Late Sunday morning when photographer Tom Sabol and I pulled into the parking lot at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Steelers fans were tailgating at warp speed. One inebriated fan wearing a very seasoned number 92 shirt along with flip-flops and a Siberian fur hat, grabbed a hot sausage sizzling from a “smoking grill.” You can visualize what happened next. The suspect said aw, sh-t after dropping the volcanic piece of smoldering meat onto the semi-frozen turf. He took some bottled water, rinsed the meat off, threw it back onto the grill to sterilize it and gobbled it down a few minutes later.
Bragging Pittsburgh fans fondly refer to Cleveland as the “mistake by the lake.” Alas after five fumbles, and three interceptions by Steelers starting QB Charlie Batch they should henceforth forever more refer to the fiasco at the Browns “crib” as the “mistakes by the lake.” I have covered the Black and Gold in the 80s, 90s and the new millennium. However I cannot at least in my long term memory recall a single contest in which the Steelers had eight turnovers.
I am very much aware that the Steelers running backs fumbled five times, but I must say this. In past seasons Batch provided a viable option subbing for Ben Roethlisberger. But hear this. This is not a critique of a disgruntled, player hater, grizzled sports writer. What I am about to say to you are mere facts. I like Charlie Batch as a humanitarian, philanthropist and role model for urban youth. His communal spirit should not be questioned but football is football and facts are facts. At this stage of his career, Batch does not deserve an NFL paycheck. He was beyond horrible, he was downright terrible. You have rookie quarterbacks that read and react to defenses better than this “seasoned” veteran. Ninety percent of the time he was ultra “skittish” in the pocket appearing to be dazed and at times confused. The offensive playbook of the Steelers should not have to be scaled back or watered down to accommodate Batch. He has been around long enough to do what he is supposed to do when called upon. It is not acceptable for Batch to throw three picks in 34 attempts with a quarterback rating of 38.7. I am puzzled. Even though Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is technically a rookie at age twenty nine I can still stomach him being less aware of various defensive schemes than the Steelers veteran.
I was not surprised at the veracity of the Browns young and hungry defense. However, I was perplexed at the performance of the Pittsburgh offense. Don’t wah, wah, wah, whine, whine, whine about injuries because hey, they play in the NFL; everybody has injuries.
After the ugly loss, Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton had this to say on the subject of injuries: “Guys get healthy, and if they don’t get healthy we have to find a way to win. You can’t count on guys if you don’t know if they’re going to be there or not. We have a good enough football team to win those types of games and we have to do it. We have to take care of the ball; we have to force more turnovers on defense. Just like they got how many turnovers they got, we have to do a better job of getting turnovers ourselves.”
Steelers’ tight end Heath Miller who was one of the bright spots had this to say in regards to moving on to the next [thing] game: “I think certainly after this loss, I think everybody should have a resolve about themselves to play better. I think sometimes it’s harder to do when you win a few games; you play well, it’s easy to overlook some things. I don’t see how we can overlook what we need to do to get better at this point. We dropped two in a row now, both division games. We have to get ourselves together in a hurry and figure out a way to get some wins.”
The defense was awesome because their offense gave up 8 turnovers and the Steelers still only lost by six points, 20-14. James Harrison said it best in regards to the defense: “Once we (the defense) get out there we have to do a better job of stopping them and holding them to three points and not letting them kick threes when they are further out.” According to Chris Strauss of USA TODAY, “the Steelers became the first team to commit eight turnovers in a game since the St. Louis Rams did it in 2001.” I said it before and I’ll say it again I thought it was an ill-advised personnel decision to allow their young and healthy backup quarterback Dennis Dixon to depart the hallowed halls of Heinz Field. The great “Tarmac” has a vision. The Steelers had better, pick this “game” up off the turf, brush the dirt off and kiss it up to God and eat it.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741. Bruce can also be heard on the ‘Odd Couple Sports Show’ where he is the AFC North and NFL analyst. The show is hosted by Adam Ragle streaming live on the WCWA Fox Sports Toledo 1230AM. Bruce is featured on Tues. from 10-11 a.m. Listen to Aubrey’s archived “Odd Couple” segments on: www.worldspeakconnnection.com click on ‘Fair Catch’)