My thoughts, for what they're worth

What do I think about the game on Monday night? It rained, nothing happened for 59 minutes and 40 seconds, then someone kicked a field goal.

- Monday night being my birthday, I made the trip to the stadium with a couple of my brothers and my step-dad. Getting to the stadium was miserable, huddling like sardines when they cleared the stands due to lightning was miserable, the game itself was obviously miserable, and despite the low attendance, getting out proved to be pretty miserable, too. But there's something about communal misery that makes it all fun, and I don't know that I've ever had such a blast at a game. What remained of the crowd seemed just as jazzed as any I've ever seen in that stadium as the scoreless minutes mounted, and every down became that much more important, that much more scrutinized.

- Seriously, I've never seen anything like that. The players simply couldn't do anything on a field that turned punted pigskins into lawn darts. I watched the television broadcast the next day, and it didn't even do justice to how bad the turf looked in person, or how obviously it impacted every single play. I've been thoroughly resistant to the idea of a synthetic field, but those conditions on Monday night simply can't be allowed to recur.

- Larry Foote absolutely lived in Miami's backfield, making tackles on seven plays that combined for minus-1 yard. The Dolphins appeared completely unable to handle Foote and fellow linebacker James Farrior up the middle, both of whom provided decent pressure on the passer in addition to their fine work against the running game.

- There's no point in denying that Joey Porter made good on his return home, this time as the villain, with a solid performance. The obvious and playful rivalry with the remaining Steelers linebackers made for a reasonably-amusing sub-plot. I saw quite a few #55 jerseys in the stands, including my own, which is now officially retired.

- Nice hustle by Ben Roethlisberger to tackle Porter after the interception that ended Pittsburgh's opening drive. In retrospect, it was every bit as much a game-saver as the one he made in Indianapolis on a slightly bigger stage, and slightly better field.

- No one should mistake Tyrone Carter for Troy Polamalu, but the veteran backup certainly makes the most of his opportunities. He may have racked up 12 total tackles in part because Miami targeted him in coverage, but if so, it didn't get them anywhere. He's the right kind of tackler for such awful conditions, too, because he breaks down in front of the ball carrier before committing to a tackle angle, and nobody can juke a defender with fifteen pounds of mud in his shoes.

- Pittsburgh gave Carter a $280,000 signing bonus in the off-season on top of veteran minimum salaries for three years. Good investment, that.

- After a game in which any turnover at any point could have made a drastic difference, it bears mention that Willie Parker hasn't had a fumble since week four, and hasn't lost a fumble since week one. For what once was regarded as the biggest hole in his game, it certainly hasn't been a problem this season. Since the last time Parker put the ball on the ground, the Steelers' defense has forced seven fumbles by opposing backs as part of twelve overall in that span.

- Of course, of those twelve forced fumbles, Calamity James Harrison has been responsible for seven over the last five games. No other player in the league has forced more than five all season.

- The mud certainly helped to minimize the liability of his slow-footedness, but Max Starks played much better at left tackle in relief of Marvel Smith than he ever looked in pre-season.

- Fans may complain about the predictability of the offense on first down, with the play calls overwhelmingly favoring the run when a pass may have caught the defense off-guard. But the fact is that Pittsburgh had a lot of success running on first down against Miami, relatively speaking, gaining 65 yards on 16 first-down runs. On the other 13 runs on all other downs, they managed just 19 yards. The offense had its issues, but first-down runs put them in manageable second downs all night long.

- The problems on offense came on later downs, when they couldn't convert short yardage, took sacks that backed them out of (what would on a normal night be) field goal range, and committed several inopportune penalties to wipe out strong gains.

- Roethlisberger may have taken a few bad sacks, but on the other hand, it was smart to avoid potentially-costly throws in a game in which any big mistake probably meant a loss.

- Biggest catch of Willie Reid's young career, hands down. Here's hoping for a few more, before it's over.

- Does any player in football come closer to actually deserving the too-loosely applied description as a "warrior" than Hines Ward? 9 catches for 88 yards may not be the most impressive stat line the world has ever seen, but when the rest of the team caught a combined 9 for 77, and every yard took twice the effort to gain, his gutty performance can't be overstated.

- Field position. Pittsburgh owned it, obviously, and in the end, it's a good thing. Daniel Sepulveda has a few things still to learn, but how to pin an opponent inside the twenty isn't among them.

- Really, forget everything I wrote to this point. I'm not coming away from this game with anything other than great relief in a Steelers win on a night when weather turned what should have been a blowout into a coin flip. Well, forget everything but the bit about Harrison… he's a man among boys—or if he came to my house, a man among mostly-dead insect larvae—and I'd sooner steal Chuck Norris's aftershave than risk rescinding a complimentary Silverback observation.


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