Smith missed four-and-a-half games.

• Anyone notice Smith on the 46-yard bomb to Cedrick Wilson? Of course not, and it was a beautiful thing. Smith just toyed with defensive end Alvin McKinley. Welcome back.

• Not that there's anything wrong with Trai Essex.

• Last year I couldn't stop using Neil Young lyrics in this column. No one noticed, but this year I'm getting threats about all of these old Seinfeld lines. Sorry, but I can't stop.

• I feel bad for the Plaxico Burress fans who refuse to enjoy the play of Hines Ward. This is Hall-of-Fame offensive toughness. We may never see his like again.

• The second touchdown drive was Ward's. He made three catches for 58 yards on the last four plays. He capped it with the kind of catch in the back of the end zone that's become his signature, the high hard fastball. Later, he carried two players two yards to eke out a first down on third-and-6. Ward caught another third-down pass and got up just before he was touched and drove the DB three yards to reach the stick.

• The Burress hard-liners – and make no mistake, they're everywhere – seethe at these displays of toughness and guile. What a shame.

• Ken Whisenhunt last week asked aloud whether Willie Parker would ever hit fifth gear. Hey Whis, ask for more stuff next week.

• What was Andra Davis doing on that 80-yard run? Smith and Faneca blew open the hole at left guard and Davis – who just signed a big contract extension – stood behind a pile of players and watched Parker run right through it.

Kendall Simmons played his best game of the year. He did more than hold his own. I saw a few nasty pancakes in there. This is a HUGE development.

• The secondary is coming along just as quickly as the offensive line. There's ecstasy in Mudville.

• I'm glad I never fell in with that Joey-Porter-is-washed-up crowd. No, Joey still rides.

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