Which game would you rather see televised? The Seattle Seahawks hosting the St. Louis Rams or the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the San Francisco 49ers? Let me guess…
In a battle of 10-3 teams, Monday Night Football regained the drama it lacked in previous weeks. Finally, we were going to see a game that mattered; at least we hoped.
I turned on the TV around 8:40pm last night, thinking I had already missed the opening kickoff and the majority of the opening drive. To my surprise, I didn’t miss anything. It’s unsure whether fate intended the pun or not; the lights went out at Candlestick Park.
Before the first whistle sounded, the sold out stadium of 69,732 went dark. The start of the game was delayed 15 minutes because of “transformer malfunctions.” While many might believe it was simply an act of chance, I maintain a much different theory.
Steelers LB James Harrison was serving his one-game suspension Monday night for his vicious helmet-to-helmet blow on Browns’ rookie QB Colt McCoy in Week 14. Last night, almost immediately after the power outage, Harrison tweeted, “If I can’t play then can’t nobody play…Lights out!” I can still hear his evil laugh echoing the tunnels of Candlestick. Touché, Mr. Harrison. Touché.
Finally, the switch was flipped. Lights, Camera, Football!
Ben Roethlisberger took center stage first. Roethlisberger was doubtful to play all week with a bad left ankle. But once you question his toughness, you might as well assume he will play. He hobbled out to his team’s huddle (seriously, he could hardly walk on that left leg), and marched the offense down the field. One pass after another, he proved the ankle would hardly be a factor. Amazing, considering he was hardly putting any weight on the bum ankle, so vital to supporting the motion of his follow through. But just as you wanted to tap your foot to the beat of Big Ben’s rhythm, he missed a note. 49ers’ cornerback Carlos Rodgers picked off a poorly thrown ball for his 6th interception of the year. The lights were starting to dim (not just on the Steelers’ offense, but Candlestick Park).
A second power outrage? You can’t be serious. Enough is enough James Harrison. After a second 15-minute delay, the lights came back on and the game resumed.
The Steelers’ offense, however, was still in need of a night-light. Roethlisberger turned the ball over three more times--twice on interceptions, and once on a fumble. “It’s very frustrating to feel like you let down your team and your fans and your coaches,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m not going to make excuses. I played a bad football game, I turned the ball over and that one’s on me.” His performance begs the question of whether or not he should have played in the first place. Big Ben practiced with the team just twice all week. But regardless, you have to figure he gives you a better shot at winning than backup Charlie Batch.
It’s not like the running game gave him much help either. All night long, the Steelers seemed afraid of the dark. Pittsburgh couldn’t find any success against San Francisco’s D, unable to ever cross the goal-line of the end zone. Check out this stat: San Francisco has not allowed a rushing touchdown all year long. In 14 straight games, they are the only team in NFL history to do so.
Or maybe it was the big bad monster underneath the bed. Aldon Smith, a rookie linebacker out of Missouri, is making his case for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Last night, he added 2.5 sacks to his season total (12.5), ranking him third in NFL in the category. Smith, along with the rest of the Niners’ pass rush, hurried or sacked Roethlisberger 11 times in the ball game. Even on two good legs, I doubt Big Ben could’ve done much damage.
The San Francisco offense, on the other hand, seemed ready for anything Pittsburgh would bring at them. The Steelers defense, ranked 1st in total yards allowed, was simply ineffective.
After allowing 18 sacks in the last 3 games, the 49ers offensive line was in need of an impact performance this week; which is exactly what happened. Quarterback Alex Smith was never sacked in the entirety of the game.
With a force field around him, Smith was able to take his time, and continue his theme for the year, minimizing turnovers. He was 18/31 passing for 187 yards and a touchdown. Hardly ideal numbers for a fantasy quarterback, but they are all that is necessary in coach Jim Harbaugh’s west coast offense. “A tremendous job by Alex Smith,” Harbaugh said after the game. “He was just on the money all night long.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin also had nothing but good things to say about Harbaugh and his team. “I think we need to acknowledge that was 49er football tonight. We played the game on their terms.”
With the impressive victory on a national stage, it seems that many more teams will be playing on 49ers’ terms in the future.