The Pittsburgh Steelers were a yanked field-goal attempt — Billy Cundiff style — away from seeing their season end abruptly.
The Cundiffian reference serves two points.
1. It surely warms the hearts of Black-and-Gold fans to recall the epic fail by the Ravens in last season’s AFC Championship Game.
2. As Bill Cowher loved to say, there’s a fine line in this game between winning and losing.
If Shaun Suisham had hooked his 34-yard field goal attempt like Cundiff did, there would be mourning throughout Steelers Nation today. There’d be agony over being 2 1/2 games behind Baltimore in the AFC North, there’d be consternation over a past-its-prime defense and several underachieving defensive draft picks in recent years, there’d be cries for offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s head.
For all practical purposes, their season would have been over. This is just not good enough of a team to overcome a 1-3 hole in a division featuring the Ravens.
As it was, however, Suisham’s chip shot was true, the Steelers clipped the Philadelphia Eagles, 16-14, at Heinz Field and they are far from out of it at the season’s quarter pole.
And they have Michael Vick to thank.
The Steelers began the game with about as much focus as Barack Obama in the presidential debate last week, missing both attitude and aptitude. Even before the rains came, it was a slop fest.
Quick summary of their first drive: no gain, fumbled snap, 1-yard gain, punt.
End of their second drive: incomplete pass, penalty, 1-yard gain, penalty, 7-yard gain, penalty, punt.
Third series: no gain, incomplete pass, incomplete pass, fumbled snap, turnover on downs.
“Whoa, slow down, Jim Lehrer, these questions are coming too fast!”
Despite that dizzying start of ineptitude, Pittsburgh managed to be tied 0-0 early in the second quarter solely because the opposing quarterback mistakenly believed he was playing point guard, dribbling the ball instead of traveling with it.
Twice Vick coughed up possession, the second of which was recovered in the end zone by Larry Foote for a touchback. The Eagles probably would have liked at least three points there by the end of the game.
To his credit, Vick manned up and took complete responsibility for the loss.
“I’ve never had problems with fumbles,” said the NFL leader in lost fumbles with five, “it was just one of those days.”
OK, so maybe he didn’t exactly man up. But there’s more.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Vick philosophized. “If it was meant to be, I wouldn’t have fumbled the ball at the goal line.”
Got it. God’s fault. Or evolution’s fault. Or whomever/whatever determines random occurrences such as not protecting the football when you are about to score.
“Karma,” smirked my puppy.
Vick’s carelessness overshadowed a rather pedestrian performance by the Steelers. The highlights were few.
There was some good defensive pressure on Vick and Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked, both good signs. And Rashard Mendenhall showed surprising bursts in his return.
But eking out a victory at home against an undisciplined quarterback and letting a double-digit lead evaporate for the second consecutive game doesn’t exactly give reason for the Ravens to begin trembling in their beaks at the thought of visiting town six weeks from now, and perhaps not even the Titans on Thursday night in Tennessee before a national TV audience.
“Of course you want to win 50-0,” Roethlisberger said, “but when you play a team like that, it’s probably not going to happen.”
And when your own team plays like that, it’s never going to happen.
(Steve Treu cover the Steelers for The News.)