Pittsburgh, Peyton Manning, NFC home field and more in the Sunday Takaway.
-by Rob Doster
Steelers Steal One in Charm City
It’s official: Steelers-Ravens is the best rivalry in football. The two teams staged a steel cage death match last night in Baltimore, a brawl that left Ben Roethlisberger bloodied with a broken nose and the Ravens’ division hopes bruised. Troy Polamalu’s decisive fourth-quarter strip-sack of Joe Flacco was the evening’s key moment, as LaMarr Woodley grabbed the loose ball and returned it to the Ravens 9-yard line to set up the Steelers’ only touchdown in the 13–10 win. “Everybody watching TV at home, everybody in the stadium, you all know it you see 43 at the line, four-minute offense, he's coming,” said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs of the vintage Polamalu moment. “It was just like, I hope we have a plan. It just didn't feel good when I saw that hair at the line.” Think these two teams are evenly matched? I stole the following multi-part factoid from SI’s Peter King: Over the last two years, the Ravens and Steelers have played four times. Both have won twice. The Ravens have scored 67 points. The Steelers have scored 67 points. The Ravens have scored 7 touchdowns and 6 field goals; the Steelers have scored 7 touchdowns and 6 field goals.
Peyton “Pick-Six” Manning
Three weeks ago, the Colts were 6–3 and Peyton Manning was filling his perennial role as an MVP candidate. Three disheartening losses and a mind-boggling 11 interceptions later, the Colts are in free-fall. The low point came yesterday, as Manning tossed four more interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns and the last of which set up the winning field goal in Dallas’ 38–35 overtime win. Manning has never had a run of futility quite like this — not even when he was a wide-eyed rookie playing for a miserable team. He’s had back-to-back four-pick games for the first time in his career. He’s only the fourth quarterback in the last 20 years to have three straight three-pick games in a single season. The last? Aaron Brooks. Not the company you want to keep. “I don't make any excuses,” he said. “I’m continuing to throw, I’ll keep throwing. I hope I throw it to our guys.”
Speaking of the Cowboys, interim coach Jason Garrett is now 3–1, and he would be 4–0 if Roy Williams hadn’t been in such a giving mood on Thanksgiving. His counterpart in the Twin Cities, interim Vikings boss Leslie Frazier, moved to 2–0 with a 38–14 rout of Buffalo. That combined record of 5–1 for assistants thrust into high-profile, midseason job interviews just might get the attention of owners pondering a change. Clearly, their respective teams have responded to the staff shake-ups in a positive way. “You get challenged in the NFL every week and really get challenged every play,” Garrett said. “Certainly when you come to this place, against that team and that quarterback and those (pass) rushers, it’s going to be an all-day sucker for us. It didn’t surprise me that their team battled back and overcame some adversities, and we had to do the same to win this game.” Garrett and Frazier just might battle their way into some job security.
Did Matty Ice Home Field?
By now, Matt Ryan’s success indoors is well documented. It seems that if the Falcons can seal homefield advantage in the playoffs, you might as well stamp their ticket for Dallas. That seems especially true after yesterday, when the Falcons turned back their NFC South rivals the Bucs and moved to 10–2 without giving their best effort. Eric Weems’ 102-yard kickoff return was the jump-start, cutting Tampa’s two-score lead to 24–21, to set up Ryan’s sixth fourth-quarter game-winning drive of the season and atone for his otherwise pedestrian 18-of-36, two-interception game. “When you come out and you don’t play as well as you like, but you still find a way to win, those are signs of a good football team,” Ryan said. “We feel like today was a good example of that for us.”
MoJo Brings the Mojo to Tennessee
The Jags are known as a weak-willed, warm-weather team. Maurice Jones-Drew is doing all he can to change that perception. Jacksonville took control of the AFC South by imposing its will on the Titans in frigid Tennessee temperatures, controlling the ball for 40 minutes in a 17–6 win. Jones-Drew ran for 186 clock-draining yards as the Jags beat the Titans at their own game, outrushing them 258-57. “I only had to make one guy miss most of the time, and the guys were doing a great job of keeping guys off me,” Jones-Drew said. “That performance was a total team effort.” The kind of effort that wins division titles.