In the first four installments of 2010: The season in review, the Steelers had overcome a tumultuous offseason, had gone to training camp and come back as a unified, focused team, and they had completed the first half of their regular season with a 6-2 record. All praiseworthy, but the Steelers also realize they were 6-2 the previous year only to have it all unravel with the five-game losing streak that followed. Even though the personnel is virtually identical, these Steelers see themselves as a different team, and they’re itching for the matchup against New England at Heinz Field.
Part V looks at the second half of the 2010 regular season
Nov. 10: More bad news, more of the same kind of bad news. It’s injury-related bad news.
Nov. 12: The 6-2 Steelers will host the Patriots with a re-configured offensive line:
Nov. 14: Brady gets the better of the battle of the quarterbacks, for sure. He passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns, a rating of 117.4, in a 39-26 win over the Steelers that really wasn’t that close. Against a New England defense that had been pushed all over the field the previous weekend by the Browns, the Steelers manage three points through three quarters. The biggest shock to many is the way the Steelers defense is unable to do much of anything to stop the Patriots from moving the ball and scoring points. Brady completes 15-of-17 for 161 yards with two touchdowns during the Patriots’ first three possessions.
Nov. 15: One day later,
Nov. 16: After what might have been as decisive a defeat as the Steelers have endured since the team hired Mike Tomlin, he responds in definitive fashion. Jeff Reed has been struggling all season after having the franchise tag placed on him, and his invincibility at Heinz Field and from 40-49 yards is over. After missing again against the Patriots and then being critical of the fans and the Heinz Field surface after the loss, Reed is released.
Nov. 17: The Steelers practice in full pads.
Nov. 21: A very good Raiders team comes to Heinz Field, and after Oakland takes a 3-0 lead, the Steelers erupt for 35 points in a win that is every bit as decisive as their loss to the Patriots. The Steelers defense punishes Oakland’s running attack, while the offense rolls up a season-high 431 total yards. “Last week was embarrassing,” says
Nov. 22: “A win is a win,” says
Nov. 23: The only downside to the win over the Raiders were the 14 penalties for 163 yards. “We’re not going to get overly concerned about the penalties,” says Tomlin. “All we’re going to do is play the game extremely hard, play as fairly as we can, play within the rules and play to win.”
Nov. 28: With a trip Baltimore looming for control of the AFC North Division, the Steelers go to Buffalo almost lose to a bad Bills team they needed to beat to set up the Ravens game as a virtual winner-take –all. But “almost losing” still is winning, and the Steelers accomplish it with some luck, but they also make some of their own good fortune and escape with a 19-16 win in overtime to set up the showdown in Baltimore. Penalties again are a problem. There are 10 against the Bills, and too many are for offensive holding. Tomlin is annoyed that no offensive holding penalties were called on the Bills.
Nov. 30: It’s Ravens week. “I don’t think their head coach likes me,” says
Dec. 1: In a happening as expected as the sun rising in the west, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs sticks up for
Dec. 5: Based on just about every statistical category, the game is even, but the Steelers take control of the AFC North Division with a 13-10 win in Baltimore, and it all was because one of their great players makes a great play at a critical moment. Troy Polamalu comes off the blind side and instead of just sacking Joe Flacco, and after LaMarr Woodley recovers the fumble and returns the ball to the 9-yard line, it’s Ben Roethlisberger’s turn to be great. One play after fighting off Suggs and throwing an incomplete pass to avoid a big loss, Roethlisberger hits
Dec. 6: Ward assesses the Steelers’ chances to win the AFC North and thereby earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. “Four games left, it’s in our control and we don’t need any help. We can’t ask for anything better than that.” Especially in a season that began with their starting quarterback suspended for the first four games.
Dec. 7: Already having made a change at placekicker, the Steelers will need a new punter after it’s revealed Daniel Sepulveda tore an ACL in Baltimore. The new punter will be
Dec. 12: The Steelers get one of the wins they need by defeating the Bengals, 23-7, but the victory is a costly one even though they don’t realize it at the time. Troy Polamalu turns in a spectacular pick-six in the second quarter, but the stress the play puts on his sore Achilles will hamper him the rest of the season.
Dec. 16: With the Jets set to blow-hard their way into Heinz Field, it becomes apparent that Polamalu won’t play.
Dec. 19: Without Polamalu, and without
Dec. 20: A bad Carolina team is coming to Pittsburgh for a Thursday night game, and even though there are a lot of sore players trying to get their bodies for a quick turnaround, Tomlin is keeping his team’s eye on the prize – a division title and a bye in the playoffs. “All of the goals we set for ourselves are still attainable, but we’ve got to play ball this week.”
Dec. 23: This is what good teams do against inferior competition. The Steelers move out to a 27-0 lead on the way to a 27-3 win over the Panthers that doesn’t put any unnecessary physical stress on them. After the weekend’s games end and the Ravens win, the Steelers know they will have to go to Cleveland and win in order to clinch the AFC North and that first-round bye.
Dec. 30: The Steelers vote Troy Polamalu their 2010 MVP, and the only dissenter is … Polamalu. “If I was ever a coach, I would probably never have an award like this just because it’s such a team sport. I think people just vote because they have to vote.”
Jan. 2: After a week in which there was much opinionating about the importance of the game vis-à-vis Polamalu’s health for the run through the playoffs, Tomlin sends another message to his team. All doubt is removed about the way Tomlin sees the Browns game when he starts Troy Polamalu. But the Steelers quickly let everyone watching that they are on the same page as their head coach. It’s 31-3 at halftime, and the Steelers roll to the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs with a 41-9 win. Happy New Year.
NEXT: PART VI – The playoffs and Super Bowl XLV