as i have already written, i was able to attend the last game of the regular season for the pittsburgh steelers against the cleveland browns in heinz field. i've already discussed my experience at the game, but i haven't yet written about the fact that the steelers won the game, pushing their record to 12-4 to wrap up the regular season.
here are some of my thoughts on the game:
-yes we were playing cleveland. and cleveland really is terrible this year (and pretty much every year it seems). and yes, the game was "meaningless." however, i love that tomlin and the players took it seriously from beginning to end. i remember watching the colts in the 2005 postseason in the divisional round of the playoffs, when the steelers came to town. they hadn't played in a couple of weeks, and when they had played in the waning weeks of the regular season they had rested and not played to win. when the steelers came to town and brought playoff intensity with them, the colts just weren't ready. they were rusty and slow and physically unprepared. and, as you may remember, they were beaten by the steelers. i did not want to see that happen to us this year. i am glad we played hard and played to win.
-yes, the fact that they played to win meant that they played starters, which meant that they were risking injury. and yes, ben got hurt. but my feeling on this (and it is just a gut feeling right now) is that while you never want to see your starting quarterback lying on the ground or in the hospital or even on the sideline at practice recovering from a concussion, i think this can only help the steelers, assuming that ben can come back 100%. i watched ben on the field, with every emt in a 6 mile radius around him. then i watched him on the board and then on the cart. i watched him as they drove him off the field and just before he entered the tunnel he lifted his hand to give a thumbs up to the steeler faithful - what a flair for the dramatic. ben is going to be fine, i think. and i think this will only add to his legend, and to the respect his teammates have for him. he will continue to lead, and this year, i think, he will lead his team to the superbowl.
-personally, it was great for me to see hines get some milestones (1000 yards, 80 catches on the season, 800 receptions for his career). anyone who knows me knows that i am a huge hines ward fan (my favorite steeler of all time), and so this was great. no matter how much people say that he isn't as fast as he once was, or how he drops the ball more now, or how he is washed up, or how he can't run routes anymore, or that he won't be back next year, or whatever, he just keeps showing up and putting up solid play (all around play, not just numbers and stats) that helps his team win. he is a gamer and it was nice to see him get some milestones.
-great to see us run a bit, even if it was on the brown streaks. great job by fast willie parker to turn on the jets a little. great job by gary russell to pick up first downs in some short yardage situations, and to really demonstrate a will to run and fight off arm tackles. he was persistent and strong. i want to see more of that in the playoffs. and a great job by bruce arians to call some running plays from the i formation (with a fullback: sean mccugh). those plays seemed to work for the most part. we MUST be able to run the ball in the playoffs.
-speaking of playoffs, congrats to the steelers for a great regular season. facing a daunting schedule, the steelers went 3-1 in each quarter of the season, and won some impressive games along the way. now that they are in the nfl's second season, none of that matters, but as a fan i know i am pleased with their season this year.
-finally, as a fan i would be remiss if i did not mention that it has been a complete joy to witness this defense in action this year. this is one of the best defenses that anyone has EVER had the privilege to watch, and so i have been trying to appreciate every moment of it, even when i'm frustrated that they aren't doing even more. basically, i'm a lucky football fan that gets to watch this defense every week.
-now we have a week off before we play our first playoff game. hopefully tomlin keeps the guys focused and hungry and disciplined. hopefully the days off help players get healthy. and hopefully, when the next ball is kicked in heinz field, the steelers will flex their muscles and be ready to make a run to the superbowl.