Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unfathomable Steelers' loss just too much

Big Mouth and his buddy Big Ben both take big hits against Chiefs

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Part of the danger of writing a column like this is that your email address is printed in a prominent spot, you generally carry a cell phone, and your buddies are always looking to take a poke at you. Having a lifelong love affair with one team and the foolhardy habit of crowing about them in print means that... well, sometimes you get what you deserve.

We jump off a plane around 2:30 p.m. Sunday and immediately check the scores to discover that our Pittsburgh Steelers are winning but not likely to cover the spread. OK. A little disconcerting that this isn't a blowout against the lowly Chiefs, but a win is a win.

By the time we pulled our luggage out of a cab, the cell was ringing and the text messages were piling up. What? Overtime? Fine. Into the house and straight to the big screen. All good. The Steelers were marching. A field goal and a win seemed imminent. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets drilled. Ouch. More texts. Phone blowing up. In comes Charlie Batch and he drills a strike to Santonio Holmes. Here we go. Or so we thought. Stall. Punt. Defence needs to come up big.

Hey now, Ike Taylor steals the ball, wait a minute, he fumbles. Big play for the Chiefs. They advance to the five or so, chip-shot field goal and it's a loss.

Slumping real low in couch. Ignoring phone that appears to be on fire. Recalling snide remarks made to very good friend who cheers for Chiefs. That's his number that keeps coming up on call display. Go upstairs, look for plane ticket to Calgary and Grey Cup, don't leave until Thursday. Not soon enough. Must get out of town, now.

Here's our look at Week 11:


PITTSBURGH PITY PARTY: Worse than the loss was the injury quarterback Ben Roethlisberger picked up in overtime when hit at the end of a scramble. This play underlined a lot that is wrong with Pittsburgh right now. They've relied on Big Ben to do too much on a weekly basis and he's taken a beating from Week 1. Roethlisberger already has a pair of Super Bowl rings in his young career and Pittsburgh should be set in a fine way at quarterback for at least the next decade. But the club's inability to find a running game and a consistent offensive line has put their franchise player in peril time and time again. This must be fixed.


STILL CLEAN: The Colts and the Saints remain undefeated with sparkling 10-0 records. The schedule has the Saints facing the New England Patriots next week on MNF. If they get through that game, let the perfect-season watch begin. The Colts are at Houston next week and that too, will be a major test. There could be a race to 16 wins. Wow.


BUYING AND SELLING: Buy the Vikings, Colts and Saints. These are the three best teams in football. Sell the Steelers. Injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu has the crew from Pittsburgh in real trouble. Sell the Browns, they're as bad as their 1-9 record suggests.


THE SUPER-ELITE: Three teams in this group; Saints, Colts and Vikes. They're all alone.


THE ELITE: New England, Cincinnati and just because we need an NFC team, Dallas.


PARTY CRASHERS: These teams might make the post-season and start some trouble; Houston, San Diego and Arizona.


THREATS THAT HAVE FADED: Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New York Giants and Philadelphia.


FATIGUE AND FAVRE: The issue with Brett Favre the last couple of seasons has been fatigue and physical breakdown in the later stages of the season. There have been no signs of that so far this season. Favre was asked late Sunday how he felt, and he replied that he didn't feel 25 again, but did feel better than he has in years at this stage of the season. We were in the "he'll slump late when it counts" camp and it's beginning to look like we were full of hooey. If Favre can keep cruising, the 9-1 Vikes have to be considered Super Bowl contenders.


STILL THE BILL: So much for all the talk about Pats coach Bill Belichick having suddenly lost his genius and his players. The Hoodie led his team to an easy win over the Jets and the Pats are still a serious player with the backstretch coming up.


WHAT A WASTE: Terrell Owens had nine catches for 197 yards on Sunday in a losing cause for the Buffalo Bills. In what has become the signature of Owens' career, "who cares," has to be attached to this result. Owens will likely spend the rest of his time in the NFL having the odd big day for bad teams. Once the dominant receiver in the NFL, Owens could have taken good teams over the hump but will likely never get that chance again as his skills begin to diminish and his rep as a bad guy outweighs his abilities.


COLTS DOING IT WITH D: Sure, Peyton Manning is Indy's best player but on a day when he was ailing, throwing two interceptions and looking fairly ordinary, his defence had his back. Indy held the Ravens to no touchdowns, highlighted by a fourth-quarter goal-line stand when Baltimore had it first-and-goal at the one. Defence underpins championships and the Colts look sturdy on the dirty side of the ball despite a banged up secondary.


FIRE THAT COACH: Bills owner Ralph Wilson struck first when he fired Dick Jauron last week. It's time for Browns owner Randy Lerner to get his termination on and clip Eric Mangini. Now.


MR. MATT, TO YOU: Lions rookie quarterback Matt Stafford collected his second win of the season with a 400-yards-plus, five-touchdown performance. Stafford has taken his lumps but hasn't allowed his confidence to wane. This could be one of those, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" deals. Stafford looks like the kid to lead a resurgence in Motown.


FAN RANT: Send us an email at the address below, keep it clean, lean and mean (by lean we're saying under or real close to 100 words) and we might print it in this space next week.


CHANNEL YOUR INNER BOOKIE: Think you've got the jam to make a pick that deserves to be printed in our Thursday picks package? Follow the same rules as above and we might print it in our Big Screen Big Mouth midweek edition.


ROAD TRIP: Taking in an NFL game this season? Send us a photo of you and your pals tailgating or hanging in the stands and we might print it our Big Screen Big Mouth Thursday picks package. How cool would that be?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2009 C5

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