My thoughts, for what they're worth ...

There are things I'd rather do than write about the Steelers throwing away an easy win against a dreadful Oakland Raiders team, such as figure out my taxes, watch a direct-to-video movie in which the most accomplished "actor" is Don Swayze, or jam a protractor into my eyeball.

- I didn't think that I'd ever be lucky enough to see a game that combined bad bits from both the Houston and Atlanta bouts from 2002, with the Steelers out-gaining their opponent by approximately six million yards to twelve but winding up on the short end of the scoreboard, plus a last-second Hail Mary that fell into a receiver's open arms… three yards in front of the end zone. As it turns out, though, fortune favors my suffering.

- I love Ben Roethlisberger as a player. I hate it when he loses three games all by his lonesome by throwing bad picks because his head is scrambled and he can't see the field. The first interception on the deep ball downfield on third down was basically just like a 43-yard punt, but the other three caused significantly more damage. Obviously.

- Okay, maybe Oakland isn't quite so extraordinarily terrible as I'd thought earlier in the season. You can see the sparks of a defensive nucleus starting to come together in Derrick Burgess, Kirk Morrison, and the young secondary. Indianapolis is probably soon to make Dwight Freeney the highest-paid defensive player in league history for the same kind of production that Oakland is getting out of Burgess at $3.5 million a year. I almost have to admire Al Davis for that particular bit of highway robbery.

- Nnamdi Asomugha's development might finally offer hope in Oakland that Davis didn't completely squander the draft windfall from the Jon Gruden trade.

- On one hand, Arnold Harrison was an unremarkable backup linebacker and special teamer. On the other hand, he was probably better than whoever will now take his place at a position that's already been thinned by injury and on coverage teams that have struggled mightily.

- Wow, does Randy Moss have no interest in playing for Oakland anymore. This is a guy with the best hands I've ever seen in my time watching football, and he dropped two not-overly-difficult passes because of what simply looked like apathy.

- Shane Lechler can really punt the hell out of a football with the trifecta of distance, hang-time, and placement. He averaged 48.1 yards per punt, and that wasn't higher only because he had to pin the ball inside the twenty a couple of times. After Oakland's final drive when they unsuccessfully tried to run out the clock, he boomed an unreturnable 51-yarder out of bounds despite having to kick from the back of his own end zone. I don't know how a punter could do any more to help his team win than Lechler does, and he's all the more valuable with an offense that inept.

- Someone someday will have to explain to me how an unnecessary roughness penalty can be called for a late hit out of bounds against player who is still, y'know, in bounds. What a BS call that was on Joey Porter. I'm not quick to complain about refereeing, but that crew turned in a real stinker. They botched the coach's challenges, both of which showed sufficient visual evidence to overturn the call on the field. If I understood the head ref correctly, they declined to overturn Roethlisberger's non-fumble on the basis that there wasn't a clear shot of a clean recovery by Oakland, which was total nonsense; Warren Sapp devoured that loose ball like a rack of ribs. The taunting flag against Larry Foote made absolutely no sense without an offsetting flag against Justin Fargas, since both of them popped up and did the exact same thing, with neither an obvious aggressor. Later, Porter got thoroughly mugged by Chad Slaughter on a goal line play with no call made. And the mere existence of the horsecollar rule, though not the fault of that particular crew, is completely stupid. Don't get me wrong… the refs didn't "cost" the Steelers the game by any stretch, but they were exceptionally poor.

- Maybe the refs were distracted by constantly getting run over by giant players. I think Marvel Smith put the fear of God into the line judge while running after Asomugha's interception.

- When did Billy Connolly pack on eighty pounds of Krispy Kremes and start calling Oakland's defensive plays?

- Oakland's defensive line, particularly Burgess, ate Max Starks for lunch all day.

- A week after pitching a shutout in Atlanta, Ike Taylor turned in another strong performance, allowing just two catches for 20 yards to be completed against him in coverage with negligible yards after the catch. The Jerry Porter 17-yard out pattern on second-and-fifteen in the second quarter that Taylor batted down just as it hit Porter's hands is the kind of little big play that he makes all the time.

- The screen pass on third-and-nine that Verron Haynes turned into a first down showed quite plainly why he'll be missed in his role now that he's on injured reserve. He has always seemed to make more than his share of those improbable conversion plays.

- Kevin Harlan calls a great television play-by-play. I like that he makes sure to describe personnel changes as different offensive and defensive packages take the field.

- The defense obviously played a very solid game. They finally stopped collapsing after turnovers and big kick returns, held Oakland to field goals in the red zone, and started getting the offense the ball back when they needed it. Yeah, the offense didn't do much with the opportunities, and Oakland seemed to have anticipated the improvement and moved to the "just score directly off of the turnovers" plan, and I realize that it was just the Raiders… but it was good to see the Pittsburgh defense play like the Pittsburgh defense.

- Please, though, get Casey Hampton healthy as soon as possible. Chris Hoke is a decent football player, and it's not like Oakland gashed them on the ground or anything, but I'm pretty sure that Huggy Bear Jr. wouldn't be making yards inside against the Mighty Casey.

- James Farrior played a really solid game. He spent the majority of his best season playing behind Hoke while Hampton rehabbed an ACL tear in 2004, just as he played behind Hoke in this game. Coincidence? Yeah, probably, but it bears mentioning.

- Troy Polamalu doesn't seem to be missing so many tackles now that he's got two arms again.

- We give credit to backups and situational players on offense and defense when they step up after injuries within their units, and we should give credit to Sean Morey for stepping up his play in kick coverage after the loss of Calamity James Harrison. The coverage units as a whole may be playing like they heard that you can get herpes from tackling return specialists, but Morey seems to be doing his part.

- Heath Miller needs to come down with that ball in the end zone, even if it wasn't a perfect throw. His hands are far too good to expect otherwise. I hate to say it, but he seems intent on joining the 2005 Stud Draft Picks Who Disappoint Ian in 2006 Club, an organization chaired by Bryant McFadden.

- Chukky Okobi showed that he can get out in front of a screen well enough on Willie Parker's touchdown.

- When Parker breaks off a big run, it never feels like he's running long enough to have covered the resultant distance.

- Pittsburgh stuck with the run more than they seemed to do in previous close games, and it started to pay off a little later on. Chasing around a fast back will tire a defense every bit as much as being plowed into by a big back.

- They could still use some of that big back plowing at the goal line, though. How in the world do you not punch it in with first-and-goal from the one with the game on the line against the Oakland freaking Raiders?!

- What happened to the road warriors who won 17 of 20 games away from Pittsburgh over the previous two seasons? Who blazed an unprecedented road trail to a Super Bowl championship? Who whipped their hordes of invading fans into frenzies that drowned out the locals in enemy stadiums? Find that team again, and the Steelers may yet find their season.

- I'll never root for anything on game day other than a Steelers win. I don't care about draft position, I don't care about finding out about the young guys, I don't care about anything but seeing my team strive for that W. I'll root for nothing less that 11-5 the rest of the season. If the Steelers were playing the Ravens in the last game of the regular season with both teams sitting at 1-14 and vying for the right to draft a cloned and grown Johnny Unitas just coming off of his fourth consecutive NCAA championship, I'd still root for a Pittsburgh victory. But after a disheartening loss like that against the league's worst team, as for my actual expectations… let's just say, let's go Pens.


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