The Atlanta Falcons swooped over Heinz Field just prior to the 1 p.m. kick-off on Sunday looking for carrion but ending up becoming food for the crows themselves.
The Falcons came into the season ranked 7th and the Steelers were 18th on the NFL ladder (at least according to espn.com), but rankings, prognostications and theories are only as good as the last chalkboard they were drawn on.
The Steelers beat the Falcons 15-9 in an overtime thriller but one could have very easily assumed that Atlanta would have had an easier time with a team that was 11 rungs lower on the NFL rankings ladder armed only with an inexperienced quarterback and an aging defense (well at least until last Sunday).
Never count out the Steelers, especially when they are performing in the friendly confines of Heinz Field. Without Ben Roethlisberger, some folks left the men of steel for dead, but the Black and Gold again bought legitimacy to the theory that a vulture should not attack and attempt to eat the flesh from prey that has not quite been permanently immobilized.
Where are all the doomsayers now? What happened to the 2 or 3 picks or the fumble by Dennis Dixon that would be the game stealer for the Falcons? The cat must have gotten to the tongues of a few of the talking “bobbleheads” in regards to the doomsday scenario that was painted when talking about the mere premise of the Steelers’ third year signal-caller filling in for Roethlisberger.
This game was as close as the skin on my “chinny chin chin.” For four quarters the competition continued to sway back and forth. Aside from a few short misfires, the substitute starter showed an enormous amount of poise stepping under the center.
In just his second career start, Dixon was 18-of-26 for 236 yards and one interception. The game went into overtime just as his previous start did against the Ravens in 2009 in Baltimore. However, when head coach Mike Tomlin was asked to evaluate his young quarterback’s performance he said; “It was a winning effort. The scoreboard says so.”
Falcons head coach Mike Smith seemed a bit more impressed. Smith said, “Dixon’s a good quarterback. He played well. They drafted him to come here and be a quarterback. He was a very good quarterback in college. And I thought that he did what he had to do in terms of running their offense.”
Again, all Tomlin had to say was, “It was a winning effort. The scoreboard says so.” Well, homeboys and homegirls, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, why hell, it must be a duck. You mean to tell me a man of Tomlin’s “verbosity” can’t come up with anything positive to say about a young quarterback who played in probably the most important game of his life except “It was a winning effort. The scoreboard says so.”
When tight end Heath Miller, who had a decent “workmanlike” day catching four balls for 40 yards was asked about how he thought Dixon did, he added, “He did great. He led us to victory. He ran the show on offense. He had command in the huddle. It was just what we all expected from him.”
Even though Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan completed a few passes on the side of the Steelers prodigal son, starting left cornerback Bryant McFadden, the Pittsburgh secondary seemed more in sync than they did in 2009. Ryan completed 27 of 44 passes for 252 yards and a less than respectable 67.6 quarterback rating.
I “garontee” you that the Steelers will be competitive during these next three games, if nothing else. They have to face the Tennessee Titans, then travel to Tampa Bay and finally return home to face the reviled Baltimore Ravens. Asking Dixon to go into Tennessee and beat the Titans at home is a bit much. The following week when Pittsburgh moseys on down to play the Buccaneers in Tampa you can reasonably assume that Dixon and the Black and Gold have a pretty good chance of exiting the “Sunshine” state with a win. When they finally arrive back on the shores of the Monongahela, the dirty birds from B-more will be waiting, feathers ruffled. Baltimore has drastically improved their roster. They will be riled, ready and flying high.
Will morphing from a pass happy squad to a punishing running squadron fit the psyche of the “new” Steelers even if that offensive style represents a “placebo” for their temporary signal caller? We are going to just have to wait and see.
The Steelers are going to need a bit more offensive production this weekend after they arrive in the land of the Grand Ole Opry in order to at make the game competitive. If their offensive production does not increase, learning how to sing country music will be the least of their worries because they will arrive back in Pittsburgh, singing the blues.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)