(WECK 1230) — The Pittsburgh Steelers will only note the notch in the win column today, but they could just as well count the many times an L seemed to be on its way.
The biggest and most flagrant offense came — of course — when Stevie Johnson dropped a sure touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick in overtime. He was so open and so clutch so far this season that everyone in my section was jumping up-and-down and hugging in the purest of jubilation before being informed by one fan that he had dropped the ball.
Sure enough, the ball seemed to pause in his hands and then in his gut before dropping to the turf. The Bills went on to lose and I was angry at No. 13 for the latest in a string of five drops during Sunday’s game. I said so on Twitter.
What’s truly amazing is what followed. Legions of Bills fans told me to give the guy a break. Here I was, upset with a player for costing his team an instant win, and there were fans sticking up for him. The reaction was like I criticized Wayne Gretzky during the Oilers dynasty for not winning enough Cups.
And while I don’t regret my comments, I have to smile that Bills fans are seemingly back on the positive track with this team. Heck, I’m pondering getting season tickets in order to donate them to charity — seven Sundays a year is a lot. I love the Buffalo Bills and had the best time I’ve had at a game in a very long time.
That doesn’t change where I sit today. I may love this football team and some of its stories, like the rags-to-riches tale of Johnson from practice star to national personality, but that doesn’t change that Sunday’s loss stung very real with near-hits and sure-misses dancing through my head as if the game truly carried playoff implications for both teams.
One thing is for sure: even though Johnson’s failure was not intended, “The Joker” had pulled his cruelest ruse to date.
— The harsh reality of Sunday’s loss is that almost every player who made an on-field boner or three had a praiseworthy play during the game. Consider these three examples:
1. Chris Kelsay’s big goal line sack versus the rest of his day getting to Ben Roethlisberger and not sacking him.
2. Drayton Florence’s clutch recovery of Leodis McKelvin’s near disastrous fumble versus poor coverage for most of the day.
3. Fred Jackson’s big day receiving, juking and rushing versus another fumble.
— How horrifying was it to watch Ben Roethlisberger scramble for 20-plus yards on a bum ankle with a drive seemingly left for dead? The Steelers quarterback’s buttery body slipped through the normally unbreakable grasp of Chris Kelsay to earn his team an unlikely first down. On the plus side, Aaron Maybin tackled an NFL quarterback to finish the play.
— Johnson’s other four drops surely would’ve been forgiven with a game-winning touchdown catch, but the fact of the matter is that the drop will allow Lee Evans to slip under the radar after another lackluster performance. In fact, my cousin Alex and I dubbed him “The Stamp” during the game due to Evans’ ability to mail in nearly every down this year. It’s come to the point where the number of his drops, routes cut short and alligator arms in traffic feel countless. He’s playing like a man who will request a trade in the offseason.
— Fitzmagic is still alive. I think he has shown genuine improvement, whether minuscule or significant, every week. I’ve been purposely monitoring other quarterbacks’ incompletions for the past few weeks. Fitz is indeed more inaccurate than a good portion of quarterbacks, but he makes the right decision more often than not. The question is whether you’d rather have a signal caller who is smarter than most or more accurate than most. Obviously, the answer is both, but who knows whether Andrew Luck is an option.
Plus he got me a free burrito by getting to 250 yards passing, so I’m going to be happier with him than the guys who lost me a free coffee. The Bills have some nice promotions.
— Thing is, this loss doesn’t sting as much as, say, the Dallas heartbreaker on Monday Night Football. They are in the same ballpark — quite literally — but this team is one I believe is moving in the right direction whereas the other was one I was hoping would prove me a bad fan for disliking on the whole.
— The Pittsburgh Steelers are not going anywhere serious until their line finds some semblance of health. Roethlisberger was the only reason they didn’t post Edwardsian sack numbers.
— I loved Chan Gailey’s game plan. I’m sure there are critics pointing to the time of possession in the first half, but the Steelers were giving up a paltry 63 yards-per-game on the ground and the ineffectiveness of the first-half offense had to do more with a bounced pass and a combined three drops from Evans and Johnson than the plays called. Additionally, the Johnson drop and the fake end-around that Evans quit on in overtime were gold play calls. Could he have tried the long field goal after Johnson’s drop? Maybe, but I don’t feel passionate enough about it either way to glorify or crucify.
— WEDG’s Rich Gaenzler mentioned in pregame coverage that he wished Roscoe Parrish and CJ Spiller would’ve been available against this Steelers defense. At first, I thought it was a throwaway line, but with how often Fitz was able to quickly unleash against the constant Pittsburgh blitz, I bet those two could’ve had a shifty field day. I like Rich as a guy, but that has nothing to do with the fact that I believe him to be one of the finest non-player analysts in Buffalo football circles.
— How good do the Bills look for locking up Kyle Williams long-term? The man has been a beast.
— I tweeted that I didn’t feel sympathy for Johnson. Watching his post-game speech altered that a lot. Though his awkward Twittering — Johnson appeared to blame God for his drop — and more ridiculous third-person-speaking did everything in their power to stop me, I now feel for No. 13 because he cares. For whatever reason he dropped that ball — if there even is one — you’ve gotta think he’ll look the ball in 100 percent of the way now instead of whatever percentage it was today, be it 99 or 4.
— It wasn’t a neutral site because it was in Western New York, but the number of Steelers and Bills fans had to be close to an even split. Most of the Steelers fans tend to be fine, even good fans. As is the case in most cities, this is amplified by the obnoxious ones. Throw in the X-factor, the Terrible Towels, and I was ready to karate chop myself in the inner thighs.
This week’s cut…
Stat line I liked…
Fred Jackson, 57 yards rushing, 104 yards receiving, TD
— He’s an incredibly smart football player. Jackson is the Ryan Fitzpatrick of running backs, right down to the turnovers while trying to do too much.
Stat line I didn’t like…
Rashard Mendenhall, 31 carries, 151 yards
— Between an inability to stop the run and cover tight ends, is there any question linebacker is the No. 1 position of need?
The fact that it stings is good, like betrayal in a real friendship/relationship. If she goes on a date with your friend and you don’t care… yikes.
On the road in Minnesota. I’m going to bet the Bills come to play, but Adrian Peterson is going to be way too much for the Bills run defense to handle. Nothing against Rashard Mendenhall — a fine back indeed — but Peterson is an upper echelon piece. I think he’ll tease the 200-yard mark on the way to a 10-point win. Buffalo will continue to show up on offense against another decent defense, though. Call it Minnesota 37, Buffalo 27.
Finally… come hang out with The Buffalo News’ Jay Skurski and me at Hucklebuckets in Amherst’s Northtown Plaza on Monday from 7-8 p.m. EST. We’ll be live-to-air before Monday Night Football!