Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Difference Between Last Year's Season-opening Overtime Victory And This Year's Overtime Victory

Right now, as I write this blog, I feel drained. First of all, work was a killer today. We were short-handed, as usual, and I was just on the go the entire day.

But it's more of an emotional drained than a physical one. The kind that one gets after their favorite team just participated in a thrilling overtime game. In this case, my favorite team won and I feel great about it.

Even though last year's season-opening victory over the Titan's was just as exciting and thrilling, I didn't feel this way.

You see, last year, the Steelers were coming off of a Super Bowl season. They were the defending champions and I had more of a cocky demeanor.

Thanks to my girlfriend, I got to attend the 2009 season-opener, but even while that game was going on and it was still anyone's contest, I didn't feel that anxious about things. Don't get me wrong, I wanted them to win, but everyone knows how overrated the first game of any regular season is, even in football. It's been 38 years since a team went undefeated so you have to expect at least a couple of losses a year. If it happens in the first game, no big deal. And besides, the Steelers were the champs.

But they did win last year and it only fed into my cocky attitude. But something happened in week 2 that changed all that. They blew a 4th quarter lead against the Bears and suffered the first of many such-losses last season.

By the end of the year, after one heartbreaking loss after another, I went from being cocky to feeling vulnerable.

And I couldn't help but feel that way today as I tried to catch as much of the game as I could while working.

It's amazing how things can change in just a short period of time.

The fact that Roethlisberger was out didn't help that feeling any. Dennis Dixon started the game at quarterback, and even though he didn't make any glaring mistakes, the team just couldn't complete a drive on offense. In the 4th quarter, after another promising drive came up a little short, Jeff Reed kicked a field goal to give the Steelers a 9-6 lead.

The Steeler defense, which uncharacteristically gave up numerous 4th quarter leads last season, was stellar today. They held Matt Ryan in check, and they shut down running back Michael Turner. Roddy White had over 100 yards receiving for the Falcons, but they weren't very damaging yards.

I wanted to see if the defense could hold this lead. They didn't. Atlanta marched down the field and tied the game with Matt Bryant's third field goal of the day.

I started to get a sinking feeling, and I thought to myself, "here we go again!" This felt all too familiar. They were going to lose another tight game.

And after Dixon was sacked on two consecuctive plays, I figured it was just a matter of time.

I thought Ryan would drive the Falcons down and put them in position to kick a game-winning field goal.

But much to my surprise, Superman in cleats, Troy Polamalu, came through with another clutch play and intercepted Ryan at the 30 yard line. With less than two minutes left, it was just a matter of Dixon taking some time off the clock and putting Skippy in position to kick a chip-shot field goal. After two running plays, it was 3rd and 1 and I was hoping they would convert so they could just wind the clock down and kick the game-winner with no time left. But Redman was stopped and I started to feel uneasy again.

Once again, the offensive line couldn't win the battle on a 3rd and short-yardage play.

With 43 seconds left, Reed missed from 39 yards out, and I thought, "here we go again!"

The Steelers were going to suffer another overtime loss, and this time to the Falcons, who always seem to have their number in close games. And wouldn't you know it, they won the toss. Ryan was just going to fling the ball down field, like all the qbs seemed to do last year, and Pittsburgh was going home with another heartbreaking loss.

But the defense came up big and forced the Falcons to punt near their own end zone. Randle El called for a fair catch near mid field, but was run into by his own teammate. Fortunately, the ball didn't hit anyone and Pittsburgh had the ball at the 50.

Was Dixon going to come through with a heroic drive? The Falcons didn't seem to be worried about Dixon. They had 8-men in the box. I thought, "Don't run it! Try a play-action pass. It could break wide open." Well, it did break wide-open, alright. Rashard Mendenhall took the hand-off and broke through the line and went untouched for the game-winning touchdown. He stumbled near the 20 and almost gave me a heart-attack, but he made it home, and my vulnerable feeling went away and turned to joy.

What a first game! Maybe we can win our share of thrilling contests this season.

It's games like today that are usually the difference between making the postseason and sitting at home.

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