QUOTE: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl reign ended Thursday night on the shores of Lake Erie. At one point this season, the Steelers looked like they might defend their title well, especially after a Monday night game last month against the Broncos -- a 28-10 victory in which they looked like they could be one of the best teams in the NFL. But injuries, mistakes in the kicking game and a defense that failed to play typical Steelers run defense let them down. In addition, the game plan of opposing teams to keep Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket, not allow him to make loose plays or react to his pump fakes has been very successful.
The last time the Steelers played the Browns, they had more than 500 yards of offense, but last night, they mustered only 216. The Browns’ pressure package was great, but I thought they did a wonderful job keeping Big Ben in the pocket and not letting him move around. Many teams this season have played man to man against the Steelers’ wideouts, but unless Roethlisberger is kept in the pocket, his lateral movement creates time, which allows separation for the receivers and results in big plays. Last night, that didn’t happen; Roethlisberger’s biggest play of the night went for 24 yards.
But the story of the night was Josh Cribbs, who single-handedly beat the Steelers. With his returns, receiving yards and rushing yards, Cribbs gained 200 yards alone, which was more than three-quarters of the Browns’ offense. He was great, showing fans who don’t get to see him every week his incredible power, balance, speed and, most of all, his toughness. He was clearly the difference in the game as the Steelers never really had an answer when he touched the ball. Had the Browns been able to complete a few passes, this game might not have been as close as 13-6. But the inability of Browns quarterback Brady Quinn to put the ball in the right spot hurt the passing game, although Quinn at least did a good job protecting the ball and not turning it over.
So does this big win preserve coach Eric Mangini’s job for next year? I had been hearing he would not be coming back, but beating the Steelers is always a big deal in Cleveland, especially since they have not beaten them since 2000. I give Mangini credit for having his team play hard and for having a good game plan, especially defensively, but this win doesn’t change my position on the direction of the Browns. Yes, beating the Steelers is a great win, but the Chiefs and Raiders have recently done the same thing. When the Chiefs upset the Steelers in overtime, it was perhaps the biggest upset of the year, then the Raiders had their come-from-behind effort last week, and that became the biggest upset. Then last night. So to borrow the words of Denny Green, “Are the Steelers who we thought they were?” Hardly.
I really believed Steelers coach Mike Tomlin could get this mess turned around, but like a jockey who keeps using his whip on his horse without a response, the Steelers have not responded. The Steelers look like the team that lost the Super Bowl last year and are having a Super Bowl hangover. They didn’t have this hangover earlier in the year, but as the season has progressed, they seem to be unable to find ways to make critical plays. I admire Hines Ward for trying to play last night, but he spent more time on the ground than running routes, and he was exactly the kind of player the Browns wanted to face when they designed their man-to-man schemes. A slow receiver with a bad hamstring is a defensive coordinator’s delight.
As Bill Belichick would always remind me, “We are what our record says we are,” no matter how many close games you might lose. The Steelers are not a good team now, and Thursday night they were beaten by a more physical team and a more determined team. They must regroup and start thinking about next year.
We have not heard the last from Tomlin and his Steelers, but we’ve heard the last from them this year.
Off to cover Denver at Indy this week. Last week Drew Brees, this week Peyton Manning.
Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi
To read more about the Steelers' playoff hopes dying Thursday night in Cleveland, check out this article from Bleacher Report.
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