Monday, January 24, 2011

Another Brick in the Wall

That's what you get, Rex Ryan, for kicking off.

Ah, but we get ahead of ourselves. First ...

Congratulations, Steelers, on winning the AFC Championship.

Now go win the Super Bowl. That's the Pittsburgh standard. We're elated with AFC Championships, of course, but we're not content with them.

Congratulations, also, to the Green Bay Packers. You just beat a team quarterbacked by somebody named Caleb Haine. Good for you. We'll see you in Dallas.

But all that is another story for another day.

Back to the Steelers, which is all we really care about, anyway: With 13 lucky days until the Super Bowl in Dallas, all of us in Steeler Nation have a couple days to savor this hard-won victory that had more ups and downs than a Kennywood roller-coaster.

On balance, just enough "ups" by the end of the game to secure the win, Thank God, and thanking the Terrible Towel, along with Myron Cope on what would have been his 82nd birthday, prayerful nuns with Black 'n Gold Steeler Rosaries, the better defense, the better quarterback, the better running game, Mojination, home-field advantage,Troy Polamalu and William Gay, improved kick coverage, Heath Miller, Antonio Brown and ... did we mention the Terrible Towel and Myron Cope's birthday?

The first mistake made by Jets coach Rex Ryan? Kicking off. Seriously.

To elaborate: The Jets won the coin toss, so Ryan could have either accepted the opening kickoff, and put his offense on the field -- or defer, and receive the opening kickoff of the second half.

Ryan chose the latter move, which was to open the game by kicking off to the Steelers. We could speculate as to his reasons (being on the road in front of a hellaciously howling crowd cheering on a predictably ferocious Steelers' defense fuming with malodorous intent for his second-year quarterback). However ...

Ryan outsmarted himself.

Maybe he didn't count on the Steelers' offense immediately setting the tone by mounting a fierce, punch-in-the-mouth Opening Drive of 15 plays spanning a mere 66 yards ... but also, crucially, consuming time of possession across what seemed like a very long nine minutes and six seconds of the game clock: a full 21 minutes in real time.

That really is a long time for Ryan's defense (or any defense) to be on the field, for his offense to be on the sideline, and for his coaches to watch helplessly as the Steelers continued to grind out first downs and, ultimately, a touchdown that whipped the crowd into even more of a frenzy than they'd shown just a few minutes previously at tailgate parties in the parking lots.

By running the ball hard and effectively (10 times for 46 crunching yards), the Steelers established an aggressive tone on the opening drive that left no misinterpretation of how they would approach this game.

Then the defense took the field. And ramped up the intensity even more. The mayhem began in earnest. Welcome to the Blast Furnace.

Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense appeared flat during nearly the entire first half, as if they froze up during their long wait on the sideline, in frigid temperatures, to take the field after the opening kickoff.

Before the first half was over, the Steelers would have out-rushed the Nyets 135 yards rushing to one (one!) and mounted what turned out to be an insurmountable 24-3 lead.

By that point, the Jets were reeling. To their credit they regrouped, rallied to play tough, and gave the Steelers all they could handle in the second half. Too little, too late, however, as the Jets had way too much Steeler Monination to overcome. They'd dug too deep a hole for themselves, and it all started with the coin flip and Rex Ryan's decision to kick off.

There's much more to say about the game, of course, and there's much, much more to say about the upcoming Super Bowl matchup between these two storied franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers.

As for the AFC Championship game, all's well that ends well -- but now there's more to the story, another chapter to be written.

Win the Super Bowl.

Bring that trophy, the Vince Lombardi Trophy (named after the late, great coach of the Green Bay Packers) back home to the Steelers' trophy case in Pittsburgh, where six other Lombardi trophies reside -- and are toasted, no doubt, in the Above and Beyond by the likes of The Chief (Art Rooney), Myron Cope and others who have gone before us.

The Jets never had a chance, not really. Neither do the Packers.