Like it or lump it, lament it or regret it, this is the way it always has to be. Exceedingly popular teams like the Steelers and the Cowboys will always have their close wins overly scrutinized by the media. When there is a truly borderline call, it will be used as a cudgel to diminish tight victories. Make no mistake, the Steelers got a fortunate break that the dead ball rule is what it is, but the referee ruling on the Roethlisberger fumble review was absolutely correct.
The Roethlisberger fumble was a correct call on review, though CBS made it seem like a much more obvious initial call with their goal post angle that viewers could be excused for thinking that refs were fools for ever thinking it was close to being the touchdown. Anyone who saw the field level view knew it was an extremely tight play. If the ball came out before Roethlisberger crossed over the plane, it was just before, it was just at the point it was over the goal line. All week from now until the Steelers play in New Orleans on Halloween, we will see the elevated goal post view. Just as we saw out of context James Harrison hits for the week leading up to the Miami game.
Before we get to the distressing injuries, let's focus on the problems with the running game. Pittsburgh for the first time this season looked like the one-dimensional offense team they have in the past with Rashard Mendenhall being held to 37 yards on 15 carries. It can't be pinned on the early game injury on Flozell Adams, as the run game was generally ineffective on all sides.
Had this been a game prior to Ben Roethlisberger's return, and it might have been had the suspension not been reduced, the Steelers might have been blown out of the stadium. But Ben was able to make several critical conversions on his usual long plays on third and long. Of course, with that came a few mindless error where he tried to make a play as he went to the ground. One on such attempt, he fumbled the ball away to the Dolphins on the Steelers' first offensive possession. On another, the fumble was recovered by Maurkice Pouncey, who was horse collared late in the second half after being taken to the ground once, but no flag was thrown.
Mike Wallace is going to have to emerge as a more multi-facted threat than simply a guy who streaks down the field on fly routes. No doubt he is great on that score, but it is too easy to take anyone that one-dimensional out of the game. Such was the case in the second half where Wallace was pretty much absent from contributions. With Hines Ward having such a huge game, it didn't matter as much today, but it's something to think about going forward.
As for the injuries, Aaron Smith can be devastating. It certainly was in 2007 and last year. Ziggy Hood, now, in his second season had to show he can step up as a viable replacement. Miami couldn't run the ball a lick against the Steelers before Smith's injury and suddenly found some traction once he left the game. Ziggy was a first round pick and has to be able to show immediate dividends for the Steelers to remain a Super Bowl contender.
Jason Worilds was impressive in relief of LaMarr Woodley, who left in the first half with a hamstring injury. Nevertheless, I don't think any of us would want to count on a rookie to go in the difficult string of games facing Pittsburgh over the next few weeks. It's a game of attrition, the NFL is, and no one escapes at least one or two costly injuries throughout the season. Now is the time for Pittsburgh to do just that. As the game wore on following Smith's injury, the defense seemed to find its feet and hopefully such will be the case as the season goes on. Ziggy is certainly a better alternative than Travis Kirschke.
Flozell is another infirmity to consider, as he left the game early. As flawed as he is, the team benefits from him returning sooner rather than later. Trai Essex's replacement, Doug Legursky, was pretty horrible against the Dolphins, especially in the first half where he drew multiple holding calls. Roman Foster wasn't much better in relief of Adams. He didn't quite have the array of penalties, but he was beaten on a few key plays.
A few other notes:
- Nice helmet-to-helmet on Emmanuel Sanders on the opening kickoff to force the initial fumble. It's technically a legal hit, to be sure. But since the NFL wants to pretend it's all about safety, it's hilarious to watch them pussyfoot around cheap shots on people who aren't QBs or receivers.
- Ben smiling after hitting Mike Wallace for the long touchdown. Aw, you just want to squeeze his cheeks until you consider where he's been.
- Oh Ben, let's not run a full two yards beyond the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball. IT MAKES IT SO HARD FOR THE NFL TO CHEAT FOR THE STEELERS!
Just remember this week that when the Steelers referee issues are the story repeated ad nauseum the week and diptard detractors are using it as an excuse to make the usual "refs help the Steelers" argument that the Ravens got a ridiculous amount of help from the officiating today, from the flagrant Anquan Boldin pass interference and overturned Buffalo interception at the end of the first half to the highly questionable Buffalo fumble in overtime when Spiller's forward progress was halted. Of course, those can't be neatly packaged as "controversial" end of game plays. They're just run-of-the-mill terrible calls.