Following Thanksgiving, the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans were doing their best to look at the glass half full. No one truly knows how long Ben Roethlisberger’s injury will have him sidelined, leaving the keys to the whip in the hands of Charlie Batch. The same Charlie Batch who played with Barry Sanders. Their Week 12 matchup found The Steel Curtain going toe-to-toe with divisional adversary, but long-time punching bag, the Cleveland Browns.
Despite going 22-2 their last 24 games versus the Dawg Pound, Pittsburgh needed this W to keep pace with Baltimore atop the AFC North and holding off a suddenly hot Bengals squad. Eight turnovers, including three picks from Batch and four fumbles by the running back-by-committee, and a 20-14 loss later, the Steelers now have drastically more questions than answers. Focusing on the Browns for a moment, their 3-8 record isn’t truly indicative of how well they’ve played at times this year. Trent Richardson continued his impressive rookie campaign with 85 yards and his 15 yard scamper to pay dirt effectively iced the game on what was Mike Holmgren’s final day at the office.
As far as Pittsburgh goes however, if Big Ben (and Troy Polamalu) doesn’t return soon enough, this season could already be over.
In the Big Easy, the Saints and 49ers squared off in the marquee matchup of the late games. It was also a rematch of the contest which helped spawn the league’s ugliest controversy in years, “Bountygate.” Much like 2012 playoffs, the Niners walked away victorious after a 31-21 win. The Saints loss plants a huge blow to the outside postseason chances they had, but more importantly, it was the tenacity San Francisco played with the entire game that was as eye-popping as anything.
The defense – led by Patrick Willis’ 10 tackles – returned two Drew Brees interceptions for touchdowns and tallied five sacks of the all-world quarterback in the process. Ahmad Brooks’ pick six just before the first half ended all but ensured Colin Kaepernick would start the second half when it felt as if Alex Smith would see playing time in the third quarter. From there, the second year quarterback delivered a solid and impressive performance going 16-25 for 231 yards and two touchdowns (one rush). And if he’s a smart man, he’s buying the entire defense a steak dinner.
— Carson Palmer returned to Cincinnati for the first time after being traded following his refusal to play for them. Karma must have been in the air as his replacement, Andy Dalton, tossed three touchdowns en route to a 34-10 Bengals victory over the Raiders. Sidebar: The fight above ended with three players being ejected.
— The good news for Bears fans? Jay Cutler returned from a concussion with an efficient 188 yards and one touchdown. And the team curb stomped the Vikings 28-10. The bad news? Matt Forte and Devin Hester suffered injuries.
— Down 10 in the fourth quarter, Baltimore rallied to beat the Chargers 16-13 in overtime.
— After edging out the Bills 20-13, the Colts have improved to 7-4 finding themselves right in the thick of things in the playoff hunt. Let’s say the Colts and Skins make the playoffs (dear Sweet Baby Jesus, NOT the skins), could we be in for a tie for Rookie Of The Year?
— Speaking of impressive rookies, Doug Martin’s two touchdowns weren’t enough for the Bucs to clip NFC South leader, Atlanta. Matt Ryan went an incredibly dynamic going 26-32 for 353 yards and one touchdown helping The Dirty Birds move to 10-1.
— Dan Carpenter nailed a game winning field for the Dolphins to beat Seattle 24-21. However, in true Miami fashion, America’s southern-most party city inadvertently made it rain when the sprinkler system randomly turned on during the second half giving a good laugh for all parties involved.
— The Chiefs suck. With most of the players already speaking with travel agents to find out which Caribbean locations are nice in January, Kansas City only mustered three measly field goals failing to take advantage of a “trap game” for Denver. Peyton Manning slung the pill for 285 yards and two touchdowns to help the Broncos upgrade to 8-3. Two things about this. One, Peyton Manning is a legitimate MVP candidate after not playing an entire season. Two, the Tebow era seems so long ago.
— With St. Louis’ 31-17 win, the Arizona Cardinals are the authors of a seven game losing streak and yet another lottery pick. I know he somewhat did this to himself, but #FreeLarryFitzgerald. What’s the chances ‘Zona goes after Michael Vick in the offseason?
— Two games in, the Chad Henne era in Jacksonville is making the Blaine Gabbert one seem as if it already passed its shelf life. Yes, that Chad Henne. Anyway, the Jags secured their second win of the season after dispatching Gotty’s Titans 24-19.
— Also, in case you’re just awakening from a turkey-induced coma, the Texans and Redskins fended off the Lions and Cowboys in two thrilling nail-biters (even though RG3 had a “Randy Moss in 1998″ day). The Patriots, on the other hand, scored 35 points in the second quarter alone versus the Jets leaving maybe 47 people in the country who actually watched the second half. I, for one, cracked open some beers and watched Bad 25.