The audible groan that rose from Heinz Field as the last ditch heave-ho from Ben Roethlisberger to Nate Washington caromed off the fingertips and into the hands of a Colts defender in the south end zone said everything about this game. It was a game that was there for the taking, a game that the Steelers should have won.
If ever cinema imitated real life, then the movie Moonstruck starring Cher comes to mind. "Bad luck," she cries in the movie when her love life starts to blow up. When the second Ike Taylor tipped ball was scooped up by Reggie Wayne totaling 81 yards and a touchdown, I was screaming the same. You cannot cover any better than Ike blanketed Reggie Wayne and come away with worse results than that.
But on this day watching that secondary battle all day, and battle well, two great coverage examples jump to mind. Tyrone Carter scared the be jeepers out of Marvin Harrison at the goal line. Carter zoomed in on Harrison, coming over the top from his safety position and I happened to be ringside at the moment of collision. Harrison was looking at Carter all the way. Good stuff. Carter's hit on the free-ranging Anthony Gonzalez when Deshea Townsend popped a wheel while in coverage was huge. Sawed him in half, he did. That one hurt in the morning.
Bad luck continued when Troy Polamalu jumped in front of a Peyton Manning fastball to Dallas Clark that from ground level and my vantage point appeared to be deflected by Clark. If Clark doesn't get a hand on that ball, it's six.
Most disturbing to me was the first and goal from the five that the Steelers couldn't punch in. One of the lost arts in the NFL appears to be how to block root-hogging knee-high defensive linemen in goal-line situations. A wily hog, knowing that the undersized Colt D linemen will shoot the gap, should anticipate the low charge and come with the double fisted uppercut ripping under the defender. Turn the man's head, and follow through by marinating the man's ribs with your knees after you cross-face him. The body follows the head. Get that head turned! Lying on the man does nothing but stack up the hole.
In the second quarter, after the Big Ben to Hines Ward flea-flicker, Mewelde Moore scored standing up from the one-yard line. That was a different situation, one that had the Colts gambling and running a tackles-out, or a charge where both inside DT's angled from the inside gap to the outside shoulder of the guards with the linebackers filling the inside gaps. A good block by Justin Hartwig opened the door for Moore. Obviously the Colts decided to shelve the tackles out call for a pinch in the fourth quarter when they stuffed the Steelers.
I know there's a lot of discussion over whether or not Ben should have sat this one out. So here's my two cents: Ben's your bell cow, your leader that's been cleared to play by the medical staff and the coaches, and you go with him. For 30 of those 42 passes he was very good. Two were bad. If you say he lost the game, then you've got to say he put the Steelers in position to win the game, too. However, I will say this: Ben and Santonio Holmes just don't appear to have the same chemistry they had coming out of training camp.
The counter lead with Chris Kemoeatu pulling from his left guard position around the right side and turning up on Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett was a winner about every time they ran it. Chris palpitated Brackett on one counter lead right into the turf. It was at the very least a head snapper on every collision and I wish the Steelers could have run the counter more. Add in the fine work of Willie Colon and Darnell Stapleton on the double-teams, too.
James Harrison had a monster game that truthfully should have been even bigger. While watching tape on the Colts during the week, I couldn't help but think that the Silverback would have a field day with Colts left tackle Tony Ugoh. The guy doesn't punch, has poor footwork, and plays head heavy (ducks his head). Harrison looked like a muscled up Ferrari blowing the doors off a Yugoslavian made Yugo in a drag race, yet James only racked up one sack. That was more of a testament to the double teams that Harrison drew and the quick release of Manning.
That Colts secondary did a good job of not letting Steelers wide receivers get behind them. And if there's not a greater testament to the rise of Nate Washington and his deep ball ability, all you had to do was take a gander at the last drive. Every time Nate split wide by himself, Colts safety Bob Sanders would bail out prior to the snap to play over the top coverage on Nate. Not Hines, not Santonio, but Nate. Says something, I think.
The bottom line in my most humble opinion was the lack of having a banging running game to put this one away. The Colts were ready to lie down. All the Steelers needed to do was put the boots to them. Peyton Manning is just too good to get that many opportunities to come back. And he got one too many.