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RYAN SHAZIER was definitely on the minds of Steeler Nation, as his jersey was brought out by Cam Heyward during the pre-game introductions, Dec. 10. (AP PHOTO)

Bell, Ben, other B’s fight off Ravens, 39-38, to clinch AFC North

On Dec. 10, a war broke out disguised as a football game at Heinz Field, between the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.

The final tally, Pittsburgh 39, Baltimore 38, but this game was better, far better than indicated by the final score. The Ravens had recently and convincingly defeated several opponents from which the Steelers had barely squeaked out a victory. Plus, Baltimore was fighting to help ensure a place for themselves in the 2017 NFL postseason.

AUBREY BRUCE
COURIER STEELERS CENTRAL

Up until that point, I had occasionally been a fierce critic of the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh squad, one Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger Sr., aka “Big Ben.” Some of my observations and concerns with Mr. Roethlisberger were: He held the ball too long, resulting in unnecessary sacks and fumbles; He often stared down receivers far too often for a quarterback of his stature and experience; He had a tendency to gravitate toward a particular wide-out that oftentimes appeared to be a security blanket for the talented Roethlisberger.

However, after more than four decades of studying and covering the NFL, I have never seen a quarterback perform like “General” Roethlisberger did on this night, on the frosty and frigid banks of the Allegheny River. With this latest performance, if Ben Roethlisberger does not waltz into the NFL Hall of Fame on the first ballot, the Hall of Fame should be renamed the “Hall of Shame.”

LE’VEON BELL escapes a Ravens defender, on a rough and tough night at Heinz Field, Dec. 10. The Steelers prevailed over the Ravens, 39-38, to improve to 11-2. (AP PHOTO)

Forget the final score—this, my friends, was about refusing to lose, period. Ben Roethlisberger became the first quarterback in NFL history to record three games with at least 500 yards passing. Roethlisberger, who had been one of only two quarterbacks—along with Drew Brees of the Saints—with two 500-yard games, finished with 506 yards and two touchdowns against Baltimore, Dec. 10.

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said it all. “Hall of Famer, it’s as simple as that, and we are lucky he is on our team.”

The Steelers defense, like the Ravens defense, had glaring flaws that must be corrected, post haste if both teams are serious about chasing and capturing another Lombardi Trophy. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin offered this assessment of the performance of the Steelers defense. “They played 60 minutes. I appreciate their efforts at the end and I like that, regardless of circumstance. It was one of those back-and-forth shootout type of games. They made the necessary plays down the stretch. You can get beat down mentally giving things up–yards, points, and stuff throughout. And I just really think it just speaks to the mentality of the group, and they are to be congratulated for that. So yes, we have things that we need to improve on and adjustments we need to continue to make as we work through life without 50.”

Life without “50” is of course playing without one their talented and passionate defensive leaders, Ryan Shazier. However, there is not a moment to waste. Tom “Shady” Brady and his cohorts from New England are at this very moment in the “mind lab” of the Patriots mad scientist-in-residence, Pats headmaster, Bill Belichick. You know Belichick has something up his sleeve, coming off a surprising loss to the Dolphins on Monday Night Football, Dec. 11.

Will Professor Mike Tomlin challenge the usurpers from the North?

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

 

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