Monday, November 22, 2010

Just like old times

Steelers 35, Raiders 3

By Mike Batista

As Steelers fans, we have grown accustomed to certain spectacles being part of games in recent years.

A couple of these have been missing this season.

Until Sunday.

The only time the Steelers' 35-3 victory over the Raiders was even remotely threatened, Troy Polamalu eased any budding worries with his first high-flying interception of the year.

It wasn't Polamalu's first pick of the season, it was his third. But it was his first since Week 2, and the first that involved that signature return with his flowing locks blazing behind him like the tail of a comet.

We hadn't seen that all season. It was nice to finally see it, especially with one of the antagonists of the Steelers' 2009 collapse, Bruce Gradkowski, on the verge of getting the Raiders back in the game, kind of.

The fourth of the Steelers' five straight losses last season came at the hands of Gradkowski and the Raiders. In that game, the Steelers only could manage a 10-6 lead after three quarters before a see-saw fourth quarter.

The Steelers (7-3) had the screws tightened a lot better Sunday, leading 21-3 when Gradkowski replaced Jason Campbell late in the third quarter. But Gradkowski, who showed a much quicker release than Campbell, moved the Raiders 76 yards to the Steelers' 24. Not that I was really worried about the Steelers blowing the game, but it was starting to at least look like the Raiders were going to hang around until the end like an annoying kid brother, much like the Browns did earlier this season.

Polamalu took care of that, picking off Gradkowski and returning it to the Steelers' 46. Two plays later, the fourth quarter opened to Ben Roethlisberger's 52-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace and a 28-3 Steelers lead.

As distinctive as his appearance is, Polamalu had been pretty much invisible since Week 2. During last week's loss to the Patriots, NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth said that the "roaming" role in the Steelers' defense, which Polamalu used to perform, now belongs to Lawrence Timmons. He said that Polamalu's role with the Steelers' defense is more "structured." If that's true, it's a mistake.

Polamalu's better when he covers a lot of ground. With six tackles to go with his interception, he had his best game since his Pro Bowl-caliber play the first two weeks of the season. It will help to have that hair whipping around down the stretch as the Steelers fight for a playoff spot.

Polamalu's interception wasn't the only bit of Steelers theatrics to make a revival after being absent this season.

No more Seymour

It seems that since his suspension, the new and rehabilitated Roethlisberger has kicked his habit of writhing around in pain after stubbing a toe.

It looked like the old Ben was back when he went down after throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders, giving the Steelers a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter.

At the Irish Exit, a Steelers bar in Manhattan, the customary playing of the "Steelers Polka" after every touchdown stopped abruptly when it became apparent Roethlisberger was hurt.

It turns out Roethlisberger was hit in a place that has felt some impact before: his face. Fortunately, Richard Seymour's hand is a lot softer than the pavement at the intersection of Second Avenue and 10th Street in Pittsburgh.

Seymour apparently ejected himself from the game for the incident. Maybe he wanted to get out of there because there was a 3 p.m. showing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows" at the South Side Works Cinema. Who knows.

That brings us to the penalties. I believe there were a few of them in this game.

Flag Day

The Steelers won despite a team-record 163 penalty yards on 14 infractions. One of those was called on Chris Kemoeatu when he and a bunch of other Steelers bum rushed Seymour after he hit Roethlisberger.

You can talk about how the league's getting soft with all these penalties. I see it as the Steelers winning this game in a bad-ass way. They were ornery after getting pushed around by the Patriots last week. They didn't want to lose five games in a row again, and here was one of the teams that got them during that stretch. The Steelers were in a fighting mood.

Seymour-Roethlisberger might not have been much of a fight, but Roethlisberger showed some toughness by running for a 16-yard touchdown on third down. Unlike Super Bowl XL and this year's game in Miami, there was no doubt the ball got across the goal line. The touchdown gave the Steelers a 14-3 lead and essentially put them in control of the game.

The Raiders (5-5) seemed even more dangerous than the team that burned the Steelers last year. They entered the game having won three in a row, beating the Broncos, Seahawks and Chiefs.

If you can beat an up-and-coming team like that by 32 points -- the Steelers' biggest margin of victory since 2006, by the way -- despite getting flagged on just about every other play, then you're a damn good team. Or at least good enough to bring a team that's a little full of itself down a few pegs.

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