Monday, January 24, 2005

”The clock's running down
The team's losing ground
To the opposing defense
The young quarterback
Waits for the snap
When suddenly it all starts to make sense

He's got all kinds of time
He's got all kinds of time
All kinds of time
He's got all kinds of time
All kinds of time

- Fountains of Wayne, “All Kinds of Time”

If you haven’t seen the absolutely amazing NFL Films commercial featuring this song, then you probably haven’t been watching the playoffs. They show half-second clips of some of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, from Joe Montana tossing up the ball that was about to become “The Catch” to Fran Tarkenton scrambling around wildly, spliced in with the younger generation, such as Big Ben, Vick and the Manning boys. It’s simply awesome, and if you’re a fan of the Steelers, you probably feel like you have way more time than you’d like on your hands now that the season is over.

As I said in my championship preview, 16-2 never hurt so bad, and it must be painful because I actually feel sorry for the true Steeler fans, like Jo Bu, MacKrell, the Great One, Meg, my dad and uncles who’ve followed and loved the black and gold all their lives. My utter glee with the lossis more towards the host of bandwagoning fans that could have cared less about the Supah Stees last year when they were struggling, or the ones that just tossed their team under the bus and adopted a new team entirely. My mom already ordered her AFC Championship t-shirt to wear at school, as I'm sure she took a fair amount of hazing when the Supahs ended her Pats win streak back on Halloween, so this will be just desserts for her.

I don’t think anyone in Steeler country saw it coming. Somehow they couldn’t put the pieces together that they were a team that hadn’t put together a complete game in weeks, coming off what should have been a loss to the Jets, and they were now going against a modern-day dynasty and a coach-quarterback combination that simply doesn’t lose in the postseason. When I told MacKrell about our parlay bet of taking the Falcons and Patriots, he said that it was a pretty risky bet. I nodded.

“Yeah, but if the Falcons can pull it off, it’s money in the bank.”

“Oh, I’m glad you’ve already written off the Steelers.”

I nodded again, and smiled. He glared at me.

“Oh, we’ll see.”

"He takes a step back
He's under attack
But he knows that no one can touch him now
He seems so at ease
A strange inner peace
Is all that he's feeling somehow”

So Sunday afternoon finally came, and the Eagles did everything they had to do to beat Mike Be Nimble. They scored first and made sure the crowd didn’t get nervous and stayed on their side. They stuffed the runs pretty consistently and they took away Vick’s big play. Donovan McNabb played a nearly flawless game and Jeremiah Trotter was flying to the ball on the runs like he had been against the Vikings. The Eagles played great, the Falcons didn’t make any plays and the Dirty Birds lost.

I sat in silence as McNabb marched the Eagles for the winning score, knowing what was going to happen. Maybe it was the years of rooting for the Dolphins that made the eventual playoff loss to the more dominant team inevitable. The Eagles deserved to win, Michael wasn’t as he good as he could/should have been and I’m not overly upset about it. Atlanta probably should have thrown the ball more in the second half, but against Philly’s secondary, that’s a risky proposition.

Somehow, though, I’m not giving up on the Vick-Mora era in Hotlanta. They made huge strides from the last two years and are a big-play safety and big-play wide receiver away from being a truly dominant team. And don’t forget that this was only Mike Be Nimble’s second complete season as a starter. He’s got all kinds of time.

"He looks to the left
He looks to the right
And there in a golden ray of light
Is his open man
Just as he planned
The whole world is his tonight"

And for those of you whose rooting interest lies on the North Shore of the Allegheny in Heinz Field, wipe those tears away. Big Ben’s going to be just fine as a quarterback, your defensive front seven will always be dominant under this system with the players you have and if you keep Plaxico, you’ll have one of the top wideout trios in the league next year.

But it won’t be this year again. This year, Big Ben took a lot of teams by surprise, and now there’ll be a book circulating on him, courtesy of the gameplans the Pats and Jets used in the postseason. If you can make it through an entire season with your starting offensive line playing every game again, then you’ll not only be very good but very, very lucky. But if Veron Haynes can make the jump to feature back and Bettis and Staley get older, you won't be in too bad of shape in the running department.

I can only imagine how it feels to win 15 consecutive games, be playing at home and then be down 24-3 at the end of the first half. The Patriots are a mature team, and they did the two things they had to do: stop the run early and get out to a two-score lead so Big Ben had to throw. And throw he did, and Asante Samuel was a couple inches away from having a seven-interception day, and apparently Tommy Gun taught his young protégé about the fun of the Awkward Interception Return For a Touchdown Before Halftime That Puts The Game Out of Reach. Ben executed that perfectly, and instead of cutting the lead to 17-10, he made it 24-3 and the Terrible Towels were tucked away for a period of time.

But Big Ben’s a rookie, and you’ve got all kinds of time. By the time his career is over, he’ll make some more memories for the Steel City, and if he waits long enough, maybe Belichick and Brady will be gone and someone else in the AFC playoffs can make the Super Bowl. Do not be sad, Steeler fans, but do remember I told you so.

Death, taxes and AFC Championship losses by Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh – the only sure things in life.

Maybe next year will be that one for the thumb. Here we go...

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