Two things we discovered in Pittsburgh Sunday: 1) Baltimore may be the team to beat in the AFC North, but it's not the team to beat in the AFC; and 2) no, Ryan Clark, it’s not time for Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger to sit down.
Not yet it’s not.
Both were apparent in the Steelers’ 20-19 must-win over the Ravens that will be dissected the next 24 hours for John Harbaugh’s last-minute decision to go for a two-point conversion instead of a tie. OK, I get that. But what should be remembered is how the never-say-die Steelers rebounded from a three-week funk in a game they absolutely, positively had to win to remain in the playoff picture.
And that’s where the talk gets around to Roethlisberger.
I know, I know, it was the Steelers’ defense that predominated, frazzling Lamar Jackson on series after series. But it was Roethlisberger who threw two fourth-quarter TD passes to rebut critics – OK, former teammate Ryan Clark -- who last week suggested he was finished.
He’s not, and neither are the Steelers.
Granted, at 6-5-1 they’re not exactly a leading figure in the AFC playoff race. But who is? Yeah, I know the team everyone loves to hate – New England – is back on top again, but the conference is so wide open that 12 of the 16 teams are at or above .500. And that includes Pittsburgh, which over the previous three weeks was tied by then-winless Detroit and outscored in consecutive losses, 82-47.
But that was then, and this is now. And now Pittsburgh proved what everyone should know: Depending on the week, anyone can win the AFC North, and everyone can lose it. On this particular weekend, only the Steelers won (Cleveland was off with a bye).
But that’s how it goes in the Great Wild North. Outside of Baltimore, nobody in the division has won consistently. Of course, that was until the Ravens hit the wall last month. Now, they’re 3-3 over their last six starts, scoring just 61 points over their last four and looking positively beatable.
So good news, Steeler Nation. Your team is still alive, and your quarterback is still a factor. At least that’s one thing about the division that hasn’t changed.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Jonathan Taylor is more than an MVP candidate. He’s one of its frontrunners. Taylor has touchdowns in his last 10 games and a league-leading 18 overall (including five in one game). He’s also the NFL’s leading rusher and just set the Colts’ franchise record for most rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons (27), eclipsing Edgerrin James (26) and Marshall Faulk (22) – both Hall of Famers. Quarterbacks dominate the MVP award, winning it every year since 2012, and Tom Brady and Kyler Murray are among this year’s leading candidates at that position. But Taylor is right there with them, especially if the Colts reach the playoffs.
2. The Steelers are Lamar Jackson’s Kryptonite. He’s played only three times against them and hasn’t distinguished himself in any. The stat sheet, please: Four touchdown passes, eight turnovers and 16 sacks. Oh, yeah, a 1-2 record, too.
3. The Minnesota Vikings are kaput. They never, ever, ever should’ve lost to winless Detroit. But they did, thanks to a matador defense that allowed Jared Goff to complete eight passes on the game-winning drive. “What kind of defense are you playing on the last play of the game?” Hall-of-Fame coach and NBC analyst Tony Dungy said of the Vikings. Good question. At 5-7, the Vikings are toast, and coach Mike Zimmer is in deep kimchi.
4. There is no better road team anywhere than Arizona. It’s not only that they’re 7-0 there. It’s that they’ve outscored their opponents by 10 or more points in every game, are plus-17 in the turnover differential and haven’t had a turnover in their last five road starts.
5. Don’t go to sleep on Miami. The Dolphins won five straight, outscoring opponents. 116-55, and they’ll make it six in a row in two weeks when they play the New York Jets. That will put them at 7-7 with three games left vs. New Orleans, Tennessee and New England. Granted, they’re playoff longshots, but in this year’s AFC anything is possible. Remember: Twelve of the 16 teams are .500 or better.
THIRD AND 20
1. Stop the Bengals’ bandwagon. I want to get off. Every time you want to believe in these guys, something like this happens. Why? Because they’re the Bengals. I surrender.
2. Nope, have no problem with John Harbaugh going for the two-point conversion. The play was there, and the Ravens would’ve had the last-second victory … if Lamar Jackson hadn’t thrown slightly wide of a wide-open Mark Andrews. Turns out he saved his best throw for afterward, hurling his helmet to the bench in disgust.
3. Face it: Tom Brady owns Atlanta. He’s 10-0 vs. the Falcons, with two games this year where he threw for nine TDs.
4. Get ready for columns this week calling for San Francisco rookie Trey Lance to replace Jimmy Garoppolo. Maybe that makes sense if the 49ers were out of the playoff picture, but they’re not. I’d stay with Jimmy G.
5. Well, say this about the Vikings: At least they’re good theater. Ten of their 12 games this season have been decided by seven or fewer points, including seven decided on the last play.
6. Now comes the hard part for Indianapolis. After next week’s bye, they play, in order, New England, Arizona and Las Vegas before finishing with Jacksonville.
7. Let’s hear it for Jared Goff. In Detroit’s first win this season he scored his first win … ever … without Sean McVay. He’s 1-16-1 without the Rams’ coach.
8. Congratulations, Houston. The Texans are the first team to be eliminated from playoff competition. Of course, they’re more than that. They’re the worst of combinations: Bad and boring. They scored fewer than 10 points six times this season – or half their 12 games – and rank 32nd in offense, 32nd in rushing and 32nd in passing. No wonder Hall-of-Fame voter and Houston Chronicle columnist John McClain has decided to call it quits after this year.
9. Happiest guy in Seattle: Tight end Gerald Everett. He fumbled twice, including once at the goal line, and blew another TD when he turned an easy goal-line catch into an interception. Somebody introduce him to Lester Hayes.
10. Maybe Tua Tagovailoa is the right quarterback for Miami after all. He’s completed 83 percent of his passes the past three games and had passer ratings of 100 or more the past four … and good for him. The guy has overcome a raft of adversity this season and is playing the best football of his career. Someone tell the Dolphins to forget about Deshaun Watson. You have your quarterback for 2022.
11. The only certainties in life are death, taxes and Philadelphia vs. the New York Jets. The Eagles are 12-0 vs. Gang Green.
12. I don’t know if the Eagles are better off without Carson Wentz, but he’s better off without them. He hasn’t thrown an interception in 10 of 13 games. Plus, his Colts’ offense has 30 or more points in seven games this year, the most for the franchise since 2009 when Peyton Manning was there.
13. Matt Nagy, give me a call. I have the number of a good real-estate agent. You’re going to need it.
14. Hard as it is to say, but … when Urban Meyer insists he’s not going anywhere, you gotta believe him. Look at the standings. The Jags have lost 10 or more games in 10 of the past 11 seasons.
15. I don’t care that the Rams won for the first time in a month. They should. It was Jacksonville. We won’t find out how good or bad they are until next Monday when they play Arizona.
16. Say this about quarterback Gardner Minshew: The guy knows how to make a grand opening. In his first game with Jacksonville, he was 22 for 25 with two TDs, one interception and a rating of 122.5. In his first game with the Eagles, he was 20 for 25 with two TDs, no interceptions and a rating of 133.7. Smart move by Philadelphia to sign him as a security blanket.
17. Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin when asked if T.J. Watt would ever be required to practice again after the way he played Sunday (he had a career-high 12 quarterback pressures): “Yes,” he said, “and there won’t be music, either.”
18. Sure glad the Giants solved their problems by firing offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. They have one touchdown in 22 offensive possessions since he left.
19. Book it: The Broncos don’t beat Kansas City again until they draft Arch Manning.
20. Slowly but surely, I’m becoming a Taylor Heinecke fan. I just don’t know why.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
The Chiefs allowed 17 or fewer points this year in five consecutive games. No other team has a streak of four.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
The Colts 59-point differential vs. Houston this season is their highest season total vs. the Texans in franchise history. It’s also the highest by the Colts vs. any opponent over the last 50 seasons.
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
(via @Stathead) Tom Brady is 21-10 when throwing 50 or more passes in a game. No other quarterback in NFL history has more than five wins when attempting at least 50 passes.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“We deserve to be where we are at because we did it to ourselves honestly.” – Atlanta running back Cordarrelle Patterson on another Falcons’ loss.
“He’s got to be better with the ball.” – San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
"I think we kind of coast just a little too much." -- Las Vegas running back Josh Jacobs.
“They aggressively play analytics. From that standpoint, they’re predictable.” – Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin on why he wasn’t surprised with the Ravens’ try for a two-point conversion.
“Baltimore reminds me of Pittsburgh last year. They’re winning, but they weren’t playing good football. Baltimore’s the same way. They’ve got to get back and get a little sharper.” – NBC analyst Tony Dungy.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET RECIPIENT
Detroit head coach Dan Campbell. With Sunday’s last-second victory, he finally won a game as a head coach. But that’s not all, folks. He snapped the Lions’ 15-game losing streak, including a nine-game losing at home. Nice, huh? That’s not what I like most about what happened Sunday. After beating Minnesota, Campbell stepped in front of the media and announced that he was awarding the game ball to Oxford, Mich. He then read the names of last week’s shooting victims, saying he doesn’t want anyone to forget them. Talk about powerful. They say sports doesn’t build character as much as it builds it. We just found out about Dan Campbell’s character.