Tim Benz: AFC championship painful to watch, even though Steelers didn't lose
Watching that AFC championship game Sunday turned me into an angst-addled, irrational, little ball of hate.
Some might argue that actually happened long before Sunday's game.
You might be right. But if it didn't happen before Sunday, it sure did shortly after kickoff.
The Patriots won the AFC title over Jacksonville, 24-20. If you were like me and watched that game strictly from a Black-and-Gold perspective, it was three-plus hours of water torture.
Who were you supposed to root for? It couldn't be the hated Patriots — those stormtroopers from New England who have been a red, white and blue blockade for our city's Super Bowl dreams three times in this game since Heinz Field opened.
Not to mention numerous other regular-season indignities.
It couldn't be the Jaguars either, though. How do you root for a team that beat your own club twice in one season and endlessly mocked the whole franchise on the way out of town?
To use a Mike Tomlin-ism, there was no way “to seek comfort” in the result. When it looked like Jacksonville was about to win, Steelers fans had to be wallowing in a giant vat of “what-if” thinking.
What if the Steelers got a shot at Tom Brady throwing with an injured thumb? His receivers and backs dropped passes and fumbled. The first-half Patriots defense appeared as vulnerable as the Steelers did against Jacksonville a week ago.
What if this finally would've been the game where the Steelers went to Foxborough and won?
Of course, it wouldn't have been.
The Steelers defense never would've put up the fight Jacksonville's did against Brady and Co. After all, it never has at Gillette Stadium in the past. Without Ryan Shazier, it would've been worse this time around.
But the mind can wander right?
Then, when it became clear New England would win, that's when depression set in.
The team Western Pennsylvania loves to hate has a record 10 Super Bowl appearances to the Steelers' second-place eight.
If New England wins the Super Bowl in two weeks, that'll tie the Steelers' record of six.
Plus, c'mon, let's not even get that deep. It's just the Patriots! Again! Really?
It's not only Steelers team history being threatened that made Sunday a tough watch. It was how the game unfolded. The knife kept getting twisted in the back of Steelers Nation.
Tom Brady executed a quarterback sneak in a crucial situation. He didn't even get a concussion in the process, believe it or not.
That play is legal, it often works, and it's apparently not an automatic injury waiting to happen for the QB.
Then, of course, there was James Harrison pressuring Blake Bortles into a Kyle Van Noy sack and fumble.
Because of course he did.
For weeks, all we've been saying is: “You wait. They'll have a potential game-winning drive, and Harrison is going to get a strip sack to win it for New England.”
We simply assumed the hypothetical quarterback in question getting stripped would be Ben Roethlisberger and not Bortles.
Even the officials joined the fun of kicking Pittsburgh as it was down. On one hand, the Jacksonville secondary finally got flagged for a few pass interference calls. Yet, the unfortunate residue of those calls helped the Patriots. In one case, a big pass interference flag led directly to a touchdown at the end of the second quarter.
Then there was a potentially overturned fumble by Dion Lewis that was actually upheld against the Patriots by the replay gurus.
Hey, maybe New England doesn't get all the breaks from the zebras, huh? Then we saw the box score as New England drew 98 yards in penalties to Jacksonville's 10.
The whole game was nothing but painful irony dipped in petty jealousy with a side order of emotional conflict.
Perhaps the better approach for me or any other fan watching would've been this: Don't view it with the attempt to make you feel better about your own team based on the outcome of two rivals.
Don't try to spin the narrative to make yourself feel better about how the season ended based on the result itself.
New England is still the conference king. That stinks. But it's true.
Jacksonville didn't fluke its way past an overconfident Steelers team. The Jags are flat out better.
The Steelers are third best in the AFC. That's it. No better, no worse. We have to deal with that reality as 2018 approaches.
At least after the Pats' victory, we could then flip on the Eagles game and see those jerks across the state in Philadelphia lose big to Minnes …
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.