Jerome Bettis
Monday December 21st, 2009

Throughout the 2009 season, SI.com's Adam Duerson will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the previous week's games. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career.

Funny how we see these really terrible teams start to jell late in the season, isn't it? I'm not sure what it is; perhaps guys are just sick of losing. Two teams that showed some promise for 2010 jumped out at me: Cleveland and Oakland. But they also gave me a little insight into what they have to do in the offseason.

For Cleveland, that starts with keeping Eric Mangini around. Even if a new general manager like Mike Holmgren comes in, you have to give Mangini one more year, even if you know he's not the long-term solution. To the new G.M.: Be fair to your players and make your evaluations in Year Two when they're really starting to understand the system they're in. It's impossible to evaluate a roster top-to-bottom over film or just in training camp, so why not leave it all in place and give Mangini another year?

In Oakland, it's the same thing I've said all year: be patient, and improve your quarterback situation. This team can clearly win with just a little bit of passing support. Don't blow up the mold. Don't tinker with Tom Cable's staff. Just keep plugging away -- oh, and make that quarterback change.

The revived Steelers? Let's not jump to that conclusion quite yet, as so many folks have already done. Pittsburgh is being called the best of the 7-7 wild-card hopefuls, but I wouldn't go quite that far yet. What I'd tell Steelers fans is this: The playoffs are realistic. It could happen. Could. But so much has to happen.

If this football team plays the way they're capable of playing, they can beat anybody. We've known that all season. They beat Minnesota. They beat Denver, San Diego, Tennessee and now Green Bay -- with one of the best defenses in football. These are all playoff-caliber teams. We know what the Steelers can do on a good day.

The trick will be getting both units, offense and defense, to play up to their capabilities for two more games. If you could promise me that, then I'd guarantee a Pittsburgh sweep from here on out. But you can't. Not even close. This week the offense showed up. Not the defense. Do not forget this, Steelers fans: Green Bay had 436 yards of offense.

Oh yes, "The Kick." Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's call for an attempted onside kick with Pittsburgh leading by two and 3:58 remaining is one of those cases where the right or wrong of it is determined by whether it works. It didn't work, so it was wrong, I suppose. That's one way to see it. But part of that has to fall on execution. (Some of the blame should have fallen on the players in the case of Bill Belichick's call against Indy a few weeks ago.) The Steelers had that play down. They would have pulled it off if not for a silly mistake. And that shouldn't be Tomlin's fault.

Here's a positive spin for the Bengals. Historically, this franchise never seems to do well in December. I've seen them fall apart before. And as a player, I know how hard it is to motivate in those late season practices. Come Tuesday and Wednesday of Weeks 16 and 17, you're really struggling to keep focused and motivated. Well, the tragic death of Chris Henry gives the team a purpose. They've got a reason to go out and practice with a renewed sense of motivation and urgency. They've got someone to channel. They have a cause -- someone not to let down. They put up a great fight against a great team at San Diego, and I think you can look for a team that will rise up after three losses in their past five games.

I count myself as one of the people who missed Indianapolis-Jacksonville last Thursday. I was in New York on business and didn't have access to a TV with the NFL Network. I point that out because I want you to know I've been through the frustration. But here's the reality of it: Get used to it. If you can't get DirecTV, get used to missing these games because I don't see it changing any time soon. The NFL has to be elated with the way the schedule worked out, with two undefeated teams playing on the NFL Network in one week. If you're a serious football fan, that'll sure force your hand. But we have to stop fighting it. Get yourself to a bar, I guess. This isn't changing. Welcome to football in the 2010s.

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