Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers 2012: The Terrible Towel Waves Again

Dear Steelers,

I'm sorry that I placed my Terrible Towel over the DVD shelf while watching you play the Broncos in the playoffs last season. We now know that's bad luck. It won't happen again.

Since Tim Tebow threw his last good pass, the Terrible Towel has not been moved from that shelf. Rather than putting it into a drawer for the offseason, for some reason I just left it there.

While waiting for the 2012 season to arrive and wash out the bitter taste of your sudden demise, I have placed various trinkets on top of the Terrible Towel to mark the passage of time. First was my palm from Palm Sunday. Then came medals from road races I ran in June and on Labor Day.

It had been 14 years since I last ran a road race. Hines Ward's career began and ended during my hiatus from road racing. In between, I consumed a lot of beer, wings, pizza and nachos while watching you guys.

If I can lose 25 pounds and run road races for the first time since I was 26, you guys can, you know, win a seventh Super Bowl.

I will do my part by taking the Terrible Towel off the shelf and waving it again.

What do you say?


Mike Batista

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year, Steelers Fans

Yes, this is how I spend New Year's Eve, alone in my apartment blogging away.

I've been meaning to update this blog to let my fellow Steelers fans know what's going on with Respect the Towel, and this is really the first time I have a chance.

Hopefully most of you know I've started writing about the Steelers for Bleacher Report. My goal is to be read by a wider audience and hopefully get some sort of return on all the time I spend blogging about the Steelers.

In my first month on Bleacher Report, I've already been promoted to Steelers Featured Columnist. So it seems like a good move so far.

However, if you've been following me on Respect the Towel and Bleacher Report, you might be wondering why I didn't post any columns on the Steelers' last two games on either site.

I feel I need to explain this since I posted columns on every Steelers game from Week 1 of the 2007 season until the Steelers' win over the Browns this season.

As a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist, I'm required to write at least two columns a week. These aren't necessarily live game reactions, but rather assigned titles that call for analysis or opinion on the season in general.

The Steelers' game against the 49ers came during my trial as a Steelers' Featured Columnist. By the following afternoon, I had to post a Bleacher Report article about how Rashard Mendenhall ranks among AFC North running backs (second to Ray Rice). I really couldn't blow that, so I wrote that rather than an article specifically about the game.

Then I crammed most of my Christmas shopping into three days, wrote another assigned Bleacher Report article and went home to New England for Christmas.

I watched the Steelers' win over the Rams at a sports bar in Rhode Island, but then visited family right after the game. No time for a blog post about the game, especially with my Bleacher Report requirement fulfilled for the week.

With the holidays behind us, hopefully I can get back to doing game articles. Most likely I'll be filling assigned Bleacher Report titles directly related to the game. Hopefully the Steelers provide plenty of games for me to write about over the next month or so.

I'll post occasionally on Respect the Towel so this blog doesn't wither away, but most of my Steelers writing going forward will be on Bleacher Report.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year and Go Steelers.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Steelers fans should be Tebow fans today

So who should Steelers fans root for in today's showdown between Team Evil and Team Tebow?

Do we actually want a Patriots win, which would decrease the Steelers' chances of running into Tebowmania in the playoffs?

Or do we want a Broncos' win, which would put them in a good position to win the AFC West?

I think Steelers fans should take a knee and pray.

Even if the Steelers somehow win the AFC North, they still need one more loss out of the Patriots or Texans to get a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Steelers would lose a three-way tie with the Patriots and Texans.

Today's game in Denver is probably the Steelers' best hope for a Patriots or Texans loss for the rest of the season.

The Patriots host the Dolphins and Bills in the final two weeks of the season. The Texans host Carolina today, are at Indianapolis next week and home to Tennessee in Week 17.

Even if the Broncos win today, the Steelers still need to win out and get a Ravens loss to earn a first-round bye.

But if God really is on Tebow's side, He's also on the Steelers' side on this Sunday.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Week 13: Steelers 35, Bengals 7

I'm on Bleacher Report Now

If you're wondering where my column on the Steelers' win over the Bengals is, it's on Bleacher Report, which is probably where my game articles will be going forward.

I still plan to keep Respect the Towel up and running. Every once in a while I might have some esoteric, quirky thoughts rattling around my head that wouldn't cut it on Bleacher Report. No swearing on Bleacher Report, either, so I'll need Respect the Towel as an outlet for some of my adult language.

Below is the link to this week's article. Thank you for your support, and go Steelers.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Week 12: Steelers 13, Chiefs 9

Steelers win, for real

So who survives cutdown day? 

What? That wasn't a preseason game on Sunday? The Steelers actually get credit for a regular-season win after that performance?

Weslye Saunders. Ryan Mundy. Keenan Lewis. Jason Worilds. Those names normally remind us of August in Latrobe, not November in Kansas City.

Yet Saunders scored the game's only touchdown and Worilds had the Steelers' only sack, both career firsts, and Lewis and Mundy made their first career interceptions.

The truth is these guys are more than just practice fodder and special teams soldiers. Damn good thing, too, because most of the Steelers' household-name guys took the night off. 

The Steelers, leading by four points with four minutes left, were once again setting an "American Idol" stage for an unknown quarterback to hit the big time. Who can forget Curtis Painter, even though he's still no one's idol, tying the game in the final two minutes in Indianapolis? Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert came oh-so-close with his Hail Mary in Week 6.

Combine all those skeletons in the closet of the Steelers' defense with the vivid memory of Joe Flacco's winning drive three Sunday nights ago, and it seemed there was no way the Steelers were going to stop Tyler Palko with four minutes to go and 70 yards to defend. 

Then Lewis intercepted Palko with 38 seconds left to save the Steelers' ass. He also had a key pass breakup on a ball thrown to Steve Breaston that would have given the Chiefs a first down at the Steelers' 40 with two minutes left.

Mundy Night Football 

Until Sunday night, perhaps the most memorable moment of Lewis' career came during a 2010 preseason game when Mike Tomlin grabbed the front of his collar and chewed him out  like some bad-ass high school principal talking to a punk in the hallway. Lewis has come a long way since then. Now he's got a huge interception to show for all that progress.

Speaking of interceptions, if I would have told you that the Steelers would be 8-3 heading into December and Mundy would have more interceptions than Troy Polamalu, you would have thought I was so full of shit that my eyes were brown.

The Steelers played 56 minutes of the game without Polamalu, who was done after introducing his head to the knee of tackle-turned-receiver Steve Maneri. This is the second time this season Polamalu has left a game with "concussion-like symptoms." Isn't that a little bit like saying a woman has "pregnant-like" symptoms?

The fact is Polamalu has had so many concussions that one of these days he'll probably give himself another one shooting a Head & Shoulders commercial. That's how sensitive that noggin is.

Mundy might not fly all over the field like Polamalu, but he did lead the Steelers with seven tackles and he was where he had to be to get that pick, which gave the Steelers the ball on the Chiefs' 24 on a night when a long touchdown drive just wasn't happening. The second-quarter turnover led to Ben Roethlisberger's 2-yard pass to Saunders, the Steelers' backup tight end, and a 10-3 Steelers lead. Good for Saunders, although "WES-LEEEEEEE!" doesn't have the same ring to it as "HEEEEEEAAAAATH!"

Steelers get their take 

Like Mundy, Worilds showed he was more than just a warm body filling in for one of the cornerstones of the Steelers defense. He provided the Steelers with their only sack Sunday, which forced the Chiefs to punt late in the third quarter.

That was all well and good, but boy do the Steelers need LaMarr Woodley back. Any  quarterback not named Tyler Palko would have sliced and diced a defense with a puny pass rush like that. Hell, Tyler Perry probably would have done a better job.

Even on offense, the Steelers were bailed out by guys we don't expect much from. Hines Ward, who everyone figured would be buying announcer's suits during the bye week, tied for the team lead with four catches. He needs just 15 to reach 1,000 for his career.

Shaun Suisham made both of his field goal attempts, including a 49-yarder outdoors on a cold night to give the Steelers a 13-6 halftime lead. He's made 18 of his 23 field goal attempts this season, including 11 of his last 12. All that said, he's still not the guy I want kicking a 45-yard field goal with three seconds left and the Steelers down by two in a playoff game. He's getting there, though.

The Steelers would not have won without Suisham's field goals. They also would not have won without forcing four turnovers, the most they have forced in a game since Week 2 last season in Tennessee, when they forced seven. By forcing those four turnovers and turning it over just twice, they spared us my weekly turnover tally, because while their 10 takeaways and minus-8 turnover margin are still pretty pathetic, those stats are no longer of historic proportions.

An interception by Ike Taylor, not the first of his career although it seemed like it, and a fumble recovery by Brett Keisel accounted for the other Steelers takeaways. They needed all four of those turnovers to serve as a masking agent for everything that's wrong with this team.

The Chiefs gained just 90 yards on 34 carries, less than three yards a carry. But the Steelers' run defense seems to have a soft underbelly. They just don't seem to be stopping the run like they used to.

The Steelers offense was shut out in the second half for the third time this season. It didn't help that they were just 3 for 11 on third down. Rashard Mendenhall had his first bad game since Arizona, rushing for 57 yards on 17 carries, an average of 3.4 yards per carry.

How did this team beat the Patriots?

For the Steelers to win the AFC North, they're going to have to run the table and hope for one more Ravens loss. Or if they lose one, they'll need two Ravens losses. Right now, the Steelers don't look like a team that can run the table. If they play the way they did Sunday, there's at least a couple more losses down the road.

But like they did in Indianapolis and at home against Jacksonville, they played well enough to beat the team they played Sunday.

That's all that really matters.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Steelers win: My first 100 (or so) words

Well, not exactly the kind of performance needed to raise the Lombardi Trophy now, is it?

But, all the Steelers had to do Sunday was beat the Chiefs, and they completed that assignment, 13-9.

However, a championship team doesn't let Tyler Palko come that close to beating them. That's almost as bad as letting Curtis Painter tie the game on you in the final two minutes.

Oh, wait. That happened, too, didn't it?

There's a lot that needs to be fixed.

Halftime report: Steelers 13, Chiefs 6

5 Strange Things from the First Half

1. Troy Polamalu said "four" when they asked him what city he was in.

2. Maurkice Pouncey is puking in the locker room (probably).

3. Mewelde Moore is leading the Steelers in receptions with three.

4. Shaun Suisham kicked a long field goal.

5. The Steelers have forced half as many turnovers tonight as they have in the first 10 games.

Steelers-Chiefs: It's that time of year again

Oh what a day

Late November down in Kansas City

What a very shitty time for me

This bastardization of The Four Seasons' "Oh, What a Night" does not mean I'm predicting a Steelers' loss tonight at Arrowhead Stadium. I'm not even talking about tonight (notice the "Oh what a day" and not "Oh what a night"). I'm talking about what happened to the Steelers two years ago in Kansas City.

The Steelers entered the game 6-3 and lost 27-24 in overtime to the Chiefs, who were in the midst of a 4-12 season. It was the second of five straight losses for the Steelers, and we all know the rest of the story.

After dropping to 6-3 this season, the Steelers won two weeks ago and nixed a remake of the 2009 script. They're coming off a win and not a loss as they enter KC.

Still, by sending the Steelers to Kansas City in late November, just like they did two years ago, the NFL schedule makers are acting like that weasel of a teacher who keeps putting the same trick question into his tests until you get it right.

The Steelers need to stomp this demon to truly put 2009 in the past.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Steelers Bye Week

Giving Thanks and Wanting Stuff

Since the NFL started instituting bye weeks in 1990, this is the latest the Steelers have had theirs.

This bye is so late that it runs through Thanksgiving, and by the time the Steelers play their next game Nov. 27 at Kansas City, the Christmas shopping season will be well under way. For that matter, who among us this week hasn't seen Christmas decorations on light posts or heard Christmas carols at WalMart?

So let's be grateful and greedy. Let's give thanks and then tell Steeler Claus what we want under our tree this year.

Six Things Steelers Fans Are Thankful For:

1. Ben Roethlisberger's Toughness:
As long as his head is attached to his shoulders, No. 7 will be calling signals. Good thing, too, because while the Steelers' offensive line seems to be getting better, there's still a lot of room for improvement. Now Roethlisberger's got a broken thumb, but says he won't miss any time. Seems to me throwing a football with a broken thumb is like driving a car without a steering wheel. No matter what happens to Roethlisberger's body, he always gets up and keeps playing. Let's not take that for granted. Throughout his career, Roethlisberger's never been called the "best" quarterback in the NFL. There's always been a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning and now an Aaron Rodgers in front of him. But I challenge anyone to find a tougher, more durable quarterback.

2. 2009's History: It was a scary case of deja vu, a lot of spooky parallels to the Steel Market Crash of 2009. The 2011 Steelers started 6-2, then lost at home to a division opponent. In 2009 they started 6-2 then lost at home to the Bengals to start a five-game losing streak. In both 2009 and 2011, the Steelers had the Bengals and Chiefs back-to-back on their schedule. But the Steelers prevented a re-enactment of 2009 by beating the Bengals last week. That doesn't mean the Steelers still can't collapse this season. But at least there won't be any desperate talk of unleashing hell in December, especially if the Steelers can take care of business against the Tyler Palko-led Chiefs.

3. Antonio Brown's Rise:
It was third-and-19 when Brown went all David Tyree and pinned the ball against his helmet to set up the game-winning touchdown in last season's playoff game against the Ravens. It was third-and-19 from the Steelers' 15 last Sunday when Brown caught a 21-yard pass to keep a field goal drive going after the Bengals had narrowed the Steelers' lead to 14-10. Let's just call him Third Down Brown. He leads the AFC with 18 third-down catches and 282 third-down yards. You could argue he is the Steelers' best receiver. Mike Wallace catches the home run balls and has learned to catch passes in traffic, but Brown can make the circus catches. His Tyree-like catch last January was just the beginning.

4. Hines Ward's Maturity: Perhaps Ward was on to something when he dressed like a cheerleader on "Dancing with the Stars." With his drop to No. 4 on the Steelers' wide receiver depth chart, Ward said he'll be the Steelers' biggest cheerleader. How many other players, especially wide receivers, would say that? Ward always has stood apart from other divas at his position with his hard-nosed blocking. Now he's setting another example by putting the team ahead of himself. He needs 30 receiving yards to reach 12,000 for his career. He'll probably get that. But he needs 19 more catches to reach 1,000 for his career. He'd have to average more than three catches a game in the Steelers' six remaining games . That might not happen. Something tells me, however, that Ward's still got some key catches left in him, and if someone gets hurt, he'll be ready to step in.

5. Troy Polamalu's Health: Unlike Ben Roethlisberger, we never take Polamalu's health for granted. He's missed at least some time the last two seasons with injuries. So far, so good this year. Except for his fumble recovery and touchdown that helped the Steelers beat the Colts (how embarrassing would it be now if the Steelers had lost that game?), Polamalu hasn't made any "splash" plays on defense. That doesn't mean he's not playing well, however. He's got 62 tackles through 10 games this season. Last season, he had 63 tackles in 14 games. He made 73 tackles in 2008, the last time he played a 16-game season. So Polamalu is still making an impact. I'd love to see another 16-game season (and beyond) out of him.

6. Max Starks' Availability:
It's a damn good thing no one signed Starks. Tell me again why the Steelers didn't want to start the season with him? There are probably better left tackles in the NFL than Starks, but Jonathan Scott sure as hell isn't one of them. In the Steelers' first four games, Roethlisberger was sacked 14 times, putting him on pace to be sacked 56 times this season. Roethlisberger's been sacked 17 times in the six weeks since Starks returned. Now the Steelers have a shot at keeping Roethlisberger's sack total under 50 this season. Starks has helped stabilize the Steelers' offensive line. Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert really should be thankful that no one signed Starks. It helped them undo a major personnel blunder.

Six Things Steelers Fans Want for Christmas:

1. LaMarr Woodley Back: Move over, Reggie Jackson. Woodley was this year's Mr. October. He registered 7.5 of his nine sacks during the month before going down with a hamstring injury. Woodley's performance helped fuel the Steelers' four-game winning streak. Even without his sacks, the Steelers sacked up and beat the Bengals last Sunday. They also should be able to beat the Chiefs without Woodley if his hamstring needs another week. But there won't be a lot of January football this season if they don't get Mr. October back.

2. Antonio Brown Special Teams Touchdown:
We can't ask for much more from Brown this season, but there is one more thing Brown can do for us. At some point the Steelers might need a touchdown on special teams. Brown is tied for second in the NFL with five punt returns of 20-plus yards. The 49ers' Ted Ginn has seven. Brown is only averaging 11 yards per punt return, however, because of all his fair catches. In the first NFL game Brown suited up for, he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown last season in Week 2 at Tennessee. He's due for another special teams touchdown.

3. Pro Bowl for Ike Taylor: Let's get Ike Taylor lei-ed. The Pro Bowl is back in Hawaii this year, and Ike Taylor deserves to be there. Of course, we don't want Taylor to actually go to the Pro Bowl, because that would mean the Steelers won't be playing in Super Bowl XLVI the following week. We just want him to be invited. Seeing the way Taylor's played this season, it's hard to believe he's never been to a Pro Bowl. It's because he doesn't get a lot of interceptions (just 11 in his nine-year career). Hopefully this year he can prove that you don't need "ball skills" to get lei-ed.

4. More Ravens Losses: With no Steelers game to watch this Sunday, let's all take an orange salad bowl, draw black stripes on it with a magic marker, put it on our head and pretend we're Bengals fans. The Steelers still can win the AFC North and maybe get a first-round bye in the playoffs, which has benefited them in their last two trips to the Super Bowl. The Steelers just need the Ravens to lose one more game than they do the rest of the way. That means if the Steelers run the table, they'll still need the Ravens to lose one more. If the Steelers go 5-1, they'll need the Ravens to lose two more. The Ravens have followed up both of their wins over the Steelers with losses, and there also was that loss to Jacksonville. At least when the Steelers lose, they lose to decent teams. Despite their three losses, the Steelers look like a team that can beat anyone. The Ravens have shown they can lose to anyone.

5. Faith in Shaun Suisham: Maybe I'm being too hard on Suisham. He's made nine of his last 10 field goals, including a key 39-yarder against a stiff wind in Cincinnati. He's 16 for 21 this season. But is Suisham the guy you want attempting, say, a 42-yard field goal with the Steelers down by three points with three seconds left in a playoff game? I didn't think so. Some clutch kicks from Suisham would be a nice Christmas gift.

6. Century Club Membership for Rashard Mendenhall:
We really can't complain about Mendenhall's performance in the last three games. He's not used much because the Steelers are a pass-first team. Against the Patriots and Ravens, he had a combined 112 yards on 26 carries. That's 4.3 yards per carry. He had just 44 yards on 16 carries against the Bengals, but showed a real nose for the goal line on his two touchdown runs. With the weather getting colder and maybe snowier, the Steelers might need a few 100-yard rushing games from Mendenhall, who can be a fun running back to watch when he's got it all together.