As I woke up this morning after a rough night of trying to sleep, the reality of last night really began to sink in. Yes the Steelers losing keeps me up at night, yes I think about game plans and players and missed opportunities as I try to drift off to dream land, it's just how I am. Maybe I take it to extreme but that's just who I am; at least that's what my wife tells me. Thank goodness for supportive spouses.
In any event, the Steelers came into Denver heavily favored and seemingly already having the game won if you listened to the "experts" in the NFL media. Steeler fans knew better though, or we like to think we did. You knew the Steelers were playing on borrowed time with injuries, an offense that wasn't playing to it's capability and a defense that was exposed more often that we'd like admit.
Tim Tebow did to the Steelers what everyone feared would happen, although admittedly not in this game. Maybe in the Divisional round against New Englad or the AFC Championship game. For all the shortcomings that he displayed during the year, especially late, he overcome the nay sayers and torched the Steelers "improved" secondary to the tune of 10-21 for 316 yds and 2 Touchdowns including the game winner in overtime. The 80 yd. game winner was a back breaker but in reality it was the essence of the Steelers problems on defense this season. Players not being able to step up and make the big play often enough like they used to do. Dick Lebeau defenses just do not give up that kind of play, not in the playoffs. One of the staples of the 3-4 defense is keeping everything in front of you and not letting the big play beat you. Ike Taylor, who had probably his best year to date, was torched repeatedly by Denver's offense. Will Gay who was the most improved Steelers player overall, especially on defense, looked like the guy the Steeler Nation loved to hate the last couple of years. Ryan Clark's absence was indeed more of a factor than most wanted to admit. Ryan Mundy played a solid game, forcing 2 fumbles and adding 4 tackles but nobody will remember it. All they will see is both he and Ike gettingn split down the middle on the game winner for Denver.
On offense the debate will continue about how "if Ben were healthy maybe things would have been different". Should he have played in San Francisco, should he have played last week against Cleveland. If you ask me his ankle looked pretty good last night, he was able to move around the pocket and scramble pretty good all things considered. The offensive line though, without Maurkice Pouncey yet again, and reserve utility lineman Doug Legursky coming off a shoulder injury just couldn't give Roethlisberger any time. Early on the gameplan of quick passes and getting Tight End Heath Miller involved was working to near perfection, but they got away from that until the 4th quarter. Broncos defensive studs Elvis Dumervil, Von Miller, Broderick Bunkely and company made it a point to have a party in the Steelers backfield all afternoon. Pressure came from all angles on Big Ben, even a 3 man Denver rush regularly got to the Quarterback. Max Starks, the savior of the offensive line also went down and Jonathan Scott came in his relief. Considering how poorly Scott played last year he has improved his game in 2011. If we've said it once we've said it a thousand times, you live an die by the offensive line.
Was it all for the best? Would the Steelers have been able to even field a full team next Saturday had they advanced? How much longer could the offensive line have held up? So many questions and many more that will be analyzed to death over the coming months. We'll do our share of those analytic endeavors here on SteelerAddicts as well. For now the hearts and minds of the Steeler Nation are restless, frustrated, and concerned about the future, because of the past. Will the Steelers make the tough decisions that need to be made with older veteran players? Will they focus on the offensive line this offseason and stop gambling with low priced talent? Will Dick Lebeau return for another season? Will the Steelers be able to make any moves in free agency with already being over the salary cap for 2012? All those questions and more will burn in our minds but one thing is for sure, Steelers fans will be back, we never give up and we never say die...even though we do just that a little bit each year when things like this happen.