As The Steelers Turn: Steelers Can Win Without Ward. Not Without Big Ben. Batch Injury Speculation?
By Tom Smith
Someday the Steelers will sell a book about it this tumultuous 2009 season, until then we can only guess on the specualtion. We are pretty sure it goes something like this. Hines Ward wants to win. Big Ben Roethlisberger wants to win.
When Hines was hurt in the AFC Championship, the Steelers still won. That wasn’t the case Sunday. Hines acted like he knew the Steelers couldn’t win without Ben. He spoke like a frustrated high school jock the night before senior night. The rest is a national media sensation.
The Steelers had Ben practice all week in spite of a bell ringing he took in the Chiefs game. Looking back, it was an awful strategy.
Ben gets not so mysteriously shut down on Saturday morning.
Santonio Holmes described it best on his show last night on WDVE, he came skipping into the cafeteria Saturday, James Farrior told the Super Bowl MVP the bad news. Suddenly, everyone’s mood changed in the Steeler locker room. That sucks for Dennis Dixon. And it sucks for a Steelers team with a very winnable game in Baltimore roughly 36 hours away. It was like they were defeated more by the news of Ben not playing, than by the Ravens Sunday night.
So with Hines Ward ‘shocked’ and really wanting Ben to play, he sat down with Bob Costas for an interview. Hines decides to tell the world how he feels. And drags the entire locker room into the conversation with his comments about the Steeler QB.
The team shows up in Baltimore. RumBunter shows up in Baltimore.
Here is what we saw.
The sideline looked flat.
Ben didn’t come out on the field as early as he normally does. But he did come out about an hour before kickoff and caught balls for Dennis Dixon as he warmed up. Ben also participated in seven on seven drills without his helmet. Of course, he looked razor sharp. Ben was in full gear except the helmet. So were the Ravens wondering what the hell was going on? We sure were.
Throughout the game, Ben stayed focused on the play of Dixon.
The defense was up and down. Especially down when they needed to get off the field in crucial situations.
Dennis Dixon was solid in the first half when it was very difficult to hear in M&T Bank Stadium as the crowd waved the Wounded Warrior/Under Armour battle towels.
Dennis Dixon was awful in the second half when the crowd was much less vocal, locking on to receivers and delivering the ball out of bounds, behind, in front of and low to his receivers on numerous occassions. It felt like the lack of belief in him was catching up with his play, like those words that Hines said to the nation were sinking in now about what an exciting player Dixon was, how Dixon had worked like a villian for this one opportunity to burst on the scene, Oops those words were never spoken. That is what a leader would do.
At times it appeared that the Steelers had signs up in the backfield that said, WE ARE GOING TO RUN THE BALL, but in spite of all of this drama, the third string quarterback did just enough to lead the Steelers to victory. He also did enough to cause them to lose. Just like the defeated Hines Ward portrayed in his interview.
The Steelers lost because they acted like losers. Losers talk about stuff like that interview. Winners talk about things they can control.
By questioning the QB, he also questioned the entire organization’s handling of the situation. Despite how bad this week was handled, the national stage wasn’t the platform. Behind the locker room doors was the stage. Heh, how about a team meeting Hines? No, that isn’t dramatic enough. Not GQ enough.
So in the end, Dixon’s fifteen favorite plays weren’t enough. Especially, the draw play. Please rip that one out of the play book Bruce.
After the game, Hines comments didn’t really improve.When the team needed a leader, it was left with comments about the three losses and the ‘shocking’ QB situation AGAIN. Unfortunately, leadership wasn’t a part of his comments. We didn’t hear, “I needed to put the team on my back and I left the team down.” Nope. It was easier to point fingers instead of the thumb.
In an interview yesterday with Hanna Storm Ward clarified his comments, “During the week, he practices a normal practice so when I did that interview, I was like wow we practiced all week, there were no signs of anything that he was not going to play” Ward said. “But I’m not going to question Ben’s judgment, the guy came back from a motorcycle accident and played all year, so I’m not going to question his toughness. That was not the case of me calling Ben out. It was me just being frustrated because I knew what kind of game Baltimore was going to be and not having No. 7 out there we had our backs against the wall.”
Typically a Steelers team with their backs against the wall comes out like caged animals. That wasn’t the case, the 2009 version forgot the us against the world mentality when it arrived in Charm City. And it’s a shame one of the locker room leaders was more focused on who wasn’t playing rather than on the quarterback who was playing.
The Steelers defense allowed a Ravens touchdown the first time they touched the ball. Flacco completed five passes and Ray Rice pounded the rock for 21 yards on three touches. The Ravens hadn’t scored a first half touchdown since October 4. (That’s not a misprint)
With 4:11 until halftime, the Ravens started a drive on their own 11 yard line, six plays later Derrick Mason was catching a Joe Flacco pass to give the Ravens the lead.
The Steelers went into a shell before halftime.
The Steelers got the turnover they had been looking for to start the second half. And two runs and an incomplete pass later, the ball was punted back to the Ravens.
At any time during these key situations the player who made frustrated comments 24 hours earlier, could have stepped up, manned up if you will, but we didn’t see it.
Missed receivers plagued Dixon through the second half as he missed 12 of his last 16 passes. A little more passion would have been enough for a victory. But passion wasn’t exuding from the men in white jerseys on Sunday night. It was ugly to watch.
Also, we noticed a sideline huddle orchestrated by Mike Tomlin wasn’t enough to get the Steelers up to steal a victory as the game wound down. Spirited words presumably about the season on the brink were assumed to be spoken in that huddle.
More words will be spoken at Tomlin’s press conference today. Even more are being spoken in the locker room today. But words won’t save this season. Only victories in each and every game will.
The Steelers are a well coached team. No matter what you say, the play calling had to be what it was Sunday night because Dixon couldn’t get hurt. Tyler Palko was not going to take a snap. Tomlin was on record as saying Ben would have handed the ball off on every play. God forbid someone fumbled and Ben had to pounce on it. If Ben was out, he should have been in a Reebok hoodie. But I digress.
Why the season has boiled to this will be written in a tell all book one day, until then it is entirely speculation, Facebook apologies, and a terrible lack of leadership.
And speaking of speculation….
Before you feel sorry for Tiger be certain to peruse this article on the realTiger Woods. What a joke. He withdraws from the Chevron Wow, we know the feeling of Tiger telling you one thing and doing another. 84 Lumber Classic anyone?
Maybe Tiger’s face looks like this?
And even more speculation….
On the way back from Baltimore we heardMark Madden throw out the story circulating that maybe Charlie Batch injured his wrist in a pickup basketball game, not in the game against the Chiefs?
If so, the Steelers have more problems than we know. When do the pre-orders for the book go on sale?