Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The War of 18-12

The Pittsburgh area is where a lot of the action of the War of 1812 took place, when Cincinnati didn't even exist. But after the Steelers lost to the Bengals by the score of 18-12 on Sunday, overlooking Cincy is no longer possible.

Cincy has been a middling to terrible team for years now, and it got no respect from Pittsburgh sportswriters even this year, but the facts are the facts: with this victory, Cincy is well placed to win the AFC North, the Steelers division, and so the Steelers will probably need a wild card berth to even get into the playoffs.

That isn't much of a stretch, as Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette figures it. It does mean there's little room for error, especially in a schedule heavy on bad to middling teams, with only two games with Baltimore, maybe Green Bay and the final game with Miami as apparently much of a challenge. The Steelers could lose one of the Baltimore games and one more, and still probably be in good shape. But there's really no telling--it's an especially dangerous year, with the difference between very bad teams and very good teams so striking. A lot of 1 and 2 victory teams means a lot more teams with just a few loses. There's no room really for a surprise loss to a bad team, as there was early in the season.

As for Sunday's loss, Coach Tomlin already is addressing the most conspicuous deficiency- special team coverage of kicks. Cinncy became the third team in the past four games to run a kick off back for a TD--the only TD in the entire game. Otherwise, though no one is saying it, Big Ben's off-game, along with his receivers, may well be a consequence of the Denver game the previous Monday, acclimating to that stadium, then reacclimating during the short week. That was about all that really went wrong--the defense was pretty stout, especially since Troy Polamalu left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. That injury may turn out to be not as serious as first thought, though he's expected to miss the next game at Kansas City.

The Steelers-Bengals might have been the game of the week--though it must have been torture to watch (wasn't broadcast here)--except for the New England-Indianapolis slugfest Sunday night. Two teams without much of a running game but two superb quarterbacks. I saw some of this game, when New England was dominating. But Indianapolis pulled out a one point win to remain undefeated. They may well be a team of destiny this year, but I wouldn't bet against New England. The playoffs are going to be pretty interesting, and the season is barely half over.

As for college, I had to root for Pitt against my mother's team, Notre Dame, and Pitt almost blew it. Although I like USC, how about that Stanford? They are something--I watched Oregon's offense run over USC, then get run over by Stanford, and then this Saturday Stanford ran over USC. 55 points! I wish I'd seen more of that game.

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