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Week 16: No Surprises in Steelers Win

Most of the Adultfyi pool members got off to a winning week with their selection of Pittsburgh. Condolences to those four who chose St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS [MSNBC] – If you were looking for a statement from the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, you probably were looking for love in all the wrong places.

You don’t make statements against the St. Louis Rams this season, you make time, you make hay, you make out like a bandit. The Rams retired Marshall Faulk’s uniform during halftime at the Edward Jones Dome. But for all practical purposes, they retired the 2007 season several weeks ago, around the time they lost at home to the Cleveland Browns and fell to 0-8.

When you’re 0-8, you are who Dennis Green thought you were, and you are not getting off the hook.

No, you don’t throw down when you take a knee against the Rams, who have won three times all season. You don’t establish “Road” credit by winning in St. Louis, where the Rams finished a hapless 1-7, where the “Greatest Show on Turf” now resembles the “Lamest Show on Earth.”

However, if you are the Steelers, suffering late-season hiccups, looking for answers, searching for identity, you do seek shelter. You do hope to build confidence and calm fears. You do expect to steady a shaky hand. Whether those things were accomplished with a 41-24 victory at St. Louis is open for debate.

For background, these same Steelers were made of sturdy stuff a few weeks ago, 7-2 after nine weeks. Super Bowl thoughts were flowing into the confluence of the Three Rivers. But the ripples started with a loss to the feckless New York Jets and a soggy and sorry 3-0 victory over Miami.

During the previous 11 days, you could toss in a heaping helping of humble pie from the New England Patriots and a cold, hard loss to Jacksonsville. You are reaching for the Bromo. You’ve got trouble, trouble with a “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “Postseason,” as in not long for.

Perhaps style points are irrelevant this time of year. Perhaps, as Pittsburgh linebacker Larry Foote noted earlier this week, all that matters is “getting into that tournament.” In defeating the Rams, the Steelers did their part to reach that bottom line. With some favorable outcomes this weekend, they will be in the tournament, but for how long?

How long for the playoffs are the Steelers without Willie Parker? The NFL’s leading rusher and the Steel City’s bread and butter suffered a broken fibula on his team’s second offensive play against the Rams. He is lost for the remainder of the schedule. Five days before Christmas, Mike Tomlin already got a bag of coal.

The Steelers don’t have a home-run threat to replace Parker. They do have Najeh Davenport, who awakened for 123 yards on Thursday, but can you trust it? The Rams are to the ground game what Britney Spears is to common sense. They ranked 19th in the league coming in, giving up more than 111 yards per game.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continued to be a tower of strength and continued to assault the franchise record books by throwing for three more touchdowns. But he also continued an assault on the team’s sack record, going down four more times, increasing the season toll to 47. Paris Hilton’s website experiences fewer hits.

How long can “Big Ben” take a licking and keep on clicking with Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes?

That No. 1-rated defense also looked slightly less than playoff invincible. The Rams pierced it for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, St. Louis has weaponry with the likes of Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson and Torry Holt. But they also have a Salvation Army offensive line, comprised of hand-me-downs and spare parts.

Yes, the Steelers held Jackson to less than 100 yards, but his 85 yards came on just 12 carries as the Rams abandoned the running game while playing catch-up in the second half.

Even the special teams were ambiguous. The Steelers had 145 yards in kick returns. Not bad. They gave up 229 yards in kick returns and repeatedly gave the Rams offense a short field to work with. Very bad.

The Steelers may have lacked style points, but they scored in the character department. Losing the league’s leading running back in the opening moments, while carrying a two-game losing skid, is some harsh medicine. The Steelers swallowed it, kept pressing the fight with Davenport, and found a way.

While the defense gave, it also took away with two interceptions of Bulger, including Ivan Taylor’s outcome-clinching 51-yard return-for-a-touchdown in the fourth quarter. Big-play defense is what Steel Curtains are built on.

They may still be searching for that identity, but the Steelers found some soul. If they can continue to punch holes for Davenport, if they can give Roethlisberger time, if they can continue to get healthy and get back their “D” legs, there is hope yet.

The loss of Parker is no small issue. And a victory over the Rams doesn’t do much to soften it. But if the clear-cut statement was lacking, perhaps there was a hint. Perhaps these Steelers are in it for the long run.

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