Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Turnovers, Turnovers

Heinz Field: Hell with the lid off?
The Steelers are 1-6 against Tom Brady. In their lone win, the Steelers won the turnover battle, 4-0. In the six other games, the Patriots won the turnover battle, 16-4.

Well, that makes it simple. The Steelers had better get more takeaways than the Patriots.

On Wednesday, Brady talked about how tough it is to play in Pittsburgh, how Heinz Field is one of the more "imposing" stadiums in the league, and how crowd noise can limit play-call changes at the line of scrimmage.

Yeah, right. Brady was just being polite. He has struggled not at all with any of the above.

He and the Patriots must love to visit Pittsburgh. Not only have they done well here for the most part, but Pittsburgh is one of the world's best and most interesting places to visit, says no less an authority than National Geographic Traveler. We knew it all along, and that's why we live here.  The magazine cited Pittsburgh for its "extreme makeover," presumably from its former incarnation as "hell with the lid off."

As great a city as Pittsburgh is now, it would be cool if Heinz Field would turn into "hell with the lid off"  for the Boston Massachusetts New England Patriots on Sunday.

The Tough Part of the Schedule
How anybody could look past Sunday's game vs. the Patriots is inconceivable -- except that it is fairly reasonable, considering that the divisional arch-rival Baltimore Ravens follow New England into Heinz Field a week from Sunday. The following Sunday, the Steelers travel to Cincinnati for another must-win divisional game against a team that has a tough defense and is getting better and better on offense. Lose all three games (New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati), and the Steelers will find themselves at 5-5 entering the bye week. That wouldn't be good.

Speaking of the Ravens, by the way, a big Thank You to the Jacksonville Jaguars for dragging the Ravens back to earth on Monday night in a game nobody thought Jacksonville would win. The Jaguars are a better team than most people are willing to grant. Their defense is solid, and they definitely have some talented players on offense (Maurice Jones-Drew), as well as a great placekicker and a promising young talent in Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. They played the Ravens the way they usually play the Steelers -- tough.

Ready or not, here they come ...

Fresh off a bye week giving them time for extra rest, study and preparation, the Patriots are coming to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers for a "game" at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Yeah, a "game" just like any other. Ri-i-ight.

Is it unpatriotic to root against the Patriots? We think not.

Now an 11-year veteran, Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of this generation and seems a likable guy. Bill Belichick has been knighted and canonized, although his reputation remains besotted by the dogged tarnish of cheating. Both Brady and Belichick will be first-ballot Hall-of-Famers.

Why is it, then, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls feel such antipathy for the "New England" Patriots. Not hatred, just ... distaste; antipathy. Yeah, that's the word: antipathy. Why?

For starters, something about the entire "New England" franchise seems phony. Maybe it's the ugly uniforms, hideous colors and horribly stylized, corporate-like logo that displaced the classic uniforms and vintage "Pat Patriot" logo used occasionally on "throwback" days. What marketing genius decided good ole Red, White & Blue should be replaced by silver and navy? ... which happened in 1993. The logo and uniforms are ugly as can be, which is meaningless in any case.

Maybe we feel antipathy for the Patriots because of the franchise's aspirational geo-regional claim (New England) for an entire region of the United States. Other teams do that, too ... the "Carolina" Panthers is rather offensive, but at least they took that name from inception. The New England Patriots used to be the Boston Patriots, however, and that has always seemed more fitting, and it has a better ring. Paul Revere probably would have approved of the name "Boston Patriots," but it just wasn't good enough, and of course it had everything to do with marketing and television dollars. We know that. Whatever reason, it still seems overly grandiose all these years later.

None of that matters of course. Patriots fans have been blessed with winning football since the arrival of Belichick and Brady in 2000. The franchise is an empire, and they have the Steelers' number

What is THAT? ... stylized, corporate and unlikeable.
That's why we dislike them. They're "perfect," and they carry a robotic confidence, arrogance and smugness legitimized by three Super Bowl rings. They and their fans project an air of noblesse oblige.

Although the Steelers have had occasional (rare) success against the Patriots and have been to more Super Bowls the past few years, the Jets did the Steelers a favor by beating New England in the playoffs last year. Styles make the match, and the Steelers have had a tough time matching up with the Patriots in the Belichick era.

Nevertheless, the current edition of the Patriots is flawed and certainly can be beaten. And 2011 edition of the Steelers, warts and all, can do it.

We'll take a closer look at this match-up over the next few days. Hint: The Patriots' defense is No. 32.