My thoughts, for what they're worth

Guarantees, shmarentees. I don't even want to hear about it. The Guarantee Fairy turned out to be a crazy glue-sniffer, but that had little to do with the result on the field.

- Two promising drives stall deep in New England territory and result in field goals, two more stall on failed fourth downs. The Steelers lose by 21. No real mystery, there; New England cashed in its opportunities, Pittsburgh didn't. On one hand, that the Steelers had opportunities offers some promise, should the two teams meet in the playoffs. On the other, it goes to show what kind of a game it'll take to beat that squad.

- On the plus side, the offensive line performed decently. Ben Roethlisberger had time to throw more often than not, and obviously Willie Parker found some holes. Running more toward the outside seemed to help, and made sense against those older linebackers.

- I like Pittsburgh's situation at wide receiver, but there's little doubt that the passing game gets dramatically shorter without a healthy Santonio Holmes. Prior to his injury, Pittsburgh featured one of the most downfield passing games in the league; Roethlisberger averaged a stellar 8.3 yards per passing attempt, and posted a passer rating of 107.5. In the three games since the sprain, that passing average has plummeted to 6.3 yards per attempt—Kyle Boller territory—and a passer rating of 82.3. He hasn't completed a pass of more than 32 yards in that span. They're lucky to have a player like Hines Ward who can make a short passing attack work, but they're immeasurably more potent through the air with Holmes making plays deep.

- Nice catch by Najeh Davenport. Seriously, not even every wideout has that much body control in that situation.

- Most of the time, I understand the logic behind resting Casey Hampton on passing downs. He's a big guy, he needs a breather, and it makes sense to keep one of the league's very best run stuffers fresh for exactly that role. But why saddle yourself with the same restraint when the opponent shows no obvious running inclination? Surely, Hampton has more value collapsing the interior pocket on passing downs, maybe giving Tom Brady a little less room to comfortably step into his throws, than Nick Eason.

- Losing Aaron Smith is a big blow. It's not just that he's a top five player on a top five defense; unlike in 2004, when the defense performed really well without Hampton for a long stretch, I'm not sure that they've got quite enough horses at linebacker to make up the difference. Yes, there's James Harrison, and Larry Foote is probably having his best pro season, but James Farrior would have to play even better than his current high level to match his '04 output, and Clark Haggans isn't inspiring a ton of confidence. On the other hand, the secondary is as good as I've ever seen it, one shredding by the best offense of the decade aside.

- And, maybe some of the young linebackers step up. Maybe LaMarr Woodley gets healthy, maybe Lawrence Timmons starts to show more than just flashes. I like the idea of Timmons in coverage against those Pats wideouts more than Haggans.

- It may seem like singling Ike Taylor on Randy Moss failed, but I liked the approach. Moss is going to do damage against just about anybody, even a strong player like Ike, unless you're willing to commit so much attention to him that everyone else runs free. If you can accept a degree of success by a single-covered Moss, you've got a shot to defend the rest of the offense. I mean, the Steelers didn't manage to do so this time around, but I do believe that they got that much right about the approach.

- Good for Wes Welker for posting such a strong season, and good for New England for seeing what a fit he'd be, but my goodness, he's not nearly the player his numbers suggest. Take the best quarterback of his generation, give him all day in the pocket, draw half of the secondary to Moss downfield, and turn half of your runs into short passes… and you've got Welker this year.

- Most of the time, I think that half-time adjustments are a fan-driven concept with little bearing on the actual field of play. The rest of the time, I'm watching New England. Curse you, Bill Belichick.

- The Patriots are the kind of team, and having the kind of season, for which a botched punt turns into a takeaway, and a bobbled trick play turns into a long touchdown. Sometimes, there's just no fighting it.

- Of course, it helps to not bite on play action when everyone else on the team can defend the run, but only you can stop the receiver running free deep down the middle. Listen, this game won't be but a bump in the road along Anthony Smith's very promising career… if he can learn not to bite in those situations, as he has done so prominently three times in the last four games.

- The game really did remind me an awful lot of the Monday Nighter in Indianapolis in 2005. In that game, the defense gave up some points, but it showed some ability to frustrate and counter Peyton Manning. The offense couldn't do squat, though, and they got blown out of the building. When the playoffs rolled around, the coaches and players found way to make the offense work well enough to get the job done. Against New England, the offense didn't put points on the board, but it showed plainly that the Steelers can move the ball on that defense, and I very much believe that even incremental improvement on the defensive side could prompt a much different outcome, should they manage to get to a playoff rematch.

- It's pretty obvious how important the game against Jacksonville now becomes. I'd really rather that the Ravens not think that there's anything more than pride on the line when they close out their own disappointing season.

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