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Contenders? Steelers plead no contest

October 17, 2011
By RICH GIBSON - Times Leader Sports Writer (rgibson@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

PITTSBURGH - Nothing worse than playing one of these 'formality' games.

The Steelers did so Sunday and basically executed it to perfection.

When Shaun Suisham drilled a 21-yard field goal four minutes into the second quarter, it became 'Operation Shutdown' for all intents.

Article Photos

Photos/PAUL KRAJNYAK
PITTSBURGH running back Rashard Mendenhall fights off an attempted tackle by Jacksonville’s Rasheen Mathis during Sunday’s game at Heinz Field. View additional images at cu.timesleaderonline.com

Leading Jacksonville 17-0, Big Ben and the offense was rarely heard from again.

"I felt we were pretty much in control (at halftime)," offered Steelers' linebacker James Farrior. "We gave up a few yards (in the second half) and it was probably a little closer than what we wanted at the end."

But Farrior stressed the end result is all that matters. "Was it a work of art? Maybe not," he smiled. "But any win in this league is a beautiful thing. Ask the teams that lost today."

Difficult to dispute Farrior's reasoning, though Jacksonville was hanging around until the bitter end.

"It's a 60-minute game and we know that," noted running back Rashard Mendenhall whose Sunday return resulted in a 146-yard performance.

"It's disappointing the offense couldn't score (after halftime). "I don't want to say we had a mental letdown but we couldn't sustain drives like we did in the first half."

Don't blame Mike Tomlin's now 4-2 Steelers for rigging the schedule, though their four beaten opponents are a combined 6-16.

Add 1-4 Arizona to the mix this Sunday and the Black & Gold could be on a mini-roll when Tom Brady and the Patriots invade in two weeks.

"We haven't been tested like we will be," Tomlin confirmed following Sunday's win. "I'm not going to say we let up (in the second half). That would be disrespectful to Jacksonville."

The Steelers sacked Jags' rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert five times. Still, it was another all-pro masterpiece by safety Troy Polamalu that helped the Steelers hang on.

Jacksonville faced third and a yard from its 30 with 9:36 remaining when Gabbert handed to Maurice Jones-Drew.

Polamalu's sixth sense alarm sounded, resulting in quick movement to the line. As Jones-Drew surged forward, Polamalu crashed through, stopping Jones-Drew for no gain.

"The man has incredible instincts," praised defensive end Brett Keisel. "Nobody coaches that stuff. It's a definite gift."

Unfortunately, Polamalu was yanked for the duration after sustaining what was considered a 'light' blow to the head.

"No way we're taking chances with Troy," said Tomlin of the decision to sit Polamalu for the duration.

Tomlin, who also expressed concern over his club's second half play, may need to conduct more than a few skull sessions prior to this week's game.

There appears good reason Tomlin should be concerned.

The Steelers have played poorly in all three of their previous road games this season - from the season-opening behind-the-shed punishment inflicted by Baltimore - to an unimpressive three-point decision at winless Indianapolis - to an offensively inept outing at Houston.

"This football team has plenty of work in front of it," Tomlin advised. "I hope no one in our lockerroom believes otherwise."

EXTRA POINTS

ALMOST lost in the euphoria of Saturday's Buckeyes' win at Illinois was the fact OSU prevailed despite completing only one pass, albeit a TD strike from Braxton Miller to Jake Stoneburner.

Considering they outplayed Nebraska for a long stretch in Lincoln before experiencing a fourth quarter meltdown, there is genuine reason to believe the Bucks can compete with Wisconsin in the Horseshoe on the 29th.

Before the Badgers come to town, they face a Saturday night showdown at East Lansing against Michigan State....

Gibson may be reached at rgibson@timesleaderonline.com

 
 

 

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