The NFL's Bye Week, a man-made phenomena, sits near the top of this writer's NFL laments, along with rules that rob the game of its toughness, and limiting halftime to 13 minutes, much to the disregard of the needs of the paying customers at the respective venues. The Bye Week was created, in 1990, prior to their ever having been a need articulated to offer players a week off during the season, to sooth whatever might be ailing them. The NFL played a 16-game schedule from 1978 through 1989, sans Bye Weeks. There was a three-year period of Bye Weeks beginning in 1990, and then for the 1993 and 1994 seasons, there were doubleBye Weeks. In any event, the Bye Week is certainly here to stay, and most football aficionados use the week off from their fandom to rake leaves, repair gutters, visit in-laws, and other non-favored activities.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers resume work after their version of an annual plant shutdown, it's an opportune time to examine the ongoing scourge of 4th Quarter Malaise. Whereas the calling card of the '08 Steelers was the 4th Quarter Comeback, this team's signature has been the 4th Quarter Meltdown:
* Chicago: The Two Pairs Game; there were a pair of Jeff Reed misses, compounded by the defense permitting a pair of Jay Cutler-led scoring drives. The Steelers' offense did its part, driving the length of the field twice, only to have both drives end in "wide left."
* Cincinnati: Eleven point lead, with the ball, in the 4th quarter. There's no way Steelers will lose, right? Well, when the offense nets one solitary first down in two possessions, and the defense permits Carson Palmer to drive the length of the field twice, then a loss just might be in the cards.
* San Diego: The "No Lead is Safe Game." Up 28-0, a special teams gaffe for a touchdown, another special teams gaffe on an onsides kick, mixed with all-too-easy San Diego scoring drives make this game much, much too close.
* Detroit: Fifteen points ahead, with the ball in the 4th quarter, and Bruce Arians gets cute, starts throwing the thing the ball over the lot. The Lions drive for a TD, and come within striking distance at the end.
* Minnesota: The Steelers couldn't close the door again. The Steelers can't extend the lead due to Mendenhall putting the ball on the ground sans contact, and then are unable to tolerate prosperity when the lead is 10, allowing a kick return for a TD for the 2nd consecutive week.
The Steelers have allowed fourth-quarter sacks, sometimes in bunches, in most of these games. There was the sack in Chicago, directly preceding the initial Reed miss. There was one at Paul Brown Stadium, the lone sack of the game, on the Steelers' final offense play, while attempting to move the clock. There were three sacks against Detroit, all with that 15-point fourth quarter lead. There was a sack against Cleveland, trying to extend the lead past two scores. There was one while attempting to run the clock against Minnesota last week, prior to the Vikes' attempt to win the game, Roethlisberger very nearly losing a fumble in the process. >p>It's also been the case, trying to run the clock, that the Steelers have a positive running gain on 1st down, run again on second and lose yardage. Against Detroit, Mewelde Moore gained eight, then lost two, and the Steelers punted to the Lions, who began their final drive. Against Minnesota, Moore gained six, followed it up with a two-yard loss, and the Steelers were kicking away once again.
Then there are the kick returns, and yes, interception returns, for TDs, on 5 consecutive weeks.
So, anyway, what will the remainder of the season bring? The month of November provides the sternest of tests for these Pittsburgh Steelers. Should they sweep through November as they did in October, with victories over their two rivals for AFC North supremacy and their Rocky Mountain rival for playoff positioning, they will enter the year's final month well situated for not only a Division Championship, but for a first-round bye as well.