Okay, I know that sounds like a "Axis of Evil"-like Bushism, but it's the best I got while drunk on a Sunday evening. Anyway, the brief respite is over and now the Steelers are staring down a three-game stretch against the teams most hated by their fans (okay, at least me) that will decide whether they can earn a first-round bye, or even make the playoffs at all.
As much as I reveled in the back-to-back wins over the then-unbeaten Patriots and Eagles in 2004, I think a run through this gauntlet would top even that. And though the Cowboys and Patriots don't look like the intimidating twosome they would have before the season, the Cowboys seem to be getting back on their feet while the Patriots have managed to fully adapt to having Matt Cassel under center. More troubling is while Cassel has mostly struggled to complete passes of 20 or more yards, he did so with regularity Sunday against a good Miami defense. Obviously, Dick LeBeau will throw things at him he hasn't seem yet in his career, but I imagine the Pats will try to counteract the blitzes the same way the Bengals did on their opening drive: with a series of short, quick passes. Certainly there are few receivers in the game better for that than Wes Welker.
I don't necessarily mind that the Patriots won today. Had they fallen to Miami, New England would have been a 6-5 team with its back to the wall going into a pivotal home game. I don't think them being 7-4 exactly makes them laid back, but there's a appreciable difference in the urgency of winning their next game.
As for the business at hand, it looks like the writing is on the wall for Paul Ernster, yet I've still yet to hear any news as to his release or the search for a quick replacement. There's really no sense going forward with a guy who averages 28.5 yards per kick. You might as well go for every 4th down. I'm sure the status of Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend will be closely watched this week. McFadden seemed like he was close to being back against the Bengals even with the short week, so hopefully that means good things for next Sunday.
It's really important that the secondary gets back to full strength, after all, the Steelers would hate to disrespect Randy Moss by only sticking one guy on him.