MONDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Remember when that Oakland Raiders game looked like a guaranteed win?
When the NFL schedule came out in April it was obvious to everybody that the Steelers had a tough one.
Six games in the division are never easy, including the two games with the Browns.
Then there were the trips to New England, Kansas City and Seattle and home games with the Broncos and Colts.
That home game with the Raiders on November eighth was one of the few games that got marked with a W.
The Raiders have a quarterback and they are looking every bit as much like a playoff team as the Steelers right now.
They beat a pretty good (so far) Jets team 34-20 on Sunday and Derek Carr threw for 333 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Latavius Murray had 113 yards on 20 carries and is averaging almost five yards per carry since coming into the league last season.
So, the Steelers’ defense isn’t getting a break this week
But then the Steelers’ defense hasn’t been the problem, has it?
Remember when everybody agreed that the Steelers were going to have to score at least 30 points a game to make the playoffs?
They scored 43 against the 49ers in week two but could have won if they had scored just 19 and 12 points were five more than they needed to beat the Rams in week three.
Would have beaten the Ravens in week four if they had scored 24.
Only needed 24 to beat the Chargers on the road in week five.
Twenty-five was 11 points more than they needed to beat the Cardinals in week six.
Would have beaten the Chiefs with 24 in week seven and would have beaten the Bengals yesterday if they could have scored 17.
If there is an award for Defensive Coordinator of the First Half of the Season, it has to go to the rookie, Keith Butler.
It’s too bad that a lot of what he has done to this point has been wasted on a 4-4 team.
Obviously, that 30 points a game idea became unrealistic when Ben Roethlisberger left the Rams game with a knee injury.
But he played Sunday against the Bengals and again the defense did what nobody thought it was capable of doing in August. It shut down one of the best offenses in the league.
So, now what?
How does a wild card sound?
Forget the AFC North. If the Bengals go 4-5 in their last nine games, they’ll finish 11-5, which is the record it took for the Steelers to win it last season.
How do you like the Steelers’ chances of running the table in the second half and finishing 12-4 without Le’Veon Bell?
Which brings us back to the Raiders.
Remember December 2009, when the Steelers were coming off a Super Bowl and struggling with a 6-5 record and lost 27-24 to the Raiders at home?
Some guy named Bruce Gradkowski was the Raiders quarterback that day and he became the first Raiders quarterback to throw three touchdowns in the fourth quarter since Ken Stabler in 1979.
He threw the last one with nine seconds left.
It was the moment when everybody knew it wasn’t going to be another Super Bowl year. The Steelers finished 9-7.
If the Steelers drop to 4-5, it might be the moment when we know that this isn’t going to be another playoff year.
And who would have thought that the Steelers would start the second half of their season depending on their defense to keep them alive?
Even without Bell the Steelers have enough offensive weapons to win but beating the Raiders looks like a much tougher proposition now than it did three months ago.
– If the Steelers don’t make the playoffs, it will mean they’ve gone five years without winning a post season game. They haven’t gone that long since before Chuck Noll showed up in 1969.
— Steelers safety Mike Mitchell did a nice job of proving that he’s as stupid as Pacman Jones on Sunday when he took a stupid taunting penalty.
— You can blame Ben Roethlisberger’s terrible game on rust, but where was the rust on the 80 yard, 7:14 TD drive on his first possession in four weeks? I think it was a bum knee more than rust.
— As usual, there is a lot of post-game discussion about Mike Tomlin’s clock management. The Steelers had enough time left in the final two minutes to put together a touchdown drive and failed.
– If you get a chance, check out Colin Kaepernick’s post game press conference after the 49ers loss to the Rams on Sunday. Check out his hat. Then try to imagine Ben Roethlisberger, after the loss to the Bengals, going with the same look. Not exactly the look of a leader of men.