Friday, November 18, 2005

The Charlie Batch Experiment

I never mentioned anything about the Packers game a couple of weeks ago, but there wasn't a hell of a lot to say about it. I wasn't surprised the game was as close as it was. After all, the Steelers were making their first appearance of the year with Charlie Batch at the helm and Green Bay is a difficult place to play no matter how good the Packers are. You could tell that even in early November it was already colder than shit in Green Bay because Ed Hochuli decided to cover up his massive guns with a long-sleeve shirt. Furthermore, most of the folks in Green Bay either aren't smart enough or are too drunk to realize their team sucks so the twelfth man will always be a big factor at Lambeau. After the Steelers settled for a couple of early field goals, Troy Polamalu and Bryant McFadden managed to take the crowd out of the game temporarily in the second quarter by sacking Favre and returning the subsequent fumble 77 yards for a touchdown. The Steelers didn't put the Packers away, however, and the Samkon Gado touchdown in the third quarter pulled the Pack to within three points of the Steelers and brought new life to the Green Bay crowd. Although there were a few anxious minutes for Steelers fans in the third quarter, it didn't take long for the Steelers defense to finally put the hammer down and after the TD they stopped the Green Bay attack in its tracks. All in all, the defense forced three turnovers and held Gado to 62 yards rushing and Favre to 214 yards passing. Duce Staley's touchdown to put the Steelers up 20-10 midway through the fourth quarter ended the Packers upset hopes. Charlie Batch threw for only 65 yards, but he didn't do anything to lose the game for the Steelers, and that was all that was asked of him. Duce Staley, seeing his first action of the year, ran for 76 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.

That takes us to the Sunday night match-up against the Browns in Pittsburgh. There isn't a more inconvenient time to watch a football game than on Sunday night, and it creates quite a dilemma for poor motherfuckers like me who don't have cable. Normally the Sunday night games are so shitty that I don't mind missing them altogether, but with the Steelers playing I had to figure out a reasonable place to watch it. After learning that the place where I wanted to watch the game closed at 9:00 on Sunday nights (what kind of bar closes at 9 o'clock on any night?) I settled on the bar nearest my apartment. I'd never really been in there before because its patrons are mostly British expatriates in their 50s, but they advertised Monday and Sunday night football so I figured that it would be good enough. The experience that followed I can only describe as Kafkaesque. The sound on the game was turned off in favor of what I think was the most depressing and disorienting juke box music possible. It was the kind of playlist you'd expect to find in the BTK Killer's iPod. Unfortunately it wasn't loud enough to drown out the guy sitting at the bar getting absolutely obliterated and saying some of the stupidest shit I have ever heard in my life. He used a camera shot of Charlie Batch's mom standing in the Heinz Field crowd to launch into a rant about personal interest stories during the Olympics that culminated in him announcing to the bar that "maybe Osama Bin Laden had it right."

Needless to say it was very difficult to focus on the Steelers-Browns game with all that shit going on. Fortunately years of playing video games has trained me to stare at the tv with passionate intensity and ignore everything going on around me. The game opened with a rap song summarizing the Steelers-Browns rivalry. It's hard to think of a more inappropriate way to introduce a game between two teams that pride themselves in their smash-mouth philosophy. They should have gotten Bob Seger or someone equally gritty to introduce the game. Anyway, once the game actually started the Browns took the opening drive down the field and converted it into a touchdown on a Reuben Droughns 5-yard run. The Steelers moved the ball 61 yards on their first possession but, after having a touchdown reversed by replay, a failed fourth-down conversion turned the ball over to the Browns. The Steelers second drive resulted in an uninspired three-and-out. At this point I was getting a little concerned and thought to myself, "I can't believe I'm missing Extreme Home Makeover for this shit." I knew the turning point of the game had come, however, on the Steelers' next drive when at the exact same moment that Charlie Batch hit Cedrick Wilson on a 43 yard pass play to get all the way down to the Cleveland 12-yard line Bob Dylan's "Things Have Changed" began to play on the jukebox. The Steelers went on a 27-0 run, capped off by an emphatic stroke of Byzantine whimsy when Antwaan Randle-El tossed a 51-yard TD to fellow WR Hines Ward on an end-around option. The Browns scored a few garbage points at the end, but the game was never close after the second quarter.

The bad news was that Charlie Batch, who looked good going 13-19 for 150 yards in the first half, broke his hand and will be out two weeks. I was expecting Big Ben back this week against the Ravens, but Cowher has decided to hold him out one more game. This means that the proverbial shit has hit the fan this week because the Steelers' only choice is to place their fate in the hands of Tommy Maddox. Maddox looked like complete shit again on Sunday night and I have absolutely no confidence in him this week against the Ravens. Big Ben could be in uniform and available if Maddox has another meltdown. Of course, it's not like the Ravens have much going for them with Kyle Boller back under center. Billick and Cowher should petition the league to have them assign a designated quarterback for this game. There's no doubt that this game is going to be ugly. The Steelers struggled with them the first time they played when the game was in Pittsburgh and Big Ben was in the lineup. However, I have a hunch that Baltimore isn't going to be as fired up this time around. I think that unless Maddox hands the Ravens the game the Steelers are going to find a way to win. It's important to get a win here because it's a chance to pick up a game on the Bengals, who play the Colts. Next week it will be the Steelers' turn to face Colts on Monday night in what could be the game of the year in the regular season. There is obviously a danger for the Steelers to be looking ahead to the Colts, but I think the silver lining in all their injury problems is that it has prevented them from taking these games against inferior opponents for granted. If they can beat the Ravens they will be in great shape, both record-wise and health-wise, to take on the Colts for the right to sit atop the NFL Power Rankings.

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