Showing posts with label Brett Keisel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brett Keisel. Show all posts

Monday, October 10, 2011

Week 5: Steelers 38, Titans 17

New faces

Daniel Sepulveda. Ryan Mundy. Jonathan Dwyer. David Johnson.

Not exactly the Steelers' Mount Rushmore.

But this quartet played a big role in chiseling out the Steelers' 38-17 win over the Titans Sunday at Heinz Field. These guys pretty much turned a 7-3 game into a 21-3 game, helping to slow down the run on ulcer medication in Western Pennsylvania this week.

The Steelers led 7-3 early in the second quarter and were about to punt from the 50. Instead, Sepulveda threw the ball to Mundy, a backup safety, for a 33-yard gain. Two plays later, Ben Roethlisberger threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward for a 14-3 lead.

Ward, who caught two TD passes Sunday, needs 26 receptions to become the eighth player all-time with 1,000. 

Johnson reached the 10-catch milestone for his career later in the second quarter when he hauled in a 1-yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to give the Steelers a 21-3 lead. It was the first career touchdown for the blocking tight end. Dwyer set that up with a 76-yard run to the Titans' 14. 

With guys like Dwyer and Isaac Redman getting carries in summer-like weather, this might have seemed like a preseason game. But thankfully, this win counts. It was the Steelers' third victory of the season, and the first without a "yeah, but" element to it.

Guys who fight for their jobs in August answered the call Sunday because of injuries that, curiously, seem to be just what the doctor ordered in the Steelers' problem areas.

The Steelers haven't been able to run the ball this season. Then Rashard Mendenhall gets hurt and they ground and pound their way to 174 yards on 28 carries. Dwyer ended up with 107 yards on 11 carries despite not getting the start. Redman started and had 49 yards on 15 carries. That's just over three yards a carry, which is less than impressive, but he just seemed harder to take down than Mendenhall has been.

Mendenhall was in uniform Sunday. He stood on the sideline with his helmet off, looking like a restless kid in church. Do the Steelers now have a running back controversy? My guess is Mendenhall gets his job back when he's healthy. Hopefully seeing that the Steelers can run the ball without him is the jolt he needs.

Another reason the Steelers were a .500 ballclub entering Sunday's game was their inability to stop the run. Then Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton go down, and look what happens, they stopped the run.

Sunday brunches turned around and made their way up the esophagus of many a Steelers fan when Titans' running back Chris Johnson gained 21 yards on the game's first play from scrimmage. But that was as bad as it got. Johnson had just 51 yards for the day, 34 of them on that first drive. Chris Hoke filled in well at nose tackle and Brett Keisel returned to the defensive line after being hurt for a couple of games. And a lot of bacon, eggs and pancakes resumed their normal digestive process.

Speaking of digestive systems that get a lot of action, tell me again why Max Starks hasn't been at left tackle all season?

OK, so Starks might have put on enough pounds to have his own TV show, The 400 Club. He was cut during the preseason but signed out of desperation this week. Even with a spare truck tire around his waist, it seems the Steelers could have used him for the first four games.

Roethlisberger was sacked 14 times in those games, but was sacked just once Sunday despite moving around like his left foot was in a bucket. Could Starks rescue the O-Line the same way Flozell Adams did last season? Better yet, let's start Adams on the Max Starks Diet and get him back at right tackle.

The offensive line helped pave the way Sunday for just the second five-touchdown game of Roethlisberger's career. The last of those touchdowns was a 40-yard connection to Mike Wallace that made it 38-17 with less than three minutes left in the game. One of the few weapons the Steelers have been able to count on this season is a bomb to Wallace. The speedy receiver has caught a pass of 40 yards or more in four straight games, and the Steelers needed his touchdown Sunday to quiet rumblings of a Titans comeback.

The Titans recovered an onside kick late in the third quarter after pulling to within 28-10. Then LaMarr Woodley, who decided that Sunday would be a good time to start earning his money, immediately intercepted a Matt Hasselbeck pass to squash any momentum from the onside kick. Woodley also had a sack in the game and shared another sack.

While that takeaway couldn't have come at a better time, it was the only one forced by the Steelers Sunday. The defense still has forced just two this season, but somehow the Steelers are 3-2.

There's always a chance the aging Steelers' defense paralleled the weather Sunday and experienced an Indian summer phenomenon. Maybe it was one of those "that old dog can still hunt" kind of days. But they've allowed 89 points through five games. The only other team that's played five games and allowed fewer points is the 49ers with 78. So this Steelers defense has to be doing something right.

Let's not forget, too, that three of the Steelers' first four games were on the road. Now, three of their next four are at home. Their next two games, home to Jacksonville and at Arizona, are against 1-4 teams. Hopefully the Steelers can ace those pop quizzes and bone up for mid-term exams at home against the Patriots (Oct. 31) and Baltimore (Nov. 6).

Wins in those two games might have a way of making the Steelers seem a few years younger.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brown bags Ravens

AFC divisional playoffs:
Steelers 31, Ravens 24

By Mike Batista

The Baltimore Ravens looked scary during the offseason, having acquired wide receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. This gave them some pop in their offense to go with their always stellar defense.

The Steelers, however, trumped the addition of those two stars with a sixth-round draft pick.

With the score tied 24-24, the Steelers faced a third-and-19 from their own 38 with 2:07 left in the game. The first playoff overtime under the new rules loomed -- until Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown.

The rookie from Central Michigan caught the ball on a fly pattern, then went all David Tyree and used his helmet to secure the ball before going out of bounds at the Ravens' 4.

Since returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the Steelers' 19-11 win at Tennessee in Week 2, Brown has been overshadowed by draftmate Emmanuel Sanders, who was chosen in the third round.

Sanders had 28 catches this season. Brown had 16. Sanders dressed for 13 games this season. Brown dressed for nine.

But on Saturday, Brown did what Boldin and Houshmandzadah couldn't. He held on to the ball when it mattered most.

The Ravens could have gone ahead 28-24 with four minutes left, but Boldin dropped a 6-yard Joe Flacco pass at the goal line, so they settled for a game-tying field goal.

After Rashard Mendenhall's 2-yard touchdown run gave the Steelers a 31-24 lead, the Ravens' last chance came on fourth-and-18 from their own 44. Flacco threw what would have been a first-down pass right into Houshmandzadeh's chest, but proving you can take the player out of Cincinnati, but you can't take the Cincinnati out of the player, Houshmandzadeh let it bounce to the ground.

Game over. Steelers back in the AFC championship game.

The Steelers, however, dropped the ball their fair share of times on Saturday. In fact, infamy beckoned as they faced a 14-point deficit.

An immeasurable comeback

This was one of those games that gets me in a ranking mood.

The Steelers' dramatic win, in which they came back from a 21-7 halftime hole, got me going through the file cabinet of my mind, trying to think of other Steelers playoff comebacks and where this ranks.

I've been watching the Steelers since 1979, but I must admit I needed the Internet the morning after to jog my memory and dust off the Steelers' 36-33 win over the Browns in a 2002 AFC wild-card game. Maybe it's because it was pre-Roethlisberger and pre-Polamalu, but I kind of forgot about that game.

Mathematically, that was a bigger comeback. They trailed 24-7 in the third quarter and 33-21 with less than five minutes left in that one.

But Saturday's comeback can't be measured with a calculator, a slide rule or an abacus. The Steelers not only needed to come back on the scoreboard, they needed to come back emotionally.

In a play that would have been talked about for decades had the Steelers lost, the Ravens' Cory Redding picked up a fumble at the Steelers' 13 and ran it in for a touchdown late in the first quarter.

Terrell Suggs hit Roethlisberger and forced the fumble, although the ball was fumbled forward, making it look like an incomplete pass. Even though there was no whistle, everyone on both teams stood around thinking the play was over.

Except Redding.

The Steelers' flub gave the Ravens a 14-7 lead and was reminiscent of blooper clips from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first year as an expansion team. Or maybe the Steelers of the 1930s and 1940s.

Bucco Bruce would have been proud.

They once were lost

The Steelers and Ravens entered this game so closely matched that their previous four games all were decided by three points. The Steelers had won nine of their 17 meetings since 2003, and in those games both teams had scored 302 points.

So in a game where just a blink or a twitch could have been the difference, here was this big, fat gaffe that gave the Ravens seven points.

It was like a guy being on a date and getting caught looking at the women's breasts right after they sit down at the table. Makes it awfully hard to get a second date. The guy's probably one and done.

So it seemed with the Steelers. But their first-half ineptitude didn't end with that play. In the second quarter, Rashard Mendenhall, playing in his first playoff game, fumbled at the Steelers' 16. That led to a 4-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Todd Heap and a 21-7 Ravens lead.

Even on the fumble, there didn't seem to be much awareness that there was a fumble. It seemed odd that the pile of bodies wasn't untangling like it usually does after an ordinary play. It turns out it was no ordinary play, and the Steelers were again asleep at the switch.

After the play, Mike Tomlin stared wide-eyed at the scoreboard. His mouth opened briefly, revealing the green gum he chewed throughout the game. But no words came out. He was out of challenges, although that didn't matter because Mendenhall clearly fumbled the ball.

Tomlin, as well as his team, seemed lost.

Now there's a turnabout

The second half didn't start out much better. The Steelers didn't do much with their opening possession and had to punt.

Then, CBS showed its little graphic saying the Ravens had seven road playoff wins, tied for third most in the NFL all-time.

It's funny how having your ass kissed by CBS often turns into the kiss of death in the NFL.

Right after that, James Harrison sacked Flacco. Two plays after that, Ryan Clark forced a Ray Rice fumble, and LaMarr Woodley recovered at the Baltimore 23.

I watched the game at Bob Hyland's Sports Page in White Plains, which is not far from Rice's hometown of New Rochelle. The fumble quieted Rice's homies, who weren't wearing Ravens gear, but to that point had a lot more to cheer about than the dozen or so of us wearing black and gold.

It also led to a 9-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller, cutting the Ravens' lead to 21-14.

Late in the third quarter, Clark intercepted Flacco at the Ravens' 42. The pick, along with the forced fumble, absolved Clark for his role in the Steelers' first-half follies, when he tried to help out Ike Taylor covering Derrick Mason and hit Taylor instead, nearly taking him out of the game.

This turnover set up an 8-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward, tying score at 21.

Flacco, clearly shaken by the events of the third quarter, fumbled a snap at his own 23 two plays into the Ravens' next possession. Brett Keisel recovered, and it turned into Shaun Suisham's 35-yard field goal, which gave the Steelers a 24-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.

After the Steelers held the Ravens to the field goal thanks to Boldin's drop, Mendenhall provided the winning points on his 2-yard run.

Bang for the buck

Mendenhall had only 46 yards on 20 carries, but most of those yards came at crucial times. His winning TD was his second short-yardage score. He opened the scoring with a 1-yard run on a second effort in the first quarter.

More than half of Mendenhall's yards came on two carries that sparked the Steelers' touchdown drives in the third quarter.

Immediately after Rice's fumble, Mendenhall ran 14 yards to the 9. Then came the 9-yard pass to Miller that made it 21-14.

On the first play after Clark's interception, Mendenhall went 13 yards to the Ravens' 12. Three plays later, Ward tied it with his touchdown.

It was the first time the Steelers came back from 14 points down in any game since their last playoff loss, in 2007 at home to Jacksonville. They trailed 28-10 in that game and took a 29-28 lead before losing 31-29.

But that Steelers team was decimated by injuries and not expected to go very far in the playoffs.

Expectations are much higher for this team, a team that on Saturday not only escaped the Ravens, but also infamy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jolly good fun

Steelers 38, Buccaneers 13

By Mike Batista

The Steelers' September Sweatfest Tour took them from the heat of Tennessee last week to the heat of Tampa Bay on Sunday.

If Tennessee had been a House of Horrors for the Steelers before they punched the Titans in the mouth last week, Raymond James Stadium has been a Fun House for the franchise over the past decade.

The Steelers' last two visits to the home of the Jolly Roger included a Super Bowl victory two years ago and an electrifying Monday-night mugging of the Super Bowl-champions-to-be Buccaneers in 2002.

On Sunday, the Steelers returned to their favorite Florida getaway and came back with more cherished memories for the scrapbook.

Charlie Batch will be able to tell his grandkids (and I wouldn't be surprised if he actually was a grandfather) about the game he had Sunday. In his first start since the meaningless regular-season finale in 2007, Batch completed 12 of 17 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns. It was one of the best games of his workmanlike, 13-year career.

Batch overcame an interception on his first throw with TD passes to Mike Wallace for 46 and 41 yards.

In between those touchdowns, Batch highlighted a drive by scrambling 24 yards to the Bucs' 24. Then, as if to prove he didn't need an oxygen mask after the longest run of his career, the 35-year-old Batch threw 21 yards to Heath Miller on the next play, setting up Rashard Mendenhall's 3-yard touchdown run and a 14-6 Steelers lead.

Playing behind an offensive line that had Max Starks back at left tackle and Doug (The Big) Legursky replacing injured Trai Essex at right guard, Batch wasn't sacked. It was the Steelers' first sack-free game since their Week 12 loss in Baltimore last season. Of course, they were protecting lightning-quick Dennis Dixon in that game. While Batch obviously doesn't have the mobility of Dixon, "slippery" might be a good word to describe his presence in the pocket.

Batch's third TD pass came with 19 seconds left in the first half, a 9-yard connection with Hines Ward to give the Steelers a 28-6 lead.

When watching the game at Public House, a Steelers bar in Manhattan, I saw Batch going into the locker room before the end of the half. I thought maybe he was hurt, but was relieved to find out he apparently just wanted to get an extra minute or two out of the brutal Florida sun.

You know things are going well for the Steelers when you worry about Charlie Batch going into the locker room.

Batch isn't the only Steeler who had a once-in-a-lifetime game.

Brett Keisel, a 285-pound defensive end, 315 pounds if you count the beard, opened the fourth quarter by intercepting a tipped pass and returning it 79 yards for a touchdown and a 38-6 Steelers lead.

The Steelers entered the game with an NFL-high eight forced turnovers and added two on Sunday. This is what was missing last season. Turnovers aren't just window dressing for a defense, they are a necessary element of winning. In the vast majority of NFL victories, the winning offense gets to work with a short field at least once or twice. Making teams punt the ball away is nice, but it's too passive of an approach for a championship defense.

Ryan Clark grabbed the Steelers' other turnover Sunday, recovering a fumble that was forced by James Farrior. It set up Wallace's second touchdown.

Troy Polamalu, who had an interception in each of the first two games, had an interception Sunday, too. It just didn't count.

Polamalu got off work early in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand when Bucs' quarterback Josh Freeman threw the ball out of bounds. Polamalu, with his helmet off and the Head & Shoulders locks in full regalia, caught the ball.

Not that the Steelers needed to provide any other form of entertainment for their fans on this afternoon, but Polamalu's off-duty catch added a few laughs to the show.

Along with the surprises of a clean game by the O-Line, Old Man Batch's scramble and Diesel Keisel's ramble, there was also the standard fare of Dancing With Rashard, and for once Mendenhall's steps were not just fancy but also functional.

Three plays before Batch's run, another 35-year-old figured prominently when Bucs' cornerback Ronde Barber tried to close in on Mendenhall. The running back spun his way into a different route, avoiding any contact with Barber, and completed a 15-yard run.

Mendenhall ran for 143 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown, a big reason why the Steelers finally found a way to put some real points on the board without Ben Roethlisberger, who will be back in the locker room a week from today.

More games like that will be expected from Mendenhall long after Roethlisberger comes back. Batch's body of work in Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is nearly complete. After almost being cut before the start of the season, Sunday's performance was an Abe Vigoda-like resurrection of his distinguished seven-year career as the Steelers' backup quarterback.

All he has to do is mind the store on offense for another week. If the Steelers can beat the Ravens at home on Sunday, it will give them their first 4-0 start since 1979. Regardless of the outcome, another game as the starter (and I think we'll be spared any hemming and hawing this week about who will start) will enhance Batch's role as sideline counselor to Roethlisberger.

If Roethlisberger hadn't already learned his lesson, hopefully he learned it Sunday. Like the one kid who couldn't go on the class trip, he missed out on a fun day for the Steelers.