John Steigerwald: With these Steelers, expect the unexpected
Who saw that coming?
Not the 7-5 record and being in contention for the wild card, the 20-13 win after that hideous start. When the Browns scored to make it 10-0 everything pointed to a long, ugly day for the Steelers.
It was the middle of the second quarter. The Browns had run 28 plays for 128 yards, and the Steelers had run eight for 9 yards and had their fourth-string quarterback looking like a guy whose No. 1 goal was to not kill his team.
“He didn’t kill us.”
That’s what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said with a smile in his postgame press conference after the 20-13 win, which was a follow-up to having said, “We hope he doesn’t kill us,” at his Tuesday news conference when he was asked what he expected from Devlin Hodges.
It looked as though the Steelers’ season was going to be over when the Browns went up 10-0 because it had blowout written all over it.
But then, the season looked like a blowout when Ben Roethlisberger blew out his elbow in Week 2. Who saw 7-3 coming? That’s the Steelers’ record since then and they’ve done it with two quarterbacks who never had started an NFL game.
There has been a lot of chatter around town and on the talk shows about how much better the Steelers would be with Roethlisberger at quarterback.
They’re 2-7 in his last nine starts. That tells you this season really hasn’t been about quarterbacks. It has been about defense.
Hodges, who had to beg for an NFL tryout after no team wanted to sign him as a free agent, put up better numbers than last year’s first overall pick, Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield, of course, was playing against a much better defense. He saw a lot more of a pass rush than Hodges saw from the Browns.
Now the Steelers have a decent chance of finishing 10-6. They have the Cardinals, Bills, Jets and Ravens left, and the Ravens might have nothing to play for when they host the Steelers in Week 17. Which could mean no Lamar Jackson.
Those are four winnable games. But nobody who has been paying attention this season would expect anything but the unexpected from this team.
TJ for MVP
Is there any doubt that T.J. Watt is the Steelers MVP? He tortured Mayfield on Sunday, and, right now, he is the player the Steelers can least afford to lose.
More of same from Pitt
It’s another five-loss season for Pitt football. That’s at least three losses a season going back to 1982. How many coaches? How many athletic directors? Pat Narduzzi is not an improvement on Dave Wannstedt.
Wannstedt should still be the coach. Maybe continuity would have meant a few more top recruits. Narduzzi shouldn’t be taking this too hard because it should be obvious by now that it’s not the coach.
Lots of luck
Good luck to Derek Shelton, the Pirates new manager. He is probably about to find out, with the Pirates, it’s not about the manager. All he has to do to improve on the performance of his predecessor, Clint Hurdle, is have five winning seasons and go to the playoffs four times in the next nine years.
Would you make that bet?
Penguins could be threat
Think the NHL season is too long? Think too many teams make the playoffs? The injuries the Penguins have had to deal with this season at least justify the number of playoff teams.
If you’re going to play 81 games over six months, you have to allow teams time to recover from serious injuries to key players. The Penguins, assuming they’re healthy, will be a much better team in March than they are right now.
So if they scramble into one of the last playoff spots, they will be deserving of a chance at the Stanley Cup. This team, when it’s healthy, will be a legitimate contender for the Cup.
Lemieux Part II?
Picture Sidney Crosby coming back after Christmas and winning the NHL scoring title. Mario Lemieux left the 1992-93 season in January with cancer. He came back in March and scored 30 goals with 26 assists in 30 games and beat Pat LaFontaine for the title. That might have been the greatest performance ever by a Pittsburgh athlete.
John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.