Sports Outside the Beltway

Steelers 1-3, Look Like a Bad Team

The Pittsburgh Steelers look nothing like a team that won the Super Bowl last year. Their only win was against Miami, another team that has not lived up to the preseason hype. This has to be one of the worst things that can happen as the fan of a team outside of their territory. Everyone around you knows you are a fan, and those who are fans of different teams, having been reminded that your team is the Super Bowl champs, make more of an effort than usual to ask you “what happened”?

So, what has happened? Well, from what I can see, a lot:

1. Big Ben is not playing how he played last year. This is the most obvious flaw in the team. Roethlisberger is making bad decisions, throwing a lot of interceptions, and has not thrown a touchdown this season. He’s no Peyton Manning as far as QB stats go, but at the moment, he isn’t even up to “average quarterback” standards.
2. The recieving corps is lousy. Hines Ward doesn’t seem to have fully recovered from his injuries, and has never been the deep threat anyway. (He’s also not smiling, which is unusual, and indicates to me that he may very well be in pain from that hamstring injury.) Santonio Holmes is a rookie, and Nate Washington isn’t playing up to the level of Randel-El and Qunicy Morgan. They need to pick up their game in order to make Ben’s job easier.
3. The offensive line isn’t giving Ben any time. He needs time to make things happen, and isn’t getting it.
4. Troy Polamalu is not making the plays he made last season. Since the defense is set up to allow him to roam around and follow the play, Troy not making said plays adversely affects the defense.
5. Finally, James Harrison and Joey Porter are going to be out with injuries. This is bad for the defense, which has enough problems already.

There are a few positives:
1. Willie Parker has made some good runs, and had some good games. Considering the lackluster performance of the offensive line, this isn’t bad.
2. Ricardo Colclough isn’t returning punts anymore. While I hope he recovers from his injuries, I sure hope he never returns to special teams as a return man.

OK, that’s all the positives I can think of. The Steelers are in big trouble, and while I think they can win, they are going to have a long road ahead in order to do so. Espicially with the Ravens and Bengals looking as good as they are.


Astros Win 9th Straight: Cards On Verge of Historic Collapse

Houston sweeps the Pirates to take 9th. straight game. Cardinals drop 8th out of last 9 to Brewers, allowing Houston to climb within a half game of the lead in the NL Central.

Now the Cardinals’ NL Central lead is down to a half-game.

Jason Marquis got just six outs and St. Louis fell behind by eight runs in the third inning, losing to the Milwaukee Brewers 9-4 Thursday night.

In a swoon that could become one of baseball’s historic collapses, St. Louis (81-77) has lost eight of nine and wasted nearly all of what was a seven-game lead with 13 to play.

Incredible. The 1964 Phillies are being brought up, who choked with a six game lead late in their season. No one else has collapsed in this way since. In addition, the loser of the NL Central is likely not in the wild card race, so if they lose, they go home.

The suddeness of this collapse has taken the baseball world by surprise because of how improbable it really is. The Astros had been counted out since the beginning of the month – mathmatically alive, but pretty much discounted as a force at all at the end of the season. Roger Clemens must have thought that chances weren’t good, because he asked for a special exception to pitch one last time in front of his home fans (although I suspect he’ll be back next season). Again, because no one expected the Cardinals to collapse quite like this, I can understand Clemens thoughts. Now, he may just get another chance to pitch in the post-season.

There are three games remaining in the season for both teams: the Astros play at the Braves, and the Cardinals continue their four game series at home against Milwaukee. These circumstances seem to favor St. Louis, but that’s what I would have said yesterday (both Milwaukee and Pittsburgh are fairly bad teams, and the Cardinals are playing at home). The Astros seem to be red hot, and the Cardinals ice cold. These are going to be an interesting next few days for both Houston and St. Louis fans, and if the Cardinals do finish this collapse out, it will be a blemish on their organization for years – much like the 1964 Phillies.


Terrell Owens Reportedly Attempts Suicide

ESPN reports:

DALLAS — Flamboyant Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens attempted suicide by overdosing on pain medication, even putting two more pills into his mouth after fire rescue personnel arrived, The Associated Press reported Wednesday citing a police report.

The friend, who is not identified in the report, “noticed that [his] prescription pain medication was empty and observed [Owens] putting two pills in his mouth,” the police report said.

The friend attempted to pry them out with her fingers, then was told by Owens that before this incident he’d taken only five of the 40 pain pills in the bottle he’d emptied. Owens was asked by rescue workers “if he was attempting to harm himself, at which time [he] stated, ‘Yes.’”

KTVT-TV in Dallas reported that a woman named “Etheridge”, likely his publicist Kim Etheridge, called police at 7:51 p.m. to report a suicide attempt. KTVT-TV reported that Owens ingested 35 pills.

The Cowboys have called a 2:30 p.m. ET news conference.

Wow. The mind boggles. I knew he was a huge egotistical player, but I never thought he would do this. I wonder if his acting out were a cover for him and for those around him to hide his depression. Thankfully, his publicist caught this before he died and got him to the hospital.

Initially, the reports were that he had an allergic reaction to his pain medications. Only this morning did the news of a suicide attempt come out. Stay tuned – the Cowboys are calling a press conference at 2:30 PM Eastern.

Let’s hope he’s OK and he gets the help he needs. The effect this will have on the Cowboys remains to be seen.

UPDATE (4:08 PM): I don’t have time to comment, but Owens is denying a suicide attempt, basically saying he was out of it, and that’s why he gave certain statements to police. Let’s hope that’s the case.


Alexander Out With Foot Injury

Remember what I was saying about the Seahawks looking great and avoiding curses? Espicially Shawn Alexander, who had appeared on the jinxed cover of Madden?

Yeah, the jinx has arrived.

The Seahawks’ insulation from the recent hex of Super Bowl runners-up has a crack. League MVP Shaun Alexander has a broken left foot and will be lost to the Seahawks for at least a couple of weeks.

This comes on the eve of their game with Chicago, one of the few NFC teams I said might challenge them. The Seahawks will be hoping for the swift recovery of their star running back, and keeping their fingers crossed. After all, if this is all the Madden curse has left to throw at them, they may just have a shot. I have a feeling that the Bears and the Seahawks are going to play each other in the playoffs in an important divisional game, or maybe even the Championship, depending on the seeding.

Of course, Seattle has been able to do fine without Alexander in the past, but he is an important part of that team, and they should be grateful that he is only going to be gone for a few weeks at the beginning of the season.


Maddenism of the Day

I have the Sunday Night game on in the background (my remote doesn’t turn the TV off, and I’m about to go to bed anyway), watching the Patriots playing the Broncos. John Madden just said the following:

“And now Tom Brady looks like Tom Brady.”

Yes, he does. I don’t think he put on a mask or anything.


Steelers Lose 28-20, Seattle Looks GOOD

One of the annoyances of living in a different area than your childhood team is that there are some weeks where they don’t put them on locally. Either CBS was programmed out of my TV (I had to use my set in the basement instead of the main set), or the local CBS affiliate wasn’t airing football, because the Skins are on Fox and the Ravens were in the 4:15 game.

After watching the highlights, I see the Bengals beat us again in Pittsburgh. That team is getting more than a bit frustrating. Our offense and special teams were the main problem (I don’t know how the defense did – highlights really don’t give you a good feel for that). Seems similar to the Penn State game yesterday, which was also frustrating to this Western PA bred sports fan.

Now the Steelers are in 3rd place in a tough division, behind Cincy and Baltimore, two games back. Baltimore is doing what I feared they might: win some games. Also, Roethlisberger is not playing very well, which makes the situation even worse. At least they got the run game going this week.

The other game that stood out was the Seattle and New York game. Seattle totally obliterated the Giants. It wasn’t nearly as close as the 42-30 score indicated, because Seattle was up 42-3, and let off. So far, they seem to be defying all curses and hangovers from losing the Super Bowl and getting on Madden. I’m starting to think they are again the team to beat in the NFC. Might Seattle get their first Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XLI? Time will tell, but they look like a class above the rest of the NFC, besides maybe the Bears and possibly the Vikings.


Wow, That Was Brutal. Jacksonville Wins 9-0

Was I just watching baseball? Byron Leftwich seemed to pitch a shutout, he even has a pitcher’s motion with his throw.

The Steelers add another entry to an illustrious record. Only two teams have been shut out the year after defending their Super Bowl title: the Steelers were in 1980, and again tonight, and the Raiders were in 1981 – not once, or twice, but three times. In a row.

One of the things I appreciated about the Monday Night Football crew is that they really made an effort to make sure they talked about the game, and didn’t distract too much from it (Ben Roethlisberger Anatomy 101 aside). In fact, Mike Tirico had his team quiet down for a play for us to hear the noise the Jacksonville fans were making. Few announcing teams will do that.

As far as the game, I was right. The Pittsburgh defense gave first, and allowed Jacksonville to score, and gave them all the momentum they needed. Our defense didn’t really break, but it did bend. Under normal circumstances, that would have been enough to overcome. However, since Jacksonville was playing such a great game, and their defense did NOT bend because our offense was unable to bend them, it proved insurmountable. We have got to do better with the time of possession battle than we did tonight. A good team is going to be able to exploit us there every time if this isn’t an aberration.

Let’s hope that Willie Parker isn’t Amos Zereoue Jr. Zereoue, for those who aren’t Steeler fans, was the last fast back we tried. When we discovered him, the excitement was astronomical. We finally had an atheletic back, not the slow power back (who’s name escapes me) we had been using. He did great when we had that power back, but when the power back left, he wasn’t ever to get anything going. Parker looked too much like Zereoue tonight for my liking, and I hope that isn’t permanent.


Steelers, Jaguars in Defensive Slugfest

Watching the Monday Night game right now. I was going to write a preview, but instead, I’ll write a first half review followed by a second half preview.

First off, what the heck was Jacksonville thinking there? They just let the clock run down and went for the Hail Mary from the Steeler 46 or so. They had about 20 seconds left, and didn’t take the time out in order to get at least two tries. Bad clock management there.

Anyway, we’re scoreless in the second half. Jacksonville vs. Pittsburgh has become the typical defensive slugfest. Neither team is giving at all on the run. This does not surprise me at all – I have to agree with Tony Kornheiser when he says that this is a classic defensive slugfest, and that the only thing missing is a driving snow. Are there any snow machines near Jacksonville? We really need some snow to make this game complete.

My suspicion is that this game will either hinge around which defense breaks first, or which team makes a big mistake. At the moment, Jacksonville is handily winning the time of possession battle, and they get the ball back first. The Steeler defense is in danger of tiring before too much longer. However, Jacksonville threw the first interception.

Question: what the heck is up with Michael Irving’s suit? That must be left over from his father’s 70′s wardrobe.

Note: Nice run by Jacksonville. Go Steeler D!


Our Long National Nightmare is Over

Its official: the Braves will not win their division this year, ending their title streak at 14 seasons.

Its quite an accomplishment, as James noted. However, now that it is finally over, I figured I would post a bit of a celebration.

Because for me, that streak reminded me, every year, that the Pittsburgh Pirates would not win while the Braves did it again.

It has been frustrating. Ever since Sid Bream brought the last post season (and the last winning season) the Pirates were in to a close, the Braves have just kept on going. As they piled up victory after victory, I began to hate the Braves more than any other team in Major League Baseball. More than even the Yankees (though not by much). For me, even now, it will always be the Braves. Whenever I hear their name in the news, I always hope that news of a loss accomponies it, espicially if they are playing the Pirates.

How can I hate the Yankees more, when the Pirates beat them in the last World Series they played them in? When my only baseball post season memories are of the Pirates losing to the Braves? To be fair, they lost to the Reds in my lifetime, but for some reason, I have no memory of that season – I was very young at that time. This was my first real exposure to pro sports. I remember staying up late and watching the games. I vividly remember the Tomahawk chop, the silly gimmick the Braves used to hype up their fans, and wondering why we didn’t have anything like that for our team. I vaguely remember the inability to get the last out in that last series. However, in my youthful optimism, I thought that the Pirates would return to the post season, and hopefully make the World Series. Little did I know . . .

In any event, its over, and this Pirates fan says “Thank goodness”. Now if only the Yankees would stop buying up division titles, I’d be a much happier baseball fan. I do respect the mark the Braves have made, and will give them more credit than I will give the Yankees if they reach that mark (and will actively root against that). However, I had to contribute my side of this story.


Roethlisberger Medically Cleared to Play: Polamalu Questionable

Ben Roethlisberger is medically cleared to play. It appears the decision to play is up to him.

The ball is in Ben Roethlisberger’s lap.

Cleared medically 10 days after his appendectomy, Roethlisberger will start at quarterback for the Steelers Monday night in Jacksonville provided he feels up to it and he can perform properly in practice this week, starting today.

Well, that’s good. It all depends on how well he plays. I want the starter in against Jacksonville, who has been a thorn in the Steeler’s side the past few years. I think Roethlisberger will play unless he feels really sick, and he didn’t look that bad last Thursday.

However, I think that this could be a bigger loss than Roethlisberger: Troy Polamalu is questionable with a shoulder injury.

Cowher said yesterday he did not know how Polamalu’s shoulder was injured and provided no more details. He said Thursday night that the injury occurred in the first half.

I hope that heals up. Polamalu is the heart and soul of that defense. He makes plays that no one else even appears to be thinking about. He has a sense of where the ball is going to be, and ends up beating it there, either to make the hit, or to pick it off. Polamalu personifies the position “free safety”. That defense will not be the same without him.

Of course, he did go back into the game with that injury, but I understand that they want to look at it further to make sure that it doesn’t turn into something ugly later in the season. I will feel a lot better with Polamalu in there, though.


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