"I think I just threw up in my mouth."
I have found a name for my pain, and it is Ryan Mundy.
True, I'm paraphrasing Jack Nicholson's Joker from the original Batman movie, but it seems apropos. A cruel joke has been played on the 2008 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. How else to explain a four-game skid that includes a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and A SHOOTOUT LOSS to the Oakland Raiders?
In amongst his many inane ramblings, I believe I've heard Jim Nantz refer to Polamalu as "the linchpin of the Steelers defense," and it's hard to argue with that. He's missed seven games this season; the Steelers have lost six of those games, and they've given up fourth-quarter leads in at least four. Ty Carter is a serviceable replacement, and has even shown a few flashes of Polamalian vision on the field.
But William Gay is not up to the task. My boy said he'd settle for Gay putting on a new pair of cleats, but his play has been suspect for most of this season. And Ryan Mundy was definitely not up to the task, seeing as how in the space of about three minutes, he:
A) Knocked out William Gay
B) Committed a crucial interference penalty to set the Raiders up to take the lead, and then
C) Gave up the game-winning TD to a rookie Raiders receiver, and not even one named Darius Heyward-Bey--
*OOGMF* ... sorry, I haven't had much to eat, and I just dry-heaved a little there. In fairness, Ike Taylor wasn't exactly "the tits" either. But the Steelers were in a decent position to hold 'em when Mundy went headhunting on a receiver who had already dropped the ball.
Six losses doesn't look like it's going to cut the AFC playoff mustard this season. The Jaguars and Broncos both won today, so no help there... When I looked at the schedule back in August, it looked great! Now? Not so much. Packers, Dolphins and the Ravens' rematch are all still on the horizon, and the hell Coach Epps promised we'd bring is quickly freezing over.
Any other year, I'd call this Thursday-night conference game against the Browns a no-brainer, even on short rest, but who the hell knows at this point? The only reason I can think of for Polamalu to be back is if the Steelers have a realistic chance of getting a wild-card spot. And there's really no reason to think the Browns can't put at least 17 points on the board, now that the ball isn't bouncing off Braylon Edwards' stone-hands anymore. They put up 23 against the Chargers, whose defense is certainly performing on a par with - if not better than -- the Steelers'.
An astute caller to Stan & Guy last week said "every time Sepulveda pins the opposing team inside the 20 during the fourth quarter, I go and get another glass of whiskey," and I'm inclined to agree. This late-season skid has been like the Bad Old Days all over again, when no one could run on the Steelers' D, but everyone had a field-day passing. Add the special-teams woes, and it's the '06 Super Bowl Hangover come back around. Although I don't know that it's a "hangover" as much as it's the devastating loss of Polamalu. He really covers a lot of ground out there, and he has an eye for what's happening on the field better than almost any defensive player I've seen. It's hard to admit, as a born-and-bred Steeler fan, that defense is the problem, but it really is. The offense sputtered a little today, but they put up points when it mattered, didn't have crucial turnovers and gave 'em the lead with the clock running out.
Matter of fact, I'm actually a little numb to the loss right now. I'm actually a little glad to see that hometown kid Bruce Gradkowski had a decent day. Who am I kidding, though? The Raiders scored like 2o percent of their season's touchdowns in this game.
This one hurts. Bad.